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On March 13, 1998, at 1902 eastern standard time, a John S. Hickey Swearingen SX 300, N83JH, collided with trees while descending after an engine failure in Thomson, Georgia. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 with no flight plan filed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The airplane sustained substantial damage, and the private pilot received fatal injuries. The flight originated at the Covington Municipal Airport, Covington, Georgia, at 1830 eastern standard time.
Approximately 1905 eastern standard time, on March 13, 1998, the McDuffie County Communication Center received a 911 call from a witness who stated that he heard, and saw an airplane fly overhead about 500 feet above the ground. The witness said that the airplane was flying on a westerly heading towards the Thomson/McDuffie Airport. The witness, about six miles east of the airport, stated that the engine was running rough and "cutting out". The airplane continued a westerly heading and a gradual descent until it was below the tree tops. The sputtering sound of the engine also continued until the airplane disappeared below the tree tops. The McDuffie County Communication Center Operator told the witness that they would telephone the Thomson/McDuffie Airport. There was no answer to the call.
The flight was a personal flight from Covington, Georgia to Aiken, South Carolina. When the airplane failed to arrive in Aiken as scheduled, concerned family members contacted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA issued an alert notice. A search for the overdue airplane was initiated for the missing airplane. At approximately midnight, on March 13, 1998, the McDuffie County Sheriff Department Dispatched a deputy to the Thomson/McDuffie Airport to search for the reported missing airplane. The airport was closed. N83JH was not located at the airport. The airplane wreckage was located by the Georgia State Police helicopter on March 15, 1998, at 0830 eastern standard time. The airplane was located three miles east of the Thomson/McDuffie Airport. PERSONNEL INFORMATION
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with single engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplane ratings. His certificate was issued May 7, 1992. His last medical certificate, a third class, was dated April 11, 1996, and contained the limitation that the pilot must wear lenses for distant vision and possess glasses for near vision in order to exercise the privileges of the airman's certificate. The pilot had a flight review on November 24, 1996. The pilot had 11 hours of total time in this airplane. Additional personnel information is contained in this report on page 3 under "First Pilot Information."
The last engine inspection was performed on October 10, 1997. The aircraft also received a 100 hour inspection on October 10, 1997. Work was also done on both fuel cells at that time. In the aircraft logbook entry for that day, it reads, "opened both wing root fuel cell access panels as well as second TE bay panels, sealed entire rear spar doubler and wing root ribs." The on scene examination of the right fuel tank revealed that metal filings were present in the lower inboard corner of the fuel tank. Additional information about the aircraft is contained on page 2 under the section titled "Aircraft Information".
The weather at the time of the accident was visual meteorological conditions. A review of weather data disclosed that the temperature at the approximate time of the accident was 45 degrees. According to local residents near the accident site, the evening and night temperatures were approximately 40 degrees respectively. Additional information about the weather is contained on pages 3 and 4 under "Weather Information."
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage was located in a wooded area 3 miles east of the Thomson- McDuffie Airport. The wreckage was distributed along a 275 degree azimuth for a total distance of about 138 feet. The initial piece of debris was the right wing tip. The left wing and the left elevator were located 86 feet west of the right wing tip. This was followed by the windscreen at a distance of 101 feet from the right wing tip. The empennage section was found one foot west of the windscreen. The main wreckage was located 110 feet west of the right wing tip. The engine assembly and cockpit instruments were found 28 feet to the west of the main wreckage.
The left wing was found separated from the fuselage at the wing root. There were two circular indentations in the leading edge of the left wing; one at the wing root, and the other 1/3 of the way from the root. There was also a horizontal wrinkle on the underside of the left wing, parallel to the leading edge, from the first rivet line outward to the wing tip attachment point. The wing tip was separated. The outboard 1/4 of the left aileron was crushed rearward. Control continuity was established to the aileron.
The empennage was separated from the fuselage at the vertical stabilizer attachment point. The right horizontal stabilizer had a cut in the trailing edge forward to the mid-chord. The right elevator was bent upward slightly at the midpoint of the elevator. The left elevator was separated from the empennage at the attachment point. The vertical stabilizer had a circular indentation in the leading edge from 1/3 of the way to the root to the top of the stabilizer. The rudder was displaced to the right with the bottom of the rudder remaining attached, and the top of the rudder being separated at its attachment point. The bottom of the rudder was indented upwards. Control continuity was established to the rudder and elevators.
The right wing was attached to the fuselage. It had a large circular indentation in the leading edge of the wing from 1/4 of the way to the tip to 1/2 of the way to the wing tip. The wing tip was separated from the wing. Control continuity was established to the aileron.
The cockpit was lying against a tree. The seats were separated from the seat tracks, but lying near their normally installed position. The instrument panel was found with the engine approximately 28 feet away from the cockpit. One propeller blade was bent rearward in a wide arc and twisted to a lower pitch setting. The trailing blade was also bent rearward in a wide arc. The next blade was twisted to a lower pitch setting.
After the wreckage was recovered, the engine was examined. Compression was confirmed on all cylinders. The magnetos fired when the engine was rotated, and they were properly timed. There was no blockage of the induction or exhaust system. The spark plugs all exhibited normal wear. Trace fuel was found within the engine driven fuel pump and fuel lines. