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On February 5, 1999, between 2016 and 2124 hours Pacific standard time, a Cessna 150J, N50878, owned and operated by the pilot, collided with trees and terrain approaching the uncontrolled Mariposa-Yosemite Airport, Mariposa, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed during the dark nighttime, personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91, and no flight plan was filed. The airplane was destroyed, and the private pilot was fatally injured. The flight originated at the Castle Airport, Merced, California, at an uncertain time. The distance between the Castle and Mariposa airports is about 26 nautical miles. For the purposes of data entry in this accident report, the National Transportation Safety Board investigator estimated the airplane's departure time at 1945.
The pilot's wife reported to the Safety Board investigator that during the evening of February 5, she had spoken with her husband via telephone. The pilot had indicated that the following day (which was his birthday) he planned to fly from his temporary Atwater residence to their Mariposa home. The wife indicated that her husband was emotionally upset, and during a subsequent conversation with him he indicated his intention to immediately fly home.
The pilot's route of flight between Castle and Mariposa was not determined. The first reported contact with the accident airplane occurred between 2010 and 2015. During this time period, a pilot flying in a Cessna 182 departed from the Mariposa Airport. The pilot of this airplane subsequently reported to the Safety Board investigator that during his departure he heard the accident pilot, whose voice he recognized, make several radio calls on the airport's local Unicom frequency. The accident pilot indicated that he was approaching the field for landing and was entering the downwind leg. Minutes later, the accident pilot reported that he was turning onto a left base leg for runway 26. This was the last communication heard by the pilot flying the Cessna 182.
According to the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) at 2124, in the vicinity of the accident site, a passing satellite first detected the signal from an emergency locator transmitter (ELT).
A review of the pilot's personal flight record logbook indicates that he commenced flight training in November 1996. In July 1997 the pilot was issued a private pilot certificate. During the 90 days preceding the accident, the pilot logged approximately 12.7 hours, of which 7.0 hours were during the nighttime. The pilot's total flight time was 210.2 hours.
All of the pilot's flight training, and all of his logged flight experience, was obtained in the accident airplane. The pilot's flight training was received while the airplane was based at the Mariposa Airport. The pilot's most recent night flights to or from the Mariposa Airport occurred in December 1998.
The pilot purchased the accident airplane from his flight instructor in December 1997. A review of the airplane's maintenance records indicated that it was maintained on an annual inspection program, and its last inspection was performed in September 1998. No evidence of outstanding maintenance issues was located.
The closest aviation weather observation station to the accident site is located at the Merced Airport, about 27 miles southwest of Mariposa. Merced's elevation is 153 feet mean sea level (msl).
In pertinent part, between 1953 and 2053, Merced reported the following surface weather conditions: Wind between 270 and 280 degrees at 4 to 5 knots; visibility between 8 and 9 miles; few clouds between 10,000 and 11,000 feet above ground level (agl); and temperature/dew point at 45 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to the Cessna 182 pilot who departed from the Mariposa Airport as the accident pilot was approaching, the weather conditions at Mariposa consisted of a partially obscured sky with clouds. A few stars were visible. The pilot described the ambient light condition surrounding the airport as being dark. No moon was visible.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported that it did not provide any services to the accident aircraft or to its pilot.
AIRPORT AND GROUND FACILITIES
The Mariposa Airport's field elevation is 2,250 feet msl. Runway 26 is 3,310 feet long by 150 feet wide. In pertinent part, facilities at the airport consist of a rotating beacon, medium intensity runway lights, and visual approach slope indicator (VASI) lights. The recommended traffic pattern altitude is 3,250 feet msl (1,000 feet agl).
The airport manager reported that during the evening of February 5, the airport's rotating beacon, runway, and VASI lights were functional. No outages were reported or subsequently noted during her routine surveillance of the airport's facilities.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site is located at geographic coordinates of approximately 37 degrees 30.47 minutes north latitude by 120 degrees 01.41 minutes west longitude, and at an estimated elevation of 2,300 feet msl. The site is about 0.5 miles and 090 degrees (magnetic) from the approach end of Mariposa Airport's runway 26.
The Safety Board investigator's examination of the accident site and wreckage revealed the outboard portion of the airplane's severed left wing was suspended from tree branches about 25 feet agl at the initial point of impact (IPI). Pieces of left wing skin were also observed adjacent to the base of the tree. The main wreckage was found at the base of another tree about 222 feet and 314 degrees from the IPI. Between the IPI and the main wreckage, navigation light lens fragments, pieces of Plexiglas windshield, and headphones were noted. (See the wreckage diagram.)
The main wreckage was found at ground level, partially wrapped around the base of an oak tree, and in an estimated 135-degree left bank (inverted) attitude. The right wing was observed partially separated from the fuselage at its wing root attachment fitting. The tail was observed totally separated from the fuselage.
