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On September 19, 1997, about 1931 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 177RG, N2562V, registered to an individual, crashed in Wolf Lake, Sebring, Florida, while on a Title 14 CFR Part 91 business flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed. The aircraft was destroyed and the private-rated pilot and one passenger were fatally injured. The flight originated from Orlando, Florida, the same day, about 1853.
A person identifying himself as the pilot of N2562V made telephone contact with the FAA St. Petersburg Automated Flight Service Station on September 19, 1997, at 1738. The person first filed a instrument flight rules flight plan for N2562V from Orlando International Airport, Orlando, Florida, to Marathon, Florida. The person then asked for and received a standard weather briefing. The person was told about "a developing area now of scattered moderate to heavy rain showers just north of Lake Okeechobee about twenty to twenty five miles."
At 1839, the pilot of N2562V made radio contact with the FAA Orlando International Airport Control Tower, requesting his instrument flight rules clearance to Marathon, Florida. At 1843, the pilot called for clearance to taxi to the active runway. At 1853 , the flight was cleared for takeoff on runway 18 left at Orlando International Airport. The flight was cleared to climb and maintain 6,000 feet. At 1913, the pilot was told to contact the FAA Miami Center.
At 1913:56, the pilot made contact with the controller at Miami Center. At 1924:43, the controller contacted the next controller at Miami Center and reported he was handing off N2562V to him and that the aircraft had an intermittent transponder. At 1924:50, the pilot was told to proceed direct to the Labelle VOR and contact the next controller at Miami Center. At 1925:12, the pilot contacted the next Miami Center controller and reported he was level at 6,000 feet. At 1929:43, the controller informed the pilot he needed him to fly at an odd altitude of 7,000 feet or 5,000 feet for traffic. The pilot requested 5,000 feet. The flight was cleared to 5,000 feet and at 1929:56, the pilot acknowledges the clearance by reporting "leaving six for five six two victor." No further radio contact was made with the flight after this.
Recorded radar data from the FAA Miami Center showed the flight flew a southerly heading while at an altitude of 6,000 feet, with the aircraft's altitude readout occasionally showing 5,900 feet. At 1928:47, the flight's last radar contact with an operational transponder occurs. The flight is at position latitude 35 degrees 27' 31" N and longitude 51 degrees 81' 28" W, at an altitude of 5,900 feet, or about 6.5 nautical miles north of the crash site. Several primary radar returns are received after this, which continue the flight path of N2562V. At 1929:57, at about the time of the last radio communication with the pilot of N2562V, the aircraft is about 4 nautical miles north of the crash site. The last of the primary radar returns is received at 1930:21. The return is at position latitude 13 degrees 27' 28" N and longitude 35 degrees 81' 28" W, or about 3 nautical miles north of the crash site. Additionally, radar data shows several "H" symbols, depicting weather returns, on the plot in the area. (See attached ATC Group Chairman Factual Report.)
A witness reported that shortly after 1930, he was in his house and heard a loud sound similar to a window being slammed. He had not heard anything before this. A short time later a neighbor called to say an aircraft had crashed into the lake behind their house. The witness stated it was raining hard and the wind was blowing hard with thunder and lightning. Other witnesses reported to Sheriff Department personnel that they heard the aircraft descending and crash into the lake. The aircraft made a sound similar to a diving aircraft in a movie.
Federal Aviation Administration records show the pilot held a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane ratings, last issued on August 3, 1997, when the instrument rating was added. Additional information on the pilot is included in the First Pilot section and in attachments to this report.
Information on the aircraft is included in the Aircraft Information section and in attachments to this report.
A satellite image for 1915 showed an isolated area of convection in the area of the crash site. A review of doppler weather radar data from Melbourne, Florida, showed that at about the time of the accident a very strong weather echo was present in the area of the accident, and that about 3 minutes after the accident it became intense. Lightning data showed that about 8 minutes after the accident, two cloud-to-ground strikes occurred.
At the time of the accident, the sun was at an altitude of -1.2 degrees on a bearing of 274 degrees. The end of twilight was at 1949.
Another pilot who landed at the Sebring Airport at about the time of the accident reported that as he approached Sebring from the northwest, at 3,000 feet, it was early evening, but not dark. There were black clouds over the lake to the northwest of the airport. He went around the clouds and landed to the south. During his landing roll it began to rain very heavy. The storm was localized and rain lasted for about 30-40 minutes. Witnesses at the crash site reported it was raining hard, the wind was blowing hard, and there was lightning and thunder at the time. Additional meteorological information is contained in this report under Weather Information and in the attached Meteorological Group Chairman Factual Report.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The aircraft crashed into Wolf Lake, Sebring, Florida. The crash site was located at latitude 31 degrees 27' 25" N and longitude 38 degrees 81' 28" W, or about 7 nautical miles southwest of the Sebring Airport. The wreckage was scattered in the center of the lake, in about 6-10 feet of water, along a 300 foot line from the northwest to southeast. Components from the engine, right cabin area, and right wing were found first along the wreckage path, followed by components from other parts of the aircraft. The wreckage was in an aircraft inverted position.
The aircraft crashed at a high rate of speed and was destroyed by impact forces. Recovery efforts resulted in a large portion of the aircraft being recovered from the lake. Components from the propeller, engine, cabin, left wing, left aileron, left flap, right wing, right aileron, right flap, empennage, and tail section were recovered. The horizontal stabilizer, vertical fin, and rudder were not located and recovered. Damage to the empennage was consistent with these components separating from the aircraft during impact with the lake. Examination of the recovered wreckage showed the right wing and right side of the fuselage had received the most impact damage.
The landing gear was found retracted and the wing flaps were retracted. A large electrical cable in the cabin area had electrical arc damage at the point it was severed during impact. Two of three propeller blades, along with the hub and spinner, were recovered. The blades and spinner had damage consistent with rotation at the time of impact. Separation points in all recovered flight control cables were typical of overstress separation. The fuel selector valve was found in the "both" tank position and all ports were unobstructed. The pilot's and right front seat passenger's seat belt and shoulder harnesses were found buckled and torn loose from the attach fittings.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Postmortem examination of the pilot and passenger was performed by Alexander Melamud, M.D., Associate Medical Examiner, Bartow, Florida. The cause of death of the pilot and passenger was attributed to multiple injuries and there were no findings which could be considered causal to the accident.
Postmortem toxicology studies on specimens obtained from the pilot were performed by Dr. Melamud and by Dennis Canfield, Ph.D, FAA Toxicology Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The studies were positive for ethanol alcohol, which was attributed to postmortem putrefaction The tests were negative for basic, acidic, and neutral drugs, marijuana, cocaine, and carbon monoxide.
Postmortem toxicology studies on specimens obtained from the passenger were performed by Dr. Melamud. The studies were negative for ethanol alcohol, basic, acidic, and neutral drugs, marijuana, and cocaine. Additional medical and pathological information is included in supplement K on this report and in attached toxicology reports.
The aircraft wreckage was released to Mr. Gene Sheil, Marco Flite Services, on September 22, 1997.
The air traffic controller from the FAA Miami Center who was controlling N2562V at the time of the accident stated that he did not recall any weather being depicted on the radar screen for the time and location of the accident. He stated the weather did build up after the accident and several flights asked for deviation around weather. He stated that if he sees weather on the screen he will point it out to the pilot. (See attached ATC Group Chairman report.)