On July 3, 1997, at 1445 central daylight time, an experimental Reiffer RS-15 glider, N8032H was substantially damaged while landing at a private airstrip near Ward, Arkansas. The commercial pilot, sole occupant of the glider, sustained serious injuries. The homebuilt glider aircraft was owned and operated by the pilot under Title 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight for which a flight plan was not filed. The flight originated from the private airstrip approximately 10 minutes prior to the accident.

Witnesses reported to a local law enforcement officer that they observed the glider on its second flight of the day executing a standard left downwind for a landing to the east at the Edward's Sailplane Ranch. The witnesses further reported that the glider was coming in with the landing gear extended at a normal speed and altitude; however, it appeared to be floating at 6 to 8 feet above the runway. Both witnesses stated that the glider's flaps were not deployed which accounted for the glider's extended flight over the runway without a perceived loss of altitude.

The witnesses, who were standing by the hangar door, reported that as the glider was approximately 400 feet from the departure end of the east runway, the pilot elected to abort the landing and execute a climbing right turn with approximately 60 degrees bank angle. One witness stated that the glider "appeared to stall at about 65 feet above the ground and dropped into trees" south of the runway.

Both wings separated from the fuselage as the glider crashed through 60 foot tall trees, coming to rest in the upright position in a shallow creek. The pilot was evacuated by air ambulance to a nearby hospital where he stayed for 2 days.

The 1979 glider was described as a high performance sailplane with a 40:1 glide ratio that relies solely on the flaps (not equipped with spoilers) for glide path and airspeed control. The flaps, which extend to a maximum of 90 degrees, are extended and retracted by the pilot by a hand crank located in the cockpit. Three full rotations are required to either extend or retract the flaps.

In the narrative portion of the enclosed NTSB Form 6120.1/2, as well as during telephone conversations with the pilot, the pilot discussed "going counter crank on the flaps" as a factor. The FAA inspector stated that the flap crank was not marked as to the direction (clockwise or counter-clockwise) required to extend and retract the flaps. The pilot had accumulated at total of 19 hours in gliders, of which 15.8 hours were in the same make and model. A total of 2.1 hours were flown by the pilot in the same and model within 30 days preceding the accident.

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