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On February 4, 1999, about 1440 hours Pacific standard time, a North American T-28C aircraft, N128BJ, was destroyed when the aircraft impacted mountainous terrain during cruise flight near Joshua Tree, California. The commercial licensed pilot was fatally injured. VFR conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight that was operated by the owner under 14 CFR Part 91. The flight departed from Van Nuys, California at 1351, and was destined for Thermal, California.
The aircraft was operating in a two-aircraft formation. The other aircraft, another T-28, was N628B. The accident file for that aircraft is LAX99FA102.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Southwest Region Quality Assurance Office, on departure from Van Nuys, N128BJ was the flight leader and N628B was the wingman. After departure from Van Nuys there was no further radio communication with any FAA facility.
An observer on the ground at Yucca Valley airport, 13 miles northwest of the accident site, reported seeing a flight of two T-28 aircraft at 1430 flying southeast-bound at about 5,000 feet agl toward the accident site. The observer reported losing sight of the aircraft in the ragged cloud bases against the mountains southeast of the airport.
The pilot's logbook was not located after the accident. The pilot's flight hours on this report are based upon those reported to the FAA on his medical certificate application and an estimate of the Safety Board investigator.
According to National Park Service rangers, weather near the accident site at the time consisted of overcast clouds with the tops of the mountains intermittently obscured in clouds, snow, and light rain. Scattered clouds locally obscured lower terrain.
The weather observation at Palm Springs, 17 miles southwest of the accident site, taken at 1453, was calm wind, 7 mile visibility with light rain, and an overcast cloud layer with bases at 5,300 feet msl. At MCAS Twentynine Palms, 18 miles north of the accident site, the weather observation taken at 1455 was wind from 150 degrees at 8 knots, 7 miles visibility with light rain and three cloud layers. There were scattered clouds at 4,100 and 5,600 feet and overcast clouds at 8,100 feet msl.
The Safety Board investigator reviewed a re-recording of a weather briefing provided by the FAA Southwest Region Quality Assurance office. At 1250, a caller identifying himself as the pilot of N128BJ, contacted the Riverside Automated Flight Service Station and stated that he was flying from Van Nuys to Palm Springs and requested weather for Palmdale, Palm Springs and the Banning pass. After determining that the caller had not received weather advisories, the briefer provided three Airman's Meteorological advisories (AIRMETS), one for moderate turbulence below 16,000 feet, a second for light to moderate icing in clouds between 12,000 and 24,000 feet, and a third for "mountain obscuration through the entire area." The briefer said there was an upper trough over the western portion of the area and a surface low pressure area southwest of San Diego moving eastward. The briefer then gave the pilot surface weather observations for Palmdale, Beaumont and Palm Springs. Palmdale reported scattered clouds at 7,500 feet agl and overcast clouds at 10,000 feet agl. Beaumont, near the Banning pass, reported an 800-foot overcast (agl) with 2 miles visibility in light rain and mist. The briefer added, "VFR not recommended there." Palm Springs reported overcast clouds at 6,000 feet (agl) and intermittent light rain showers. There were three pilot reports; one for overcast cloud bases at 9,500 feet (agl) over El Mirage, a second for light rime icing at 19,000 feet (msl) over Gorman VORTAC, and the third for moderate rime icing at 11,000 feet (agl) over Homeland VORTAC. The briefer then gave the caller the area forecast for broken ceilings at 1,500 to 2,500 feet and a second broken layer at 3,000 to 5,000 feet (agl) with cloud tops to 24,000 feet (msl). The forecast also called for widely scattered light rain showers and lowering ceilings and visibilities to 1,000 to 2,000 feet and visibilities of 3 to 5 miles. At this point, the caller interrupted the briefer and said "OK, this stuff is just moving in now isn't it?" and the briefer replied "yes it is." The caller then said, "OK, well that gives me what I gotta know, thank you very much" and ended the briefing.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site is in arid mountainous terrain on the west side of Quail Mountain, 9 miles southeast of the town of Joshua Tree. The location is within the Joshua Tree National Park wilderness area at longitude 116 degrees 14.61 minutes west and latitude 34 degrees 00.59 minutes north (GPS). The elevation is approximately 5,300 feet (msl, GPS).
