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On May 19, 1995, approximately 2130 Pacific daylight time (PDT), a Cessna 177RG, N9ER, impacted a residence about one-quarter mile south of Crest Airpark, Kent, Washington. The private pilot received serious injuries, his two passengers perished in the ensuing fire, and the aircraft was destroyed. No flight plan had been filed for the personal pleasure flight, which departed from Harvey Field, Snohomish, Washington, about 20 minutes earlier. The pilot, who was on approach to land at Crest Airpark at the time of the accident, was operating in visual meteorological conditions. There was no report of an ELT activation.
According to the pilot, he, his wife, and his son, departed Crest Airpark about 1730 on the evening of the accident. They flew to Harvey Field, had dinner at the on-field restaurant, and flew back to Crest.
Witnesses who were operating their aircraft at Crest at the time N9ER entered the pattern said that the sun had disappeared over the horizon about 15 minutes earlier (see attached Solar and Lunar Events graph). They said that although there was still some faint light from the setting sun at traffic pattern altitude, it appeared dark down in the trees. They reported that the contrast between the dim light of the sun in the west and the darkness of the forest near the airstrip made the terrain look like one dark flat expanse with little definition.
Two pilots, who were preparing for takeoff in the run-up area at the south end of the airstrip, saw N9ER enter a left downwind for runway 33 at Crest. They reported that there were two other aircraft in the pattern ahead of the accident aircraft, and that the pilot of N9ER made "normal" radio calls on downwind, base, and final. They said the aircraft ahead of N9ER extended its pattern slightly, and the pilot of N9ER extended his pattern even further. This put N9ER in a position that resulted in it starting the turn to base significantly farther from the end of the runway than a standard pattern would dictate if there were no other preceding traffic.
According to these witnesses, the pilot of N9ER began a descent just prior to starting his turn to base. He then established a descent rate that appeared to be the same as would be expected in a standard/non-extended pattern. Before the aircraft had turned final, it had descended to an altitude where it was no longer visible to the individuals who had been observing it from the airstrip.
According to the pilot of N9ER, "The rate of descent seemed excessive...," so he added power to maintain altitude while he proceeded inbound on final. Although the aircraft was still low, the pilot was able to identify the runway lights, and according to him, "It appeared that we had a clear approach to the runway, when the right wing apparently hit a tree..."
After hitting the tree, which broke off near its top, the aircraft rotated about 90 degrees to the right, and descended into the roof of a nearby private residence. The aircraft went through the roof of the house and came to rest in the living room. After being pulled free of the wreckage by an occupant of the house, the pilot advised the occupant that there were two other individuals in the aircraft. While an attempt was being made to locate the other occupants of the aircraft, fuel from the aircraft's ruptured fuel tanks was ignited by sparks from severed power lines in the house, and the living room became totally engulfed in flames. Because of the intense fire, attempts to rescue the other aircraft occupants were not successful.
According to the pilot, there was no indication of mechanical problems prior to the crash, and while he was being assisted by rescue workers, he stated that he had hit a tree while trying to land. The occupant of the home said that he heard the aircraft engine at full power just before it impacted the house.
The pilot of the aircraft holds private pilot certificate #537805943, issued May 20, 1994. Records from Crest Airpark showed that he had received his initial checkout in the accident aircraft on January 5, 1995, and had flown the aircraft four times since that date. The operator of Crest Airpark indicated that in the 90 day period prior to the accident, the pilot had rented aircraft for two flights conducted entirely during the hours of darkness. In addition, had rented an aircraft once for a flight that was initiated around dusk, but was believed to have terminated after dark. Although the pilot said that his pilot log was destroyed in the crash, he reported that he had about 15 hours total night time, with 5.5 hours of night time in the last 90 days. He also said that he had completed at least three night full-stop landings within the 90 days prior to the flight.
The 1994 edition of Washington State Aeronautic's Pilot's Guide to Washington Airports lists the trees at the south end of the field as obstacles, and notes that the threshold of runway 33 is displaced by 267 feet. Witnesses reported that the low intensity runway lights (LIRL) were operating at the time of the accident.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
A deciduous tree, which had been impacted by the aircraft, was located approximately 1760 feet from the painted threshold line on runway 33 at Crest Airpark. The tree, which was sheared off by the impact at a point about 70 to 75 feet above the ground, was growing on the down-sloping eastern side of a knoll. The top of the knoll, which had been leveled and cleared of vegetation, was approximately 50 feet higher than the elevation of the south end of the runway, and was in almost direct alignment with the extended runway center-line. The tree itself was approximately 100 feet east of the extended runway center-line, and downhill from the top of the knoll. Because the tree was growing on down- sloping terrain, the point at which it sheared was only about 20 feet higher than the top of the knoll. A number of freshly broken branches, with diameters from one and one-half to three inches, were found laying on the ground near the northeast side of the tree. Three pieces of the main trunk, from above the point where the tree had sheared, were pieced together, and measured about ten feet in length.
The residence which the aircraft impacted was approximately 220 feet from the base of the tree on a magnetic heading of 112 degrees. The down-sloping terrain from the tree to the house was descending at a slope of about 15 degrees.
Once the fire subsided, the aircraft's engine was located near the center of what had been the living room of the house. The engine was embedded in the wooden flooring of the house in a nose down attitude of 35 degrees on a magnetic heading of 082 degrees. Except for a few small pieces of skin from the empennage area, all of the aluminum structure of the aircraft had melted in the fire. All steel components associated with the flight control system, gear mount and retracting system, and engine control system were located in the remains of the home, and no failures or anomalies of these components were found. Flight control cable continuity from the cabin area to each flight control actuator cable attach point was established.
The engine was removed from the scene and taken to a hangar at Crest Airpark, where it was subjected to a teardown inspection by the NTSB, with the assistance of a representative from Textron- Lycoming Aircraft Engines. Although one propeller blade had melted away, the other blade was bent back and showed some chordwise scarring. Clear leading edge impact damage or longitudinal twisting could not be identified. The accessory section had been destroyed by the fire, but the accessory drive gears were intact. Pieces of melted metal were removed from the accessory drive gears, and the crankshaft was rotated. Mechanical continuity through the pistons and valve/rocker system was confirmed. The number one cylinder was removed, and no anomalies were found with the piston, rings, valves, or internal mechanical structure of the engine. Both the fuel filter and the oil filter were opened for inspection, and no unusual buildup or contamination was found.
On May 27, 1995, at Crest Airpark, the aircraft wreckage was released to American Eagle Insurance Co., a representative of the aircraft owner.