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On May 19, 1997, at 1335 central daylight time, a Pezetel M-18A (Dromader) agricultural airplane, N8089Z, was destroyed following a loss of control during initial takeoff climb near Wilmot, Arkansas. The non-instrument rated commercial pilot, sole occupant of the airplane, was fatally injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by Wilmot Aviation Inc., of Wilmot, Arkansas, on a Title 14 CFR Part 137 flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the aerial application flight for which a flight plan was not filed. The flight, which was the pilot's first flight of the day, was originating from the operator's private airstrip at the time of the accident.
Following a takeoff to the east, the airplane was observed by witnesses attaining a maximum altitude of 150 to 200 feet above the ground in a pronounced nose high attitude. Witnesses further stated that the airplane executed a right turn and then the left wing dropped, followed by the airplane impacting the ground in a nose low attitude. The pilot did not release the load of rice seed prior to impacting the ground.
The commercial pilot was issued a commercial certificate number 430040751 on April 27, 1981, with airplane single engine land privileges with a limitation prohibiting carrying passengers for hire at night or on a cross country flight of more than 50 nautical miles. His last second class medical certificate was issued on February 13, 1997, without any limitations. At the time of his last medical, he reported a total of 8,577 flight hours, of which 20 were flown within the last 6 months.
The pilot had been employed as a pilot by Wilmot Aviation since 1989, and this was his 8th season spraying with the same operator. He was qualified in the Dromader airplane in February 1997, and had flown approximately 150 hours in the Dromader. According to FAA records, the pilot attended an FAA sponsored accident prevention safety meeting in March.
On the day of the accident, the pilot was reported to have arrived at the airport at approximately 0600 for the operator's only scheduled flight which was scheduled to depart Wilmot at approximately 1100. The flight was delayed by thunderstorms with high winds and heavy rain showers that moved throughout the area. The flight was further delayed by the late delivery of the rice seed that was to be sprayed.
The pilot and two other employees went to lunch at a nearby restaurant to wait for the weather to improve. His fellow workers reported that during lunch the pilot "was happy, in good spirits, and not complaining about any ailments." They further stated that the pilot quit smoking about 4 weeks prior to the accident and "he seemed to be coping with it very well." The pilot was described by his peers as "being very professional with a passion for safety and always doing things right the first time."
After returning from lunch, the pilot started the airplane and taxied to the runup area. Upon completion of the runup, the pilot taxied the airplane to the loading area where the 2 employees he had lunch with loaded the hopper while the pilot remained in the cockpit with the engine running at idle. None of the operator's employees recalled observing the pilot untie the airplane or conduct a preflight walk-around inspection prior to the runup or the flight.
The model M-18A airplane, serial number 1Z025-19, was manufactured and assembled in Poland by Pezetel Mielec in 1995. The airplane was exported to the United States where it was issued a restricted category airworthiness certificate for agriculture and pest control on August 23, 1995. The manufacturer is represented in the United States by Melex USA Incorporated. The operator reported that he purchased the airplane new in 1995, and the airplane was only utilized by the operator until the time of the accident.
The last annual inspection was performed on April 1, 1997, by Southeast Arkansas Aviation of Crossett, Arkansas. At the time of the accident the airplane had accumulated 8 flight hours since the last annual inspection. Total time on the airframe, engine and propeller was 891 hours.
A review of the airframe and engine records by the FAA inspector, did not reveal any anomalies or uncorrected maintenance defects prior to the flight. According to the inspector, the airframe and engine were found to be in compliance with applicable airworthiness inspections.
The airplane's 660 gallon fiberglass hopper was loaded with 3,000 pounds of "dry 90-day rice seed" just prior to the first takeoff of the day. An estimate of the weight of the airplane at the time of the accident places the airplane within its weight and balance limits.
