CHI98LA094
CHI98LA094

On February 18, 1998, at 1952 central standard time (cst), an Ercoupe 415-C, N99270, operated by a commercial pilot, was destroyed when it departed controlled flight and impacted the terrain, 10 miles northwest of Wood Lake, Nebraska. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was being conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. The pilot was fatally injured. The flight originated at Bassett, Nebraska, at 1930 cst, and was en route to Valentine, Nebraska.

The airport manager at Beatrice, Nebraska, said that the pilot had rented a hangar there for the past three months. The manager recalled hearing a conversation, over his radio, between the pilot, and the pilot of another aircraft regarding whether the pilot's briefcase had fallen off of his wing onto the runway when he taxied out for takeoff. The pilot departed Beatrice shortly after that. The airport manager noted that it was 1515 cst.

An attendant at Bassett, Nebraska, said that he refueled the pilot's airplane at approximately 1900 cst. The pilot informed the attendant that his front fuel tank gas cap had come off about 20 miles out from Bassett. The attendant said that he filled the two wing tanks with 16.4 gallons of fuel. The pilot then pulled out a non-standard gas cap and put it on the front fuel tank. The pilot asked the attendant if he would wait around until he got the airplane started. Following an uneventful engine start, the attendant watched the pilot taxi out and takeoff to the southeast. The attendant said the pilot took off in the dark, at about 1930 cst. He recalled that the pilot used a lot of runway for the takeoff.

The attendant described the weather at the time the pilot took off as being a misty, soft rain. "Something you didn't mind standing in." The attendant said that the temperature was under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and that the winds were calm.

At approximately 2100 cst, the airport manager at Valentine, Nebraska, received a telephone call from the pilot's sister, inquiring as to her brother's whereabouts. She told the airport manager that the pilot had called her earlier that evening and told her that he had to stop at Bassett, Nebraska, for fuel. The airport manager called the fixed base operator at Bassett. At 2119 cst, the pilot's sister contacted the Cherry County, Nebraska Sheriff's Department, and reported the pilot missing.

The Nebraska Wing of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), began an aerial search for the airplane at 2240 cst, based on an emergency locator beacon signal that was being picked up to the northwest of Ainsworth, Nebraska. The aerial search was terminated approximately 30 minutes later, when the CAP pilot determined that current weather conditions made continuation of the flight too dangerous.

The aerial search was re-convened the following morning, February 19, 1998. The Valentine Airport manager, located the wreckage from the air, at approximately 0830 cst.

The Aviation Routine Weather Report (METAR) station at Ainsworth, Nebraska, on February 18, 1997, at 1952 cst, reported an overcast ceiling of 3,400 feet above ground level (agl), and 10 miles visibility.

The CAP pilot, who took off out of Ainsworth, Nebraska, at 2240 cst, the night the accident occurred, recalled that it was a "crummy night." He said that they began to pick up ice at 1,000 feet agl. There were variable ceilings between 6,000 and 10,000 feet agl. He also said that he encountered light to moderate turbulence. The airplane returned to Ainsworth, landing at 2340 cst.

The Cherry County, Nebraska Sheriff said that he arrived at the accident site on February 19, 1998, at 0859 cst. He recalled feeling ice on the surface of one of the airplane's wings. "The surface was rough and has ice on it. It [the airplane] did sit out overnight, but a lot of other things did not have ice on them, grass, other airplane parts." The sheriff said that he had been out with the CAP ground teams the night before. He described the weather as being a mixture of freezing drizzle, rain, and snow, with low clouds and low ceilings.

The pilot had purchased the airplane in July of 1996. According to his logbook, the pilot had logged a total of 6 hours in the airplane between July 20, 1996, and September 10, 1997.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector examined the wreckage at the accident site. The accident site was located in a pasture approximately 2 miles south of U. S. Highway 20, an east-west running paved highway, going into Wood Lake, Nebraska, to the east, and Valentine, Nebraska, to the west-northwest.

The airplane's main wreckage rested upright at the east end of a 50-foot long, northwest to southeast running ground scar. The airplane's final resting position was oriented on a 315-degree magnetic heading. A five-foot long, 24-inch deep hole was located near the center of the ground scar. Pieces of broken red glass and small pieces of the airplane's left wingtip were located at the west end of the ground scar. The airplane's left main landing gear, pieces of the left inboard wing, and pieces from the bottom fuselage were found in and near the hole.

The propeller had broken off of the flange at the mounting bolts. It showed torsional bending and chordwise scratches. One propeller blade was bent aft approximately 45-degrees and curled. The spinner was crushed aft and conformed to the shape of the propeller hub. The engine was bent to the right and downward and had broken off at the mounts. Many of the accessories were broken off. The engine cowling was broken open and fractured into several pieces. The nose wheel was broken aft and rested beneath the remains of the airplane's left wing. The airplane's cockpit area was broken open. The canopy was broken into numerous pieces. The canopy frame was broken aft and twisted to toward the right. The instrument panel was crushed downward and broken.

The fuselage aft of the cockpit was bent upward approximately 30 degrees and twisted to the left. The fabric skin showed numerous tears and heavy wrinkles. The empennage was intact and bent upward. The right vertical stabilizer and rudder were twisted slightly forward and bent slightly outboard.

The airplane's left wing was twisted downward and broken aft at the wing root. The forward and aft spars were broken. The left wing's fabric skin was torn aft and shredded.

The airplane's right wing was separated at the fuel tank, just outboard of the wing root. It was bent upward and aft, and showed heavy skin wrinkling. The right main landing gear had broken off and was found resting southeast of the main wreckage.

Flight control continuity was confirmed. Examination of the engine, engine controls and other airplane systems revealed no anomalies.

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