ATL97LA048
ATL97LA048

On March 11, 1997, at 1740 eastern standard time, a Bill Parson 2+2, gyrocopter, N254WP, collided with trees and burned on the departure end of runway 29 at the Flagler County Airport in Bunnell, Florida. The personal flight operated under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 with no flight plan filed. Visual weather conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The gyrocopter was destroyed. The pilot and passenger were fatally injured. The flight departed Bunnell, Florida, at 1738.

Reportedly, the pilot/owner of the gyrocopter had completed maintenance repairs on the gyrocopter prior to the attempted departure. According to friends of the pilot, he had installed a set of experimental main rotor blades on the gyrocopter, and this was the second flight after the main rotor blades were installed. Additionally, the pilot made a bending adjustment to the front flight control stick and had reinstalled it into the front position. According to an associate of the pilot, the hollow aluminum stick or "soft stick" was placed in a vise where the pilot bent it. Since this gyrocopter was also used for training, and the student pilot station was the front seat, the pilot/owner installed a frangible stick in that position. The purpose of the frangible or "soft stick", was to enable the instructor pilot, seated in the rear, to override the control forces of the student.

At 1730, the pilot returned from the first test flight at which time he was excited about the performance of the newly installed main rotor blades. According to a witness at the airport, the pilot told the passenger to get his helmet because they were going flying. Moments later, the pilot climbed into the front seat and the passenger climbed into the rear seat. They taxied to runway 29 for takeoff. The witness watched the gyrocopter as it climbed to about the height of the trees off the departure end of the runway. The witness continued to watch the gyrocopter as it entered a left turn, and began losing altitude. The gyrocopter descended below the tree tops and was out of sight for a moment. The gyrocopter climbed back into view for a moment and was next seen in the left turn with a nose down attitude. The gyrocopter disappeared from sight again; seconds later the witness saw a large flame coming from the vicinity where the gyrocopter was last seen.

An examination of the gyrocopter at the accident site disclosed that the front seat control stick was fractured. According to the on-scene investigator, an FAA Airworthiness Inspector, the control stick fracture faces exhibited features typical of a fatigue cracking. The examination of the control stick also revealed that the fracture occurred in the vicinity of where it attached to the control column on the floor. A review of the aircraft maintenance logs failed to disclose the completion of recent maintenance or a current airframe condition/annual inspection.

The pilot's flight logs were not recovered for examination.

The autopsy was conducted on the pilot by Dr. Terrence Steiner at the Florida State Office of The Medical Examiner in St. Augustine, on March 13, 1997. The Toxicological examination of the pilot was negative for alcohol, but 18.300 (ug/ml, ug/g) of salicylate was detected in the urine sample.

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