On September 18, 1997, about 1620 Pacific daylight time, N8509, a Bellanca 7KCAB airplane, operated by the owner/pilot, impacted trees while maneuvering and was destroyed near Oakridge, Oregon. The commercial pilot in the rear seat (first pilot) and the private pilot in the front seat (second pilot) were killed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed. The personal flight departed from Eugene, Oregon, at 1524 and was conducted under 14 CFR 91. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
The first pilot owned and operated an aviation business based at the Mahlon Sweet Field in Eugene known as Aerial Communications of America (ACA). According to a part-time employee of ACA (interview synopsis attached), the first pilot came into the ACA office on the day of the accident and invited her to go flying with him. The employee declined the invitation, because she was studying FAA written test questions. The first pilot then asked the second pilot to go flying with him. The second pilot was working behind the ACA desk at the time, but was due to get off of her shift at 1500. The second pilot accepted the offer and went flying with the first pilot on the accident flight, according to the employee.
The employee also stated that she did not observe the first pilot make any negative comments about himself or the airplane at the time of this interaction. She also stated that the second pilot had been working for ACA for about 3 days prior to the accident, and had never flown with the first pilot before the accident.
According to an eyewitness (interview synopsis attached) who was walking along the Hills Creek Lake Dam located near Oakridge, a "red and white" airplane was flying toward him along the Willamette River from the northwest. The eyewitness stated that the airplane flew over the dam, heading southeast, and was no more than 100 feet above the dam as it flew over him. The eyewitness further observed the airplane descend and fly "about 10 to 15 feet off the top of the water" over the Hills Creek Lake. He stated that the airplane continued to fly away from him toward the southeast for "about a mile ... then made a U-turn" and headed back toward the dam, heading northwest.
As the airplane approached the dam, it "started to climb," according to the eyewitness. The witness stated that the airplane was "pointed up about 30 degrees" as it flew over the dam. The airplane was then observed to descend and begin a "barrel roll" to the left. The airplane continued to roll and descend into trees on the northwest side of the dam. The witness stated that it descended into terrain in a nose-down attitude of about 30 degrees. He also stated that the airplane rolled about 3/4-turn and the right wing was "starting to level" just before the impact. The eyewitness further stated that the sound of the engine remained constant during the entire time he observed the airplane, and that the engine was operating normally. The airplane was later found at the base of a tree in heavily-wooded, hilly terrain about 1/4-mile northwest of the dam.
The accident airplane, N8509, Bellanca model 7KCAB "Citabria," was manufactured in 1973. It had been registered to the first pilot, doing business as ACA, since 1994. The airplane was a high-wing, wood and fabric, two-place airplane powered by a single Lycoming IO-320-B2A engine rated at 150 horsepower. The seating configuration was tandem, with one seat in front of the other. Forward visibility for the rear-seat occupant is restricted when the front seat is occupied.
According to a fueling receipt, the airplane was fueled with 28.6 gallons of 100 low lead aviation gasoline on the day of the accident. According to maintenance records, the airplane and engine had accumulated about 2,525 hours at the time of the accident. The logbooks indicated that the airframe and engine received a 100-hour inspection on July 1, 1997, about 25 operating hours prior to the accident. No unresolved discrepancies were found in the maintenance records.
The first pilot, male, age 37, possessed a commercial pilot certificate and a flight instructor certificate containing ratings for single-engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplanes. According to FAA records, the pilot was issued an FAA Second Class Medical Certificate on August 5, 1997, with no restrictions. An examination of FAA records indicate that the first pilot had accumulated a total of about 3,500 hours of flight time.
Further examination of FAA records revealed that the first pilot had received a warning letter from the FAA for violating Federal Air Regulation (FAR) Part 91.119(b) on September 10, 1996, while flying near Mahlon Sweet Field in Eugene. FAR Part 91.119(b) states: "Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes... over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft."
The second pilot, female, age 22, possessed a private pilot certificate containing a rating for single-engine land airplanes. According to FAA records, the second pilot was issued an FAA Second Class Medical Certificate on July 16, 1996, with no restrictions. An examination of FAA records indicate that the second pilot had received the private pilot certificate 3 months prior to the accident on June 18, 1997. The records also did not reveal any record of violations or enforcement action against the second pilot.
The part-time ACA employee who was interviewed by the Safety Board stated that she had also flown as a passenger with the first pilot in the accident airplane on two previous occasions. The first flight occurred about one week before the accident. The employee had logged about 40 hours of flight time at that time. During the 45-minute flight, the employee was seated in the front seat, and the first pilot was seated in the rear. The employee stated that the pilot performed "barrel turns" and "loops," and flew between "50 and 100 feet above trees" during the flight. Her second flight with the first pilot occurred one day before the accident. The flight occurred about 1700 and lasted for about one hour.
The employee stated that during both flights, the pilot did not allow her to fly any aerobatic maneuvers. The employee also said that they never flew near the Hills Creek Lake Dam during the flights, but the first pilot stated to her that he had been there before. The employee also stated that the first pilot said the dam was "beautiful," and he mentioned to her that he wanted to fly across the lake and land the airplane near the dam.
The accident site (topographic map attached) and wreckage was examined by an FAA aviation safety inspector from Hillsboro, Oregon. According to the inspector (statement attached), the accident site was located on the "dry side" of the dam on a "steep side hill wooded with new growth evergreen trees, 40 [feet] to 60 [feet tall], and old growth evergreen trees, 100 [feet] to 150 [feet tall]." The inspector stated that the new growth trees were freshly topped beginning about 150 feet from the final resting site of the airframe. The airframe was resting in an area of old growth trees; it was found lying right side up at the base of a tree that measured about 4 feet in diameter. A large gouge mark was noted about 40 feet above the wreckage on this tree. The propeller had separated from the engine and was found about 90 feet down range of the airframe wreckage. The magnetic bearing from the beginning of the freshly topped trees to the wreckage was measured to be about 250 degrees. The elevation of the accident site was about 1,400 feet above mean sea level (msl).
According to the FAA inspector, an examination of the wreckage did not reveal any evidence of preimpact mechanical deficiencies. No evidence of an inflight fire or inflight structural failure was found. Flight control continuity was established for all flight controls. The airplane was destroyed by impact forces.
The engine was partially disassembled and examined. The examination did not reveal any evidence of preimpact mechanical malfunction. Both blades from the separated propeller were also examined. Each blade exhibited distinct "S" bending and chordwise wood stains.
An autopsy was performed on the first pilot by Dr. L. Samuel Vickers, M.D., on September 19, 1997, by the Lane County Medical Examiner's Office. According to the report of autopsy, the cause of death was due to "blunt impact to trunk." The manner of death was reported as "accident." Specimens taken from the pilot were analyzed by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. According to their report dated December 8, 1997 (attached), negative results for carbon monoxide, cyanide, alcohol, and all screened drugs were reported.
An autopsy was also performed on the second pilot by Dr. L. Samuel Vickers, M.D., on September 19, 1997, by the Lane County Medical Examiner's Office. According to the report of autopsy, the cause of death was due to "blunt impact to trunk." The manner of death was reported as "accident." Specimens taken from the pilot were analyzed by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. According to their report dated December 8, 1997 (attached), negative results for carbon monoxide, cyanide, alcohol, and all screened drugs were reported.
The Safety Board reviewed the autopsy reports from both pilots, and also the x-ray film of their limbs. The review did not reveal distinct evidence of specific impact injuries, or differences in the injuries, indicating that anyone other than the first pilot was manipulating the flight controls at the time of the accident.