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On September 7, 1997, at 1320 eastern daylight time (edt), a Cessna 177B, N34142, piloted by a non-instrument rated private pilot, was destroyed during an in-flight breakup and collision with trees and the ground. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal 14 CFR Part 91 flight was not operating on a flight plan. The pilot was fatally injured. The flight departed Waterford, Michigan, exact time unknown.
At 1048 edt the accident pilot called the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Flight Service Station (FSS) at Lansing, Michigan. She asked for a weather briefing relative to her route of flight and destination, from The Oakland County International Airport, Waterford Michigan, to Charlevoix, Michigan. The FSS specialist (specialist)advised the pilot that "...there have been IFR ceilings and visibilities through [the pilots]route." The specialist advised the pilot that conditions "...should start improving here within the next hour, hour-and-a-half." He advised the pilot that "...IFR conditions [would end] somewhere between 11 and noon."
The specialist advised the pilot that cloud bases were about 300-feet overcast with visibilities varying between 1-1/2 and 2-miles in mist and fog north through the Flint and Pontiac, Michigan, area. He told the pilot, "...Saginaw varying anywhere from ceilings of 300 to 1,300 overcast." The pilot replied, "Wow."
The specialist advised the pilot that the closest weather reporting station to her destination, Antrim, Michigan, was reporting an overcast ceiling of 1,300-feet with a visibility of 10-miles. He advised the pilot that Traverse City, Michigan, had an overcast ceiling at 800-feet with 6-miles visibility and light rain. The pilot responded, "So you say you will get new weather in an hour?" The specialist told the pilot the new weather would be in within 12-minutes. The pilot said, "Okay, I will call back in a half hour or so." There is no record of the pilot calling back for an update briefing.
The pilot of N34142 contacted Saginaw, Michigan's, Saginaw-MBS International Airports Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Air Traffic control Towers approach control at 1257 edt. The FAA approach controller (controller)replied several times with no acknowledgment from the pilot. At 1300 edt communications was established with the pilot. The pilot reported her airplane was level at 2,500-feet above mean sea level (msl). About 12 minutes later the pilot called the controller and requested a climb to 5,500-feet msl. The controller suggested the pilot climb to either 4,500 or 6,500-feet msl due to the northwest direction of her flight. The pilot advised the controller she was going to climb to 4,500-feet msl.
At 1316 edt the controller advised N34142's pilot that traffic is directly in front of her about 2-miles away. The controller also advised the pilot of the second airplane that N34142 is about 2 miles directly in front of his airplane. The pilot of that airplane reported his airplane was flying in instrument meteorological conditions at 5,000-feet msl. About 4-minutes later N34142's pilot requested a climb to 6,500-feet msl. The controller approved the climb. At 1321 edt the controller received a distress call, "Help me. Help me," from what he describes as an unknown source. He said, "I observed the Mode C of N34142 descending and went into coast." Excerpts from the FAA Air Traffic control accident report is appended to this report.
Two witnesses observed the airplane exit the clouds in a steep, pitched down, attitude. One said the airplane was "...headed straight down, (nose first)... ." He said the "Low cloud ceiling, approximately 1,000-2,000 feet made it difficult to see much also." The second witness said the airplane "... came out of [the] clouds nose first... ." One of the witnesses said the airplane "...sound like a crop duster type plane, under full power... ." The second witness said he "...heard [the] airplane roaring at low level... ." Both witnesses said they saw parts coming off the airplane as it descended. They reported observing a vapor trail coming from the right side of the airplane. A third witness said he heard "...an airplane engine roaring very loud." He said the airplane was about 500 to 1,000-feet above the ground in a left bank. He said he saw the right wing separate from the airplane.
The pilot's logbook was not found in the wreckage. Relatives reported they were unable to locate the logbook at her home. According to FAA records, her private pilot certificate was issued on December 23, 1994. These records show she reported a total time of 300-hours when she obtained a third class medical certificate on December 3, 1996. According to a written statement found in the wreckage, the pilot had received a biennial flight review in accordance with 14 CFR Part 61.57 (e) on June 28, 1994.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The general direction of the wreckage trail was within an arc whose heading went from easterly through north. The trail began about 1/2-mile south of Erickson road and ended about 600-feet south of that road. The terrain in this area was high density woods mixed with occasional open areas of high grass and scrub trees. Tree limbs about 6-inches in diameter were found near the cockpit and engine debris. The ends of these limbs had what appeared to be fresh saw cuts on them. See maps appended to this report for airplane part locations.
The outboard half of the right wing had separated in many pieces. The forward fuselage and engine had separated from the main fuselage structure at the instrument panel. The left wing, top cabin section and inboard half of the right wing separated from the fuselage. The vertical stabilizer and rudder separated from the fuselage. The stabilator separated from the fuselage and was found in two parts.
The fuselages tail cone top section was crushed downward and had white colored marks on its dark blue paint. The top skin of this section had separated from its mounting on both sides of the tail cone. Numerous white colored transfer marks were found that had multidirectional patterns. The outboard half of the right-hand stabilator had separated from the total unit. When the separated end was positioned next to the remaining piece it had a downward bend of approximately 45-degrees. The top, left inboard, section of the stabilator had a triangular shaped hole in it. This holes shape matched the rudder's root section shape. White colored marks were found along the edges of this hole. The lower half of the vertical stabilizer's leading edge was crushed aft. The edges of the separated components had shear lips with grey surface color and grainy texture.
During the reconstruction of the airplane it was revealed that the right wing had a positive bend on it from the root to the wingtip. The bend started out gradually and went to about an approximate 40-degree angle at the tip. Portions of the right wing top skin metal had compressive bends and blue colored marks on it. The edges of the separated components had shear lips with a grey surface color and a grainy texture.
One scuff mark was found on one propeller blade about 4-inches outboard of the hub assembly. The blades had no other scuff or scar mark damage on them. The propeller governor and engine fuel pump were separated from their mounts. The magnetos and vacuum pump drive gears rotate when the propeller was rotated. The magnetos sparked when hand rotated. Thumb compression was observed on all 4 cylinders.
Examination of the cockpit revealed that the pilots seat belt buckle clasp and end were not deformed at the points of connection. The belt halves did not exhibit any fabric distortion or tearing.
During the cockpit examination the throttle's shaft was about 2-inches in length. The mixture control shaft was 3/4-inch in length and the propeller control shaft was 5/8-inch in length. The carburetor heat control was found in the full "ON" position. Control cable continuity was established for all 3 flight controls. The throttle, mixture and propeller controls were attached to their appropriate connection points. The cowl flaps were in the open position.
The vacuum pump (pump) rotor was separated into 8 major sections and its vanes were intact. The pump's drive shaft was not broken and its air filter was clean. Rotational scarring on the attitude indicator's rotor and rotar-case interior was not observed. The heading indicator rotor and case interior had scuff marks on their respective surfaces. The turn and slip indicator gyro motor rotor had scoring and scuffing along its edge.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The autopsy was conducted by the Bay County Michigan Medical Examiner s Office on September 8, 1997. The toxicological examination was conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aeromedical Institute. The examination revealed no carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, or drugs present.