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On May 3, 1997, approximately 0900 mountain daylight time, a Beech V35, N831U, was destroyed when it collided with terrain during landing approach at Lake George, Colorado. The commercial pilot in command and airline transport pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight was filed for the personal flight conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated at Englewood, Colorado, on May 3, 1997, approximately 0800.
The pilot's wife said that her husband had flown to Centennial Airport, where he picked up his son, who is also a pilot, and was returning to their ranch airstrip. She said her husband would normally call her on the radio and she would give him wind information. On this particular morning, he did not call but she heard the airplane approaching. Shortly thereafter, she heard a loud noise. Looking out the window, she saw smoke coming from the airstrip. She drove to the airstrip and found the airplane had crashed and was on fire. She returned to the house and telephoned 9-1-1 to report the accident. According to emergency personnel, the call was received at 0902.
A witness driving towards Lake George about 1/2-mile north of the accident site saw the approaching airplane. He said the pilot was making a "steep" approach and the landing gear was down. He said it was "very windy, really blowing, about 50 knots," and the airplane's wings were "dipping." He said the wind had been so strong the night before, it made "the walls of my cabin rattle." The airplane then descended behind trees. The witness did not observe the impact.
The pilot in the left seat was identified as Grady Lee Persons, the aircraft owner. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Mr. Persons, date of birth January 15, 1935, held Commercial Pilot Certificate No. 001438235, dated September 26, 1995, with airplane single/multiengine and instrument ratings. He also held a second class airman medical certificate, dated March 17, 1997, with the restriction that "Holder must have available glasses for near and intermediate vision."
The pilot's wife said her husband had stopped logging flight time some years ago, and had in excess of 10,000 flight hours. According to the FAA, when the pilot applied for medical certification on March 17, 1997, he estimated he had accumulated 5,000 total flight hours, 100 hours of which were accrued within the previous 6 months.
Six pilot logbooks were made available for inspection. Logbook #1 contained entries from February 21, 1955, to February 13, 1957. A total of 37:50 hours were recorded when the pilot was a University of Georgia student, to wit: Aeronca, 2:55; Piper J-3, 34:55. He soloed on January 8, 1957, but the date of his private pilot certification was not recorded.
Logbook #2 contained entries from January 28, 1958, to December 8, 1967. A total of 818:30 hours were recorded in this book. Entries recorded between January 28, 1958, and March 9, 1959, totaled 307:30 hours and were made when the pilot was a captain in the U.S. Air Force, to wit: Beech T-34, 29:58; North American T-28, 132:12; Cessna T-37, 00:50; Lockheed T-33, 144:30 The remaining entries, totaling 511:00 hours, were made after the pilot returned to civilian life and started an aircraft sales business. Between April 1, 1959, and December 8, 1967, he logged civilian aircraft flight time, to wit: Piper J-3, 1:30; PA-22, 296:15; PA-23, 1:00; PA-24, 6:00; PA-28, 4:30; Cessna 120, 1:05; Cessna 150, 4:50; Cessna 170, 1:30; Cessna 172, 32:00; Cessna 175, 1:40; Cessna 180, 3:40; Cessna 182, 64:10; Cessna 206, 9:20; Cessna 210, 18:10; Cessna 310, 17:20; Cessna 320, 3:00; Cessna 421, 1:00; Beech V35, 10:00; Beech 17, 4:00; Beech 55, 7:10; Beech A60, 4:00; Mooney M20E, 8:50; Ercoupe 415-C, 2:20; Citabria, 1:00; Aeronca L-2, 6:40. The pilot's multiengine certification was recorded in this logbook on December 13, 1966. There were no entries, however, detailing the multiengine instruction he received.
Logbook #3 contained entries from May 1, 1969, to September 28, 1982. Thereafter, until March 27, 1996 (the last entry), the pilot recorded biennial flight reviews only. A total of 689:34 documented hours were recorded. The pilot recorded an additional 1,000 hours in "various singles and multi," to wit: Beech V35, 389:40; Beech 55, 172:23; Beech A60, 45:00; Beech A65, 18:50.
Logbook #4 contained entries from April 1, 1985, to February 10, 1987. Only two pages were filled out, totaling 27:45 hours, and all were logged in a Fairchild.
Logbook #5 contained entries from December 8, 1994, to March 9, 1996, totaling 300:15 hours, to wit: Cessna 182, 198:00; Beech V35, 1:30; Cessna P210, 00:45; Unidentified aircraft, 100:00.
Logbook #6 contained entries from July 3, 1996, to October 11, 1996, totaling 29:00 hours, to wit: Beech V35, 12:00; Beech 35-A33, 1:00; Cessna R182, 11:00; Cessna 210, 5:00.
No less than 1,903:54 documented flight hours were recorded in the six logbooks. There were no entries in any of the logbooks detailing the instruction he received or the checkrides he took for his commercial pilot certificate and instrument rating.
The pilot in the right seat was identified as Keith Allen Persons, the pilot's son. He held Airline Transport Pilot Certificate No. 522338936, dated January 3, 1996, with an airplane multiengine rating, and commercial privileges in airplanes single-engine land; a Flight Instructor Certificate, dated May 14, 1996, with an airplane single-engine land rating, and a Ground Instructor Certificate, dated April 4, 1994, with an advanced rating. He also held a first class airman medical certificate, dated June 6, 1996, with no restrictions or limitations. His date of birth was October 8, 1965. According to the FAA, when he applied for medical certification on June 6, 1996, he estimated he had accumulated 2,200 total flight hours, 400 hours of which were accrued within the previous 6 months.
