SEA97LA177
SEA97LA177

On July 25, 1997, approximately 1310 mountain daylight time, a Cessna 182G, N3134S, struck a tree and crashed following a low pass over the Root Ranch private airstrip northeast of Big Creek, Idaho. The airplane was destroyed by impact forces and a post-crash fire, and the private pilot, who owned the aircraft, and an airline transport pilot/flight instructor, were killed. According to records recovered from the aircraft wreckage, the airplane had last departed the Flying B Ranch airstrip, a private airstrip west of Salmon, Idaho and approximately 25 nautical miles southeast of the Root Ranch airstrip. Visual meteorological conditions were reported at Salmon at 1314, and no flight plan had been filed for the 14 CFR 91 instructional flight.

According to personnel at McCall Air Taxi of McCall, Idaho, of whom the flight instructor aboard the accident aircraft was the chief pilot, the trip during which the accident occurred began on the day of the accident at McCall. McCall Air Taxi personnel indicated that the instructor had blocked out her schedule with "student" for the afternoon of the accident flight, and that N3134S was fueled prior to departure from McCall (according to Cessna delivery records, the accident aircraft was manufactured with extended-range fuel tanks of 84 gallons total capacity.) The records recovered from the aircraft wreckage indicated that an 0.7 hour flight from McCall to the Flying B Ranch was accomplished prior to the accident flight.

According to the Idaho state airport directory, the Root Ranch airstrip is a 1,900 foot long, north-south oriented airstrip at an elevation of 5,650 feet above sea level. Witnesses reported to on-scene FAA investigators that prior to the airplane's arrival, they heard on the radio that an airplane was approaching the airstrip to make a mail drop, and that they subsequently observed the airplane approach the airstrip in a south-to north direction at a slow speed at an altitude between 100 and 150 feet above the ground. Approximately 1/3 of the way down the strip, the pilot dropped a package out of the airplane's left side window. The package was a Ziploc type bag containing a birthday card and cookies. A male was observed sitting in the left seat. The witnesses stated that they then heard engine power increase.

In a written statement, one of the FAA on-scene investigators indicated that a standard departure procedure from the airstrip is to continue north of the airstrip, maintaining right of the runway centerline, then make a 180-degree turn prior to departing on course. Witnesses stated that after the package drop and power increase, the airplane continued north in level flight, then began a left turn. The witnesses stated that the airplane struck a line of trees approximately 1,400 feet north of the departure end of the airstrip while in a left bank, went into a sharp left turn and steep nose-down attitude, and crashed. Investigators at the accident site estimated the height of these trees as between 60 and 80 feet, and noted that during their on-scene examination, they observed other airplanes on the departure flight path to fly directly over these trees about 150 to 200 feet over the treetops as they departed. One witness, who holds an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate, stated that the airplane impacted the ground "with power on." A post-crash fire and explosion ensued. The aircraft occupants were subsequently found dead at the scene.

Investigators from the FAA and Cessna responded to the accident scene and conducted an on-site examination. They reported that the aircraft wreckage had been almost totally consumed by fire aft of the engine firewall, with extensive melting of aircraft structural aluminum, but that the surviving wreckage available for examination at the site did not reveal any evidence of aircraft malfunction. The on-scene investigators noted tops broken off of trees in the area of the reported tree strike, with one 6-foot section and another 2-foot section of freshly broken tree on the ground near the trees with broken tops. Pieces of red wingtip light glass and a clear plastic landing light lens cover were found between the tree breaks and the crash site, which was immediately west of the tree breaks. The airplane's flap actuating jackscrews were found and measured to be in a position corresponding to 10 degrees of flap extension. The on-site investigators reported that evidence noted in the wreckage indicated the pilot/owner was at the controls at the time of ground impact, and that the flight instructor was not operating the controls at that time.

The aircraft wreckage, including the aircraft's Continental O-470-R engine and its McCauley two-blade, constant-speed propeller, was recovered from the accident site and moved to the facilities of Discount Aircraft Salvage, Deer Park, Washington, for storage. Two follow-up examinations of the aircraft wreckage, engine, and propeller were conducted at Discount Aircraft Salvage, the first on August 27, 1997 by FAA and Teledyne Continental Motors (TCM) investigators. Neither of the follow-up wreckage examinations disclosed any evidence of an airframe, engine, or propeller malfunction.

According to the FAA airmen registry, the pilot was from San Diego, California. McCall Air Taxi personnel indicated that he had come to McCall to undergo a course of mountain flight instruction with the instructor. The Idaho State Transportation Department, Division of Aeronautics, reported in the Fall 1997 edition of its newsletter, "Rudder Flutter", that the flight instructor was a well-known mountain and backcountry flight instructor in the area, and that she had over 14,000 hours total time, with extensive backcountry flight instruction experience as well as experience flying for the U.S. Forest Service.

Autopsies on the pilot/owner and flight instructor were conducted at the St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, Boise, Idaho, on July 26, 1997. The cause of the pilot/owner's death was listed as "small aircraft accident associated with total body burns." The cause of the flight instructor's death was listed as "small aircraft accident resulting in massive trauma associated with total body burns."

Toxicology tests on the pilot/owner and flight instructor were performed by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The CAMI toxicology tests did not detect any carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol or drugs in the flight instructor. In the pilot/owner, the tests detected 75 mg/dL ethanol in the kidney, 35 mg/dL ethanol in muscle, 28 mg/dL acetraldehyde in muscle, 3 mg/dL isobutanol in muscle, and 17 mg/dL acetaldehyde in the kidney. No drugs were detected in the pilot's kidney fluid, and carbon monoxide and cyanide analyses were not performed on the pilot/owner due to lack of suitable specimens. In a medical analysis of the CAMI toxicology test findings on the pilot/owner, the NTSB's medical officer concluded that the significance of the findings was unclear, but that it was possible the volatiles detected were the result of post-mortem alcohol production.

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