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On October 25, 1997, about 1715 hours Pacific daylight time, a Extra Flugzeugbau GMBH, EA-300, N69BW, was destroyed when it collided with terrain near Castaic, California, while performing aerobatic maneuvers. The commercial licensed flight instructor and the airline transport licensed student pilot were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the aerobatic instructional flight which departed from the Van Nuys, California, airport about 1600.
Two people, a husband and wife, both without aviation expertise, were traveling in their car near the accident location at the approximate time of the accident. They reported observing what they thought was a large, radio controlled model airplane, about 1 mile in front of them, doing aerobatics, and believe that they witnessed the accident. They were eastbound on highway 126, which passes about 1/8th mile south of the accident site, about 1715, and reported that they were driving slowly because they were in an area of highway construction that is in the area of the accident site. Because they thought at the time that the aircraft was a model, they did not report the accident. They contacted the NTSB the day after the wreckage was located after reading about the accident in the newspaper.
The woman was a passenger in the car and observed the aircraft longer than her husband did. She observed the aircraft perform a "small loop." It then pulled "straight up" into vertical flight, after which it came straight down "just dropping and slowly spiraling" until it disappeared behind some orange trees. In a conversation with the Safety Board, she estimated that it was about 8 seconds from the top of the maneuver until the plane disappeared. She also said that the aircraft was "not up where planes normally fly, it was lower."
Her husband, the driver, reported that after his wife directed his attention to the aircraft, he saw it about 1 mile in front of them on the Lake Piru (north) side of the road. He reported that, when he saw it, it appeared to have just come out of a maneuver and that it was traveling "nose first in a clockwise tail spin towards the ground." He noted that "the tail of the plane was traveling in a larger circle than the nose of the plane." He estimated that when he first saw the plane it was 300 - 400 feet above ground level, and that it was 10 to 20 seconds from when he first saw the plane until it disappeared behind the orchard. He noted that "it appeared to me there was no attempt made to pull it out of the dive. It looked like the plane just spiraled towards the ground in a corkscrew/nose dive position."
An aerobatic maneuver sequence card found in the wreckage indicated that the first three maneuvers in the pilot's demonstration routine were a loop, followed by a hammerhead turn, and then an Immelman.
The pilot operated a flight school at Van Nuys which specialized in aerobatic flight training. According to a flight instructor who worked for the pilot, the purpose of the accident flight was to demonstrate the EA-300 aircraft to the second pilot. He held a low altitude aerobatic waiver issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The second pilot was employed as an airline pilot. Another airline pilot who knew the second pilot said they had recently talked at some length about her desire to get back into aerobatics and perform at airshows. This pilot characterized her as a very good airline pilot but said that, from their conversations, he felt that she hadn't flown much aerobatics for some time. He also said that she was very small in stature. The 100-pound weight reported on her medical was probably a maximum. She was skinny, almost anorexic, and had very little upper body strength. It was his opinion that if the pilot in the accident had been disabled for any reason, she would not have had much strength to overpower him, and might not have had enough strength to jettison the canopy during a dive and get out.
The aircraft had accumulated approximately 385 hours total time since new. It had flown 118 hours since the last 100-hour/annual inspection, and a 50-hour inspection was performed 34 hours earlier.
A student of the pilot reported that he flew the with the pilot in the extra five times during the prior week and observed no mechanical discrepancies. Specifically, the flight controls worked freely and properly, as did the seat belts, and there were no discrepancies regarding the canopy.
At the time of the accident, the Southern California area was under the influence of a Santa Ana wind condition, which is characterized by gusty surface winds from the north and east and turbulence over rough terrain.
At 1650, winds at Camarillo, 24 miles southwest of the accident location, were from 060 degrees at 20 knots. At the same time, at Van Nuys, 16 miles southeast of the accident site, surface winds were from 360 degrees at 12 knots. Between 1550 and 1750, the highest surface winds reported were at Camarillo at 1500, and were from 060 at 23 knots with gusts to 27 knots. During this time period, skies were reported clear and visibility of 40 miles or greater at both stations.
There was an AIRMET in effect at the time of the accident for Southern California, calling for occasional moderate to isolated severe turbulence below 10,000 feet due to moderate northeasterly to northerly wind flow over rough terrain.
The Transcribed Weather Broadcast for the route of flight from Santa Monica to Oxnard to Santa Barbara called for areas of surface winds from 030 at 25 knots with gusts to 35 knots and isolated gusts to 45 knots with strong up and downdrafts and low level windshear.