According to a Sierra West Airlines spokesman in Las Vegas, Nevada, Keith Persons was hired by the company on October 1, 1996, after he completed initial Learjet training at Flight Safety International. He was assigned as a first officer on the Learjet 20/30 series equipment based in Helena, Montana. His nightly runs were to Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver, Colorado. At the time of hire, he indicated he had accrued 2,360 hours total time; 1,890 hours cross-country; 171 hours night; 370 instrument hours, of which 180 hours were in actual instrument conditions.
According to a West Air Aviation spokesman in Helena, Montana, Keith Persons was hired in January 1997 as a part-time Cessna 402 captain. He flew bank notes at night from Helena to Englewood, Colorado, two or three weekends per month. Both companies agreed that he was careful not to exceed duty and flight times.
According to FAA documents, N831U (s/n D-8251), a model V35TC, was manufactured by the Beech Aircraft Corporation. An airworthiness certificate was issued on August 17, 1966. It was registered to the current owner on May 2, 1966. The airplane was powered by a Teledyne Continental TSIO-52-D engine (s/n 156035-6-D), rated at 285 horsepower, driving an all-metal McCauley 3-blade, constant speed propeller (m/n3A32c76-XLM, s/n 654726).
According to the aircraft maintenance records, the last annual inspection was performed on March 12, 1997, when the tachometer read 165.0 hours. Total time on the airplane at that time was 3954.9 hours. It could not be determined how many hours had been accumulated at the time of the accident because the tachometer had been destroyed.
The nearest recorded meteorological observation was made at Colorado Springs, 45 miles east-southeast of the accident site (see page 4 of this report for more details). Although the recorded wind was variable at 4 knots, fire department personnel reported that when they arrived on the scene, the wind was gusting approximately 20 knots. A witness who observed the airplane on its landing approach said it was "very windy, really blowing, about 50 knots," and that the airplane's wings were "dipping."
According to FAA Form 7480-1, "Notice of Landing Area Proposal," dated June 21, 1993, Persons Airstrip was to have a single runway, 18-36 (2,600 feet x 40 feet, gravel), and would be situated at 8,650 feet msl (above mean sea level). Examination of the runway on the day of the accident, however, disclosed it was more nearly aligned with 160 degrees. A sign near the runway indicated the elevation was 8,750 feet msl. GPS (Global Positioning System) readings taken at the ends of the runway revealed a distance of 2,904 feet (0.55 miles). Tall trees and rolling terrain surround the airstrip.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane collided with the 30 degree upslope side of an embankment about 15 feet below the runway threshold and 10 feet right of centerline. It then traveled up and onto the runway, and skidded 64 feet on a magnetic heading of 185 degrees, coming to a halt on the side of the runway and on a magnetic heading of 140 degrees, just past the threshold. Three rounded impressions were noted in the earth at the initial impact point. The right main wheel was found 50 feet to the right of the wreckage. The left main wheel remained attached. The nose wheel was broken off and was next to the nose section. The pitot tube was found next to the initial point of impact.
Control continuity was only partially established due to cockpit thermal damage. The landing gear bellcrank was extended which, according to the Beech Aircraft Corporation representative, is indicative of being down and locked. Measurement of the jackscew indicates the flaps were 40 degrees down. The ruddervator trim was 5 degrees tab down (nose up). The fuel selector was not found.
The 3-blade propeller assembly remained attached to the separated engine. There were no spiraling scratch marks on the spinner, only scratches extending from the tip straight back to the mounting plate. Both blades #1 and #3 were broken inside the hub and bent aft, and bore leading edge gouges and chordwise scratches on their cambered surface. Some longitudinal scratches were noted on blade #1 tip, and blade #3 tip was bent forward. Blade #2 was twisted and bore little leading edge and surface damage. The cockpit engine controls (throttle, mixture, propeller) were full forward.
The wings, cockpit, and engine bore extensive thermal damage. Many of the engine accessories were either melted or in various stages of melting. The turbocharger compressor blades were jammed against the housing and bent opposite the direction of rotation. The wastegate was open.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
On behalf of Park County, autopsies were performed on both pilots by Dr. Ben Galloway at the Jefferson County Coroner's Office in Littleton, Colorado.
Toxicological protocols were performed by the Jefferson County Coroner's Office and FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. According to the Jefferson County Coroner, 0.016 (16 mgm. %) blood alcohol was detected in Grady Persons, but this value was "probable postmortem artifact. Less than 5% carbon monoxide saturation was detected. The urine drug screen was negative. Less than 5% carbon monoxide saturation was detected in Keith Persons. His blood alcohol and urine drug screens were both negative.
According to CAMI's reports (9700087001 and 9700087002), no carboxyhemoglobin, cyanide, ethanol, or drugs were detected in specimens from either Grady or Keith Persons.
According to Mrs. Persons, her husband had been flying out of the ranch airstrip for about four years, often commuting every day to his business in Boulder, Colorado, and was thoroughly aware of the variable wind conditions in the area. She said he always made steep approaches at higher than normal airspeeds to compensate for sudden changes in wind direction and velocity.
In addition to the Federal Aviation Administration, parties to the investigation included the Beech Aircraft Corporation (airframe) and Teledyne Continental Motors (powerplants).
The wreckage was removed from the accident site on May 4, 1997, and released to a representative of the airplane's insurance company on May 9, 1997.