The operator stated that other than cleaning the windscreen, no airframe or engine maintenance had been performed on the airplane since its last flight. All of the operator's airplanes were reported to have remained parked overnight outside the hangar in their respective tie down spots on the asphalt apron. The operator's policy is to install the control locks on the rudder, ailerons and both elevators prior to departing the area after the last flight of the day. The operator further reported that all of his airplanes are also tied down with ropes after the last flight of the day, and it is normally the pilot's responsibility to untie their assigned airplane the next morning.
The nearest weather reporting station was Greenville, Arkansas, (GLH), which is located 43 nautical miles northeast (045 degrees) of the accident site. At 1350 the weather was reported as 2,000 foot overcast ceiling with 10 miles visibility, temperature of 77 degrees and a dew point of 70 degrees Fahrenheit, altimeter setting of 29.91 inches, and the winds from 190 degrees at 25 knots. The remarks section reported thunderstorms to the west moving to the northeast.
Residents of the local area and personnel at the airport reported that on the day of the accident, gusty winds prevailed for most of the daylight hours. The intensity of the wind gusts were estimated to have reached 35 knots.
The airplane was equipped with a 2-way radio which is normally used by the pilot to flight-follow, communicate with the customers, and keep the operator abreast of the status of their flight. The operator reported that no distress calls were received from the pilot prior to the accident.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane came to rest on a measured heading of 210 degrees in a freshly cultivated cotton field with north-south oriented furrows located about 3.7 statute miles north of the Louisiana-Arkansas border. Imprints corresponding to the leading edge of the right wing, both main landing gears and the engine were found on the soft ground on a measured heading of 210 degrees. All aircraft components and wreckage were found within a 50 foot radius form the initial point of impact. A post-impact fire destroyed the airplane.
The 9 cylinder radial engine was found partially buried in the ground, inclined downward approximately 36 degrees. The four blade constant speed propeller was found buried in the soft ground. One blade, which was found separated from the hub, displayed rotational marks and torsional twisting.
Initial examination of the wreckage revealed that the elevators could not be moved. Further examination of the elevator control system revealed that the control lock for the left elevator was found to be installed on the outboard portion of the left elevator. The control lock was painted red; however, a warning streamer or flag ("remove before flight") was not attached to the control lock.
Flight control continuity was established to the rudder, elevators and the left wing. The right wing was totally consumed by fire and the left wing was severely burned. The control tubes to the right wing were destroyed by the fire thus continuity could not be established. The position of the hydraulically operated wing flaps could not be determined due to impact and fire damage. Both main landing gears were found folded aft.
The vertical stabilizer, rudder, both horizontal stabilizers, and both elevators were undamaged and remained attached to the empennage. The rudder trim was slightly left of center and the elevator trim tabs were found deflected slightly down (nose up).
Both wing fuel cells were compromised and destroyed by fire. The fuel selector could not be located and it is assumed to have been consumed by the fire.
The airplane was equipped with a SATLOC GPS System. The computer box containing the memory chip was destroyed by the fire. No evidence of early release of the load of rice seed was found along the flight path of the airplane.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy and toxicological tests were requested and performed. The autopsy was performed by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory of Little Rock, Arkansas, on May 21, 1997, as requested by Ms. Charlotte Tadlock, County Coroner for Ashley County. Toxicological tests were negative.
A post-impact fire destroyed the forward portion of the airplane, the right wing and cockpit area. Witnesses in the area reported that smoke was observed coming from the wreckage soon after the airplane impacted the ground. No evidence of pre-impact fire was found during the field portion of the investigation.
The pilot was wearing a flight helmet. The cockpit area was not compromised by the impact; however, the entire cockpit, to include the pilot's seat was consumed by the post-impact fire. The seat belt and shoulder harnesses were being worn at the time of the accident. Local emergency medical personnel (EMS) that responded to the accident site reported that they had to cut one of the seat belts to release the body of the pilot from his seat. The seat belts and shoulder harnesses were consumed by the post impact fire.
The wreckage was released to the owner's representative at the conclusion of the investigation.