History of the Flight

On March 9, 1996, about 1400 hours Pacific standard time, a Bellanca 7GCAA, N5052Y, and a Piper PA-28-236, N8179A, collided in-flight over Los Alamitos, California, which is about 5 miles east of Long Beach airport, Long Beach, California. Both airplanes were substantially damaged. Both certificated commercial pilots, the sole occupants, were not injured. N5052Y departed the Long Beach airport about 1355 hours and was destined for Hemet, California. After the collision the pilot returned to the Long Beach airport and landed safely. N8179A departed the William J. Fox Airport, Lancaster, California, about 1345 hours and was destined for Torrance, California. After the collision the pilot continued to his destination and landed safely. Both airplanes were being operated by their respective pilot/owners as visual flight rules (VFR) personal flights at the time of the accident. Neither pilot was in contact with any air traffic control facility at the time of the collision. Visual meteorological conditions existed at the time of the collision.

The pilot of N5052Y indicated he was climbing to 5,500 feet above mean sea level (msl) at 1,000 feet per minute on a easterly heading towards Hemet. He stated he heard a loud bang, but never saw the other airplane before the collision. The pilot indicated his position at the time of the collision was south of the Seal Beach VOR, and north of the Interstate 405 freeway.

The pilot of N8179A indicated he was descending through 4,500 feet msl on a westerly heading in the vicinity of the Seal Beach VOR. The pilot of N8179A stated he saw the other airplane seconds before the collision cross the center of his windshield heading to his left. The pilot indicated the other airplane appeared to be climbing. The pilot looked over his left shoulder and stated he saw the other airplane "continuing in stable flight in an easterly direction." The pilot also stated he did not have time to perform an evasive maneuver.

Pilot Information


The pilot of the Bellanca holds a commercial pilot certificate which was issued on February 20, 1972, with ratings for single and multiengine airplanes, gliders, and an airplane instrument rating. His most recent biennial flight review was on November 11, 1991, and was accomplished in a Grob SGS-23A glider. He indicated his total aeronautical experience consisted of about 2,000 hours, of which 200 hours were accrued in the Bellanca. He also listed in his accident report a total of 18 hours flown in the preceding 90 days. His most recent third-class medical certificate was issued on August 22, 1995, and contained the limitation that correcting lenses be worn while exercising the privileges of his airman certificate.


The pilot of the Piper holds a private pilot certificate which was issued on September 2, 1994, with a single engine airplane rating. He indicated his total aeronautical experience consisted of 437.4 hours, of which 412.7 were accrued in the Piper PA28-236. In the preceding 90 days, he listed a total of 50.3 hours flown, all in the Piper PA28-236. His most recent third-class medical certificate was issued on January 26, 1995, and contained the limitation that correcting lenses for near vision must available while exercising the privileges of his airman certificate.

The pilot indicated to the Safety Board that he was pursuing an airplane instrument rating and had accrued about 5 hours of actual instrument flight experience, and about 10 hours of simulated instrument flight experience. He stated that he would normally request basic radar services while flying under VFR. He indicated his purpose for requesting the radar services was in conjunction with his instrument training. He wanted to gain more experience communicating with air traffic control as well as receiving traffic advisories. However, he had not requested these services on the collision flight.

Meteorological Information

The Torrance Airport air traffic control tower was notified of the collision by the pilot of N8179A, and took a special weather observation. The tower is located about 14 nautical miles west of the Seal Beach VOR. At 1415, the special surface observation was reporting in part: Sky condition and ceiling, estimated 20,000 feet broken; visibility, 7 miles; winds, 340 degrees at 7 knots; altimeter, 30.05 inHg. There were no obstructions to visibility reported by the air traffic control tower or either pilot.

Wreckage and Impact Information

Both airplanes were examined at their respective airport destinations after the collision. The airplanes had been secured beforehand.

The damage to both aircraft was on their left sides. The damage to the Bellanca was: the wing struts were bent; the vertical stabilizer and rudder fabric was torn; and the left horizontal stabilizer lower structural support wire was separated at the stabilizer. There was no damage found on the fabric or structure of the underside of the left wing.

The Piper had the left wing plastic tip shattered, and the outboard 2 feet of the wing leading edge was crushed aft and torn. There was a diagonal dent found in the leading edge of the wing that corresponded to the diameter of the Bellanca wing strut. Pieces of the Piper's plastic wing tip were found embedded in the torn fabric of the Bellanca on the vertical stabilizer structure, and on the ground at the Los Alamitos Army Airfield in Los Alamitos.

Tests and Research

Radar Data

Radar data for a 30 minute period starting about 20 minutes before the collision was requested by the Safety Board from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The data consisted of 18,661 targets in the 625-square-mile area south and east of the radar antennae site which is located at the Los Angeles International Airport. Review of the data did not reveal any tracks that could be identified as the collision aircraft. However, there were several data points found whose position and time corresponded to navigation data retrieved from the GPS in N8179A. The radar target data is attached to this report.

Global Positioning System (GPS) Data

The pilot of N8179A was operating a portable GPS receiver from takeoff to landing on the collision flight. The Safety Board downloaded the track data from the GPS receiver unit and graphically overlaid the track data over the radar data. A copy of the overlay and GPS data are attached to this report.

Terminal Radar Services for VFR Aircraft

According to the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), all FAA commissioned radar facilities are capable of providing basic radar services for VFR aircraft that include safety alerts, traffic advisories, limited radar vectoring, and traffic sequencing. The services are available for departing and arriving aircraft when requested.

Additional Information

The Safety Board did not retain custody of any part of the airplane. Pieces of the Piper's left wing tip were recovered and released to the airplane owner on March 13, 1996.

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