On December 3, 1997, about 0842 central standard time, a Beech G35, N4404D, registered to a private owner disappeared from radar while being vectored around weather off the coast of Gulfport, Mississippi. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and an in-flight IFR clearance was obtained. The airplane has not been located and is presumed to be destroyed. The private pilot is presumed to be fatally injured. The passenger's remains were located in the Gulf of Mexico on February 16, 1998. The flight originated from Crestview, Florida, at an undetermined time.

Review of communications on December 3, 1997, for the time period 1425:11 UTC (0825:11 CST) to 1525:15 UTC (0925:15 CST) between Gulfport ATCT Approach Control East Radar (ARE) and N4404D, revealed that N4404D established initial radio contact with ARE at 1433:10, and informed ARE that he was 45 miles northeast of Gulfport, VFR to Lakeside, and requested VFR flight following. The following is an extract of communication between N4404D and ARE:

1434:04 ARE Bonanza four zero four delta say your altitude now.

1434:07 N4404D Altitude is eight point five.

1434:57 ARE Bonanza four zero four delta say your altitude now.

1434:07 N4404D Altitude is eight point five

1434:57 ARE Bonanza four zero four delta ah Gulfport altimeter two niner niner five mode-c is indicating one three thousand.

1435:04 N4404D One three thousand ah IM sorry sir ill turn off altitude it must be messing-up.

1435:43 ARE Bonanza four zero four delta there is an area of precipitation around Gulfport approximately twenty miles in all directions.

1435:51 N4404D Four zero delta could you vector me around it.

1435:54 ARE Four zero delta suggest ah heading of approximately ah two three zero.

1436:00 N4404D Two three zero.

1438:02 ARE November zero four delta what does it look like to the west and ah just off to your ah front.

1438:08 N4404D Zero four delta its ah closing in fast IM going to ask to switch this instead of a VFR like to go IFR.

1438:38 ARE Zero four delta verify you are at eight thousand now.

1438:42 N4404D IM at eight thousand five hundred sir.

1438:44 ARE Roger.

1438:57 ARE Bonanza four zero delta ah and do you want the IFR clearance now.

1439:01 N4404D Yes sir could we have a clearance.

1439:03 ARE Bonanza four zero delta cleared to new orleans lakefront airport via radar vectors fly heading two seven zero vectors around weather descend and maintain eight thousand.

The last recorded conversation was at 1439:14. N4404D stated, "descending to eight thousand heading two seven zero. At 1442:57, ARE informed N4404D, "bonanza zero four delta IM not receiving your transponder reset." There was no reply. The U.S. Coast Guard was notified of the missing airplane and a search was initiated. All airports from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans, Louisiana, were checked by the Civil Air Patrol and the FAA with negative results. The search was suspended by the Coast Guard on December 7, 1997.

Review of information obtained from GTE Government Systems, Direct User Access Terminal Systems (DUATS) revealed the pilot logged on to the GTE DUATS computer system on December 3, 1997, at 0244:28 UTC, requested and received a Plain Weather Outlook Route weather briefing. The weather in the Florida panhandle was, "3000 feet scattered 3am EST (08Z) through 6am EST becoming ceilings 2,000 feet to 3,000 feet broken. Tops to 6,00 visibility 3 to 5 statue miles in mist. Outlook: marginal VFR ceilings and thunderstorm with rain mist." The briefing session was terminated at 0244:50. The pilot logged on to the DUATS Flight Planner at 0330:58, and filed a flight plan from Leesburg, Florida, to New Orleans, Louisiana. The session was terminated at 0331:13.

Review of weather by the NTSB Senior Meteorologist revealed that N4404D was on the northern edge of a rapidly developing convective cluster of heavy-very heavy rain showers around the time the airplane disappeared from radar. The maximum tops of the showers were around 20,000 feet with occasionally moderate or isolated severe turbulence along the northern edge of the convective cluster. For additional information see NTSB Meteorology Group Chairman Factual Report.

Postmortem examination of the passenger was not conducted. A report of death investigation was completed by Mr. J. Michael May, Office of the Medical Examiner, Pascagoula, Mississippi, on February 16, 1998. The probable cause of death was multiple trauma due to airplane crash. Postmortem toxicology of specimens from the passenger was not conducted.

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