The Transcribed Weather Broadcast for the Soledad Pass and adjacent mountains called for areas of surface wind from 040 degrees at 30 knots with gusts to 40 knots, and local gusts to 55 knots with strong up and downdrafts.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The aircraft impacted on a level, dirt, service road located on the north side of the Santa Clarita River valley. The road is aligned east-west at the accident site, and is on the south face of a mountain slope which rises to approximately 2,000 feet agl about 1 mile north of the accident site. The approximate latitude is 34 degrees 24.28 minutes north, and longitude 118 degrees 42.56 minutes west (GPS). The elevation at the accident site is approximately 900 feet. The accident site is beneath the lateral confines of the aerobatic practice area which extends from 1,500 feet agl to 5,500 feet msl.
The majority of the wreckage was located at a single location on the north edge of the road. The engine was embedded, propeller hub first, into the packed dirt surface of the road, and only the engine accessory case was visible from above. The longitudinal axis of the engine was embedded at a 75-degree, nose down, angle with respect to horizontal on a heading of approximately 030 degrees.
The fuselage exhibited compression damage forward of the empennage and the flight control system was discontinuous at several locations. The fuselage was aligned on approximately a 030-degree heading and the cockpit and wing center section area were located adjacent to the engine. All of the instruments were destroyed except an engine tachometer which indicated 2,650 rpm and an altimeter which indicated 1,750 feet with a barometric setting of 30.00 inHg.
The male pilot was in the front cockpit and the female pilot was in the rear cockpit. Both pilot's restraint harnesses were fastened and they were both wearing street clothing. The female pilot was wearing canvas shoes (sneakers) and both shoes were off her feet when recovered from the wreckage. Foreign objects found loose in the wreckage were two rubber pads (Kitchenmaid), a folio (zipper case) containing aircraft records, and an eyeglass frame. According to the operator, the rubber pads were used on the rear seat to reduce slippage between the pilot's parachute and the seat, and the folio was retained with ty wraps to the fuselage tubes on the right-hand side of the rear cockpit. The eyeglass frame resembled a ladies style, non-prescription sunglasses. An acquaintance of the female pilot was not able to identify the glasses frame.
The empennage remained attached to the aft fuselage. The vertical stabilizer, rudder, left horizontal stabilizer, and left elevator remained attached. The right horizontal stabilizer and right-hand elevator were separated and were located on the road near the tail of the aircraft. The elevator trim tab remained attached to the stub of the right hand horizontal stabilizer by the two trim cables.
The composite wing spar remained attached to the fuselage and was laying on the ground approximately at right angles to the fuselage (approximate orientation 120 - 300 degrees). Both wings exhibited uniform chordwise crushing damage to the composite leading edge forward of the spar. The upper and lower composite skins aft of the main spar on both wings separated in sheets and were located on the ground aft of the spar. The left aileron was adjacent to the left wing and was in one piece. The right aileron, broken is several places, was about 25 feet southwest of the main wreckage. The mass balance remained in place on each aileron. The left-hand wingtip sighting device was embedded in the earth at the left wingtip along with the strobe light power supply. There was a mark on the dirt approximately equal in length and width to the span and thickness of the wing. At the right-hand (southeast) end was a mark corresponding to the dimensions of the right-hand sighting device, although the sighting device itself was about 25 feet southwest of the wreckage near the right aileron. The main spar of the wing was lying adjacent to this mark in the dirt but was rotated approximately 30 degrees clockwise.
The engine was removed from the ground with the lower cowling skin embedded on the bottom of the engine. The engine induction manifold and exhaust manifolds were collapsed and the starter and alternator were broken from the engine. The fuel injection components were broken from the top of the engine, however, the fuel line from the fuel servo assembly to the distribution manifold contained fuel. The throttle (air) valve in the fuel servo, separated from the engine, was in the full open position.
One of the three wooden propeller blades, broken at approximately the midspan position, was found about 15 feet south of the wreckage and another was located about 20 feet northeast of the wreckage. Numerous small pieces of shattered wood debris and white composite covering was located in the bottom of the hole beneath the engine and embedded into the nose area of the engine. Among this debris was the leading edge reinforcement from a third blade.
The aircraft wreckage was examined at Aircraft Recovery Services in Compton, California, on October 31, 1997. The canopy frame was present in several pieces except for the right front corner. Some canopy Plexiglas was present and was typically in 1-inch size pieces. One piece of the frame was from the left front corner, down the left-hand side of the cockpits, and up over the rear "turtledeck." The piece contained three canopy release pins which were bent. Another canopy section was from the right hand side of the rear cockpit. This piece contained two bent pins. A third piece of the frame was from the right-hand side near the front cockpit. This piece contained one bent pin. All six of the mating receptacles for the canopy pins were present on the fuselage wreckage.
