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On January 17, 1996, at 2011 central standard time, a Mooney M20K, N231GS, was destroyed after it impacted terrain following a loss of control near Laredo, Texas. The instrument rated private pilot, the sole occupant of the airplane, was fatally injured. The aircraft was being operated by the owner under Title 14 CFR Part 91. The flight had originated from the Laredo International Airport at 2008 and the intended destination was San Antonio, Texas. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the proposed night cross country flight for which an IFR flight plan was filed.
A witness reported that he and the pilot had departed from San Antonio International Airport on a business flight to Laredo, Texas, at approximately 1630 on the day of the accident, with full fuel tanks. The witness further reported that the pilot "engaged the autopilot at approximately 2,500 feet MSL, and flew the entire trip with use of the autopilot." The witness stated that they flew to Laredo at the assigned altitude of 8,000 feet MSL. The witness did not return to San Antonio with the pilot because he needed to complete a business transaction.
According to two witnesses who worked at the FBO where the pilot had parked his airplane, the pilot did not purchase any fuel during his stay at Laredo. The witnesses further reported that the pilot had asked them for some aspirin just before his departure. They didn't have any, and to the best of their knowledge, the pilot didn't locate any.
According to FAA records, at 1933, the pilot contacted San Angelo AFSS by telephone, received an abbreviated weather briefing for his flight, and filed an IFR flight plan. A review of the tapped communications between the pilot and Laredo ATC personnel indicated that the pilot was not familiar with the standard departure route he was assigned, and he had to ask ground control for more specific instructions for his route of flight. Additionally, the pilot requested progressive taxi instructions to assist him in finding his runway of departure.
At 2008, the pilot was cleared to takeoff on runway 14 and cleared to climb to 5,000 feet on his route of flight. The first recorded radar hit showed the airplane at mid-field at 200 feet AGL on a heading of 180 degrees. The airplane then made a climbing left turn to a heading of approximately 060 degrees. The pilot contacted Houston Center and reported "leaving 1,500 feet MSL climbing to 5,000 feet." The radar track indicated that the airplane made a slight turn to the left at 2,100 feet MSL and then turned to the right reaching a maximum altitude of 2,400 feet MSL. Subsequently, radar contact was lost.
The pilot reported a total of 500 hours of flight time on his last FAA flight physical application, which was dated July 22, 1995. The pilot purchased the accident aircraft in August 1995. The pilot's records indicated that he received training from August 1995 through October of 1995 which included 4.5 hours of simulated instrument work in the airplane and 2.5 hours of synthetic trainer work on the ground. The investigator-in-charge estimated, by using the pilot's log book (the log book appeared to contain only a partial history of the pilot's total flight experience) and through witness statements that, over a 6 month period, the pilot accumulated 45 hours in the aircraft. The pilot had a standing order with the FBO where he hangared the aircraft that, after he returned from a flight, the aircraft be fueled before it was put in the hangar. The last fuel purchase slip was dated December 31, 1995.
The accident airplane was built in 1979 and was equipped with an IMC compatible avionics package which included an autopilot with a flight director system. In August of 1995, the engine was top overhauled by installing new cylinders and an intercooler was added.
The weather in Laredo at the time of the aircraft's departure was an estimated ceiling of 10,000 feet broken, visibility 8 statute miles, temperature 75 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 58 degrees Fahrenheit, wind from 150 degrees at 16 knots with gusts to 25 knots, with a barometric pressure of 29.36 inches. A witness who departed Laredo approximately 5 minutes before the accident aircraft reported that "as I was climbing out off of runway 14, the turbulence was light to moderate, and it appeared the visibility was less than what Laredo Tower was reporting." The pilot further reported that "visibility was bad, 4 to 8 miles" due to blowing dust and haze, and "there was no definition of the horizon."
At the time of the accident, there was no moon overhead, and the 10,000 foot cloud layer covered more than 80% of the sky. The terrain that the accident aircraft was flying over was sparsely populated cattle country with minimal lights.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located approximately 3.5 nautical miles east of the Laredo International Airport and 200 feet north of US Highway 59. A cactus plant located 4 feet prior to the airplane's initial ground impact point had portions of its branches missing which measured 30 degrees down from the horizon. The area around the first impact point had pieces of green navigation light lens and a ground scar extended from there on a measured magnetic heading of 310 degrees. At the beginning of the ground scar, it measured 6 inches wide, it then extended for 22 feet where it measured 18 inches wide. At this point, a 3 foot deep crater was located, with the airplane's engine in it. The propeller blades were separated from the hub and they were found under the engine, 3.5 feet below ground level in hard dry soil. See the enclosed wreckage diagram, for details of the wreckage distribution.
All flight controls were accounted for at the accident site. Control cable continuity could not be established due to the extent of impact damage. The landing gear was found in the retracted position. Examination of the engine revealed no anomalies which could have prevented normal operation. "S" twisting was exhibited in the propeller blades.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Autopsy and toxicological tests were ordered and performed. The autopsy was performed by the Bexar County Forensic Science Center at San Antonio, Texas, on January 19, 1996. Toxicological tests were negative.
The airplane was released to the owner's representative.