Approximately 1 mile west and southwest of the accident site is a wide box canyon which is open to the north to Joshua Tree but closed by a mountain ridge line at the south. Beyond that ridgeline the town of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley are visible. The box canyon turns east at its southern end and closes. The accident site is on the south face of the ridge forming the north side of eastern extent of the box canyon.
The wreckage was distributed over an area approximately 750 feet long and 100 feet wide, and was oriented approximately 025 degrees (magnetic). The wreckage field started at the southern end about 250 feet below a ridgeline on a south-facing slope of about 35 degrees. The wreckage field continued over the ridgeline, about 300 feet down a north facing slope of about 25 degrees, into a ravine, and then about 200 feet up another southwest facing slope of about 25 degrees.
At the southern end of the wreckage field was an area approximately 15 feet wide and 30 feet long of freshly upset dirt and rock. From this area, up the slope to the north, was a wreckage field extending approximately 250 feet to the fuselage and wing center section wreckage of N128BJ, which were resting against a rock outcropping at the ridgeline. An engine with the nose case and four cylinders broken off was 40 feet to the left (west).
Thirty feet to the right (east) of the fuselage wreckage of N128BJ and 30 feet below the same ridgeline was another area of freshly upset dirt and rock of similar dimension to the area 225 feet downslope. Over the crest of the ridge was a debris field extending 300 feet downslope into a ravine where the fuselage wreckage of N628B was resting. The empennage of N628B was in the debris field approximately 75 feet upslope of the fuselage. The wreckage field continued north beyond the ravine, upslope, for about 200 feet to where an engine, minus the accessory case and nose case was located.
The two aircraft were examined at Aircraft Recovery Service, Compton, California on February 18, 1999. Both aircraft were painted gray and white with U.S. Navy markings.
The fuselage of N128BJ was destroyed forward of the aft cockpit and the wings were destroyed except for approximately 3 feet of each wing outer panel. The left wing exhibited fire damage. On the wing outer panel sections, the upper skins were curved normally while the lower surface skins had dents pressed into them normal to the chordline. The dents were evenly distributed over the lower surface with sharp edges and rock debris pressed in them. The aft fuselage was intact above the belly skin seam and fuselage frame remnants extending below the seam were bent aft. The right-hand horizontal stabilizer, right-hand elevator and vertical stabilizer remained with the aft fuselage. The flight controls were all present in pieces. The flight control cables were separated at several locations; however, the cable ends were bright and shiny except in proximity of the fire. The engine crankcase was missing the supercharger and accessory case and the nose (propeller) case. Four cylinders were off the engine and one cylinder head was separated from the barrel. The propeller had the engine planetary gear assembly attached. Two blades were broken off the propeller and the third blade was broken at midspan. All of the blades had gouges in the leading edge typically of 1/2 inch size. The cockpit controls and instruments were destroyed.
N628B was similarly destroyed forward of the aft cockpit and the wings were destroyed except for approximately 3 feet of each wing outer panel. On the wing outer panel sections, the upper skins were curved normally; however, the lower surface skins had scrape and gouges running parallel to the chordline from leading edge to trailing edge. The aft fuselage was intact above the belly skin seam and fuselage frame remnants extending below the seam were bent aft. The empennage was separated from the aft fuselage. The flight controls were all present in pieces. The flight control cables were separated at several locations; however, the cable ends were bright and shiny. The engine crankcase was missing the supercharger and accessory case and the nose (propeller) case. Two cylinders were broken at the base but remained attached to the engine. This propeller also had the engine planetary gear assembly attached. One blade was broken off the propeller at the hub, another blade remained attached but broke at midspan, and the third blade was broken off about 3 inches in from the tip. All of the blades had gouges in the leading edge typically of 1/2 inch size. The cockpit controls and most instruments were destroyed.
In the wreckage were found a pillbox containing 6 tablets marked Z/2979 and a bottle of Afrin brand nasal spray.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Riverside County Sheriff-Coroner and toxicological tests were performed by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Laboratory in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The aircraft wreckage was released to the owner on March 12, 1999.