FTW96LA159
FTW96LA159

On April 3, 1996, at 1240 central standard time, a WSK PZL Mielec M-18A, N2159K, registered to and operated by R.C. Air Corporation under Title 14 CFR Part 137, nosed over during an aborted takeoff near Hughes, Arkansas. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local aerial application flight, and a flight plan was not filed. The commercial pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. The flight was originating from an agriculture airstrip near Hughes, Arkansas, at the time of the accident. A post-impact fire destroyed the airplane.

According to the pilot's ground crew, he had flown 5 application flights that morning. The pilot then flew to West Memphis to fuel his airplane. The pilot's ground crew further stated that he next flew to the airstrip where the accident happened and made a landing to pick up a load of Urea fertilizer. Another witness stated that neither "the pilot nor his men had ever been to that strip [before], so I led them down there."

One witness described the east-west grass airstrip as a "runway that was down the top of a ridge." Another witness, a pilot who had operated off of this airstrip many times, reported that "the accident strip is short, only 1,500 feet in length, and has a tilt that causes the south wing to be higher when taking off toward the west." This same witness reported "the weather that day was nearly prohibitive to small aircraft. The wind was from the south at about 35-40 mph, with higher gusts. This wind forced me to move from an east/west airstrip, only five miles north of the accident site, to a north/south strip." The manufacturer of the accident airplane has a published maximum cross wind velocity of 13 knots.

One of the pilot's ground crew reported to the investigator-in-charge that the airstrip appeared "very short," and he suggested to the pilot that he make his "first ever" takeoff from the field with a partial load. The pilot agreed, and subsequently only 3,000 pounds of fertilizer was put into the plane's hopper. During the loading process, the pilot stayed in the aircraft with the engine running. Witnesses reported that after the aircraft was loaded, the pilot throttled the engine to full power and held it for "some time," before he released the brakes.

One of the ground crew reported to the investigator-in-charge that the start of the takeoff "appeared normal," and he didn't take his eyes off the aircraft until he saw "the wing tips began to rise." Another witness observed the left wing "rise up and then come down almost to the ground." A third witness observed the "plane leave the ground and veer to the right (north)."

A witness stated that, as the airplane "went airborne he left the ridge (to the north)." He further stated, "I watched the plane for a second or two then noticed the tail section starting to rise, I knew he was down." According to the above witness, the ground scar made by the accident aircraft revealed the following: "the brakes were applied alternately (right, left, right, left, right, left) then they were both locked-up. After sliding about 30 yards the prop began hitting the ground, a couple of feet apart at first getting closer each time until the nose of the plane dug into the ground, sliding about 20 feet before the plane flipped and left the ground. The plane landed on it's top and slid only a few inches."

The pilot had been flying an Air Tractor for the previous two years and had purchased this aircraft on December 29, 1995. According to witnesses who knew the pilot, he had approximately 100 hours in the aircraft.

The autopsy was performed by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Toxicological findings were negative.

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