The elevator (pitch) control system and attaching hardware was recovered including the elevator mass balance. The control linkage exhibited compression bending and was separated at 10 locations along its length. Separations at rod ends were in the threaded area and were accompanied by bending. The control stick in the front cockpit remained attached to the torque tube assembly and was bent smoothly forward about 30 degrees and to the right about 5 degrees. The control stick in the aft cockpit was separated at its base and the round cross section of the tube was elliptical with the long axis lateral. The control stick in the front cockpit had been modified to make the stick removable, however, the stick was located with the coupling intact. The elevator up stop was set at approximately 0.75 inches and the down stop was set at approximately 1.05 inches. Both stops were damaged (bent).
The ailerons were recovered with the mass balance weights laminated in place in the leading edges. The longitudinally oriented control tubes exhibited compression damage and the lateral tubes in the wings exhibited bending damage. The control tubes were separated at six locations and the separations exhibited bending. Separations at rod ends were in the threaded areas and were accompanied by bending. The aileron bellcrank located forward of the rear cockpit instrument panel was found, trapped in position by impact damage, in the full right aileron position. The aileron travel stops were damaged and were set at approximately 1.2 inches.
The rudder pedal assemblies were substantially damaged and the right rear rudder pedal assembly exhibited clockwise twisting (when viewed from above). The rudder cables had been cut in seven locations to facilitate recovery and exhibited sharp cut ends. One cable separation on the right-hand side of the forward cockpit exhibited frayed ends.
Examination of the engine revealed no evidence of pre-impact failure.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
According to a student of the pilot, the pilot experienced an incident of chest pain 3 days prior to the accident. The particular student happened to be a medical doctor and a former Air Force flight surgeon.
According to this student, he and the pilot flew two flights on Wednesday, October 22. During the second flight they were practicing the sportsman's sequence. The student had performed the first maneuver, a loop, and was preparing to perform the second maneuver, a hammerhead turn, when the pilot said over the intercom "fly straight and level for a minute," and then "I have a pain in my left side." The student/doctor queried the pilot over the intercom about the nature of the pain and thought that it was probably a muscle spasm but suggested they return to the airport. After landing, he reported that the pilot had difficulty getting out of the aircraft and, back in the office, was in discomfort. The pilot had said that he had installed some rudder pedal extensions on his Pitts Special that morning and thought that the pain might be a muscle cramp as a result of the position he had to get into to do it.
The pilot saw his family doctor the same day. The doctor had not seen the pilot for approximately 1 year prior to this visit. He performed a chest x-ray and EKG and reported no indications of a cardiac event. The doctor wanted to see the pilot again 2 days later (Friday) to perform another EKG, however, the pilot called and cancelled that appointment.
The pilot's wife reported that her husband had explained the incident to her as having been caught off-guard when the student pulled 6 G's and the pain was in the left side of his chest beneath his left arm. The pilot's wife also reported that the pilot had been in good health for at least the 3 weeks before the accident and was not taking any medications.
The same student/doctor said that the pilot did not fly on Thursday, but that they did fly again on Friday, and the pilot appeared to be "up to speed." He added that the 42-year-old pilot smoked and was "a little overweight but not obese."
Another student, who flew with the pilot Saturday morning and was the last person to fly with the pilot before the accident, said that the pilot's behavior and demeanor were normal that morning.
An autopsy was performed on both occupants by the County of Ventura, Medical Examiner - Coroner and toxicological analyses were performed by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute. According to the pathologist who performed the autopsies, the anatomical injuries on both occupants were inconclusive for evidence of control manipulation.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Recorded radar data was obtained from the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center in an NTAP format. Review of the data showed a secondary mode C return in the vicinity of the accident site. Between 1700, an arbitrary start time for the data, and 1706 there was an intermittent radar return from an aircraft with a VFR transponder code. The highest mode C altitude from this aircraft was 4,500 feet at 1700:14. The lowest altitude was 2,800 feet at 1703:14. The last radar return was at 1706:25, at 3,300 feet while at latitude 34 degrees 24.03 minutes north, and longitude 118 degrees, 42.48 minutes west. According to the Center's Quality Assurance Office, there is reliable radar coverage in the area down to 4,000 feet with local areas of coverage down to 3,000 feet.
The aircraft wreckage was released to Mr. Rob Cheek of Citrus Investigations, the owner's representative, on February 2, 1998.
Another additional person (party) to the investigation was Mr. Ray Maxon, representing the International Aerobatic Club, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.