The entire airframe was recovered from the accident site and examined. The continuity of the entire flight control system was confirmed. Specifically, control cable integrity was observed from the elevator and rudder assemblies to the aft fuselage. The right wing's aileron control cables were found broken in the vicinity of the wing root and exhibited a broom straw (stretched) appearance at the point of breakage. The left aileron's control cable integrity was documented following recovery of the wreckage.
The wing flap actuator was examined, and about 2 inches of threads were showing on the jackscrew. According to the Cessna participant, this value equated to a flap extension of approximately 8 degrees.
The propeller spinner was observed crushed in an aft direction against the hub and was observed twisted in a direction opposite that of engine rotation. The propeller was observed torsionally deformed and partially bent into an "S" shape. The blades bore scratches in a chordwise direction.
Engine and Accessory Examination.
The engine's crankshaft was rotated, and thumb compression was felt in all cylinders. The continuity of the valve and gear train was visually confirmed. The vacuum pump's drive coupling was observed intact.
All top spark plugs were removed, the electrodes appeared dry, and the electrode wear appeared normal when compared with Champion's "Check-a-Plug" guide. The left magneto was removed and its drive shaft was rotated by hand. Spark was observed at the termination ends of all spark plug leads as the impulse coupler activated. The heater shrouds were removed from the carburetor and cabin heater exhausts stacks, and no evidence of perforation was noted.
The oil pan was found crushed and broken open. Oil was observed dispersed over adjacent areas of the engine. The induction system was observed devoid of foreign material. The air filter appeared clean.
The gascolator bowl fuel screen was observed devoid of foreign material. The carburetor was removed and the bowl was opened. A measured 1.25 ounces of blue colored fuel was observed inside the bowl. The accelerator pump was activated, and a stream of fuel ejected from the exit port.
The main fuel line to the carburetor was found broken from its attachment fitting in an impact-damaged area of the engine compartment. Also, the gascolator was found with an impact puncture hole in the bowl. The fuel lines to both wing tanks were observed broken in impact damaged areas of the structure. The FAA coordinator reported observing an estimated 1.0 and 1.5 quarts of fuel in the left and right wing fuel tanks, respectively.
An area of black colored soot was observed on the gascolator bowl. Adjacent tree bark was found charred. This evidence of a localized ground fire was observed confined to the area forward of the firewall and on the exterior of the airframe in and around the engine compartment. No evidence of fire was observed in any other area of the airframe.
A receipt for a bottle of Popov vodka was found in the pilot's wallet. The receipt was dated February 2, 1999. The remains of a Popov vodka bottle were found next to the main wreckage.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An acquaintance of the pilot reported to the Safety Board investigator that during at least the past 10 years, the pilot had a history of alcohol consumption. Another person reported that the pilot was known around the local airport community to be a "good drinker." The pilot's wife reported to the Maricopa County Sheriff that her husband is an alcoholic.
The pilot's wife reported to the Safety Board investigator that her husband had not flown for a couple of days because of an ear infection for which he was taking medication. She also reported that she had spoken with her husband via telephone within, she believed, an hour prior to his takeoff. During their conversation the pilot indicated that he was emotionally upset. Although he had previously threatened to commit suicide, the pilot's wife stated that she did not believe he would kill himself in his airplane. He had continued his membership in Alcoholics Anonymous.
An autopsy was performed by the Mariposa County Coroner's Office, P.O. Box 276, Mariposa, California 95338.
The FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute, Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, reported detecting several drugs in specimens from the pilot. Specifically, fluoxetine (a prescription antidepressant), doxylamine (an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine), and dextromethorphan (an OTC decongestant) were found in the blood. Ephedrine (an OTC asthma medication) was found in the urine.
Ethanol was detected in the pilot's blood, vitreous fluid, and urine. The blood level was reported as 246 mg/dl (0.246 percent).
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Fuel Quantity Documentation.
According to the aircraft refueler at Trajen Flight Support, Castle Airport, on February 2, 1999, he completely refueled (topped off) N50878's fuel tanks. This action occurred about noon.
The last flight recorded in the pilot's flight record logbook is dated February 2, 1999. The duration of the listed flight is 2.6 hours, and the flight was logged in the "night" column, to and from the Castle Airport.
Based upon a nominal fuel consumption rate of 6.0 gallons per hour for this 2.6-hour-long flight, and the next flight being the accident flight with an assumed 0.5-hour length, the Safety Board investigator estimates that, about the time of the accident, the airplane's tanks contained approximately 7.4 gallons of fuel.
The FAA has published operating and flight regulations regarding the use of alcohol or drugs under 14 CFR 91.17. In summary, the FAA states that no person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft under any of the following conditions: (1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage; (2) While under the influence of alcohol; (3) While using any drug that affects the person's faculties in any way contrary to safety; or (4) While having .04 percent by weight or more alcohol in the blood.
The airplane wreckage was released to the pilot's wife on February 23, 1999. No parts or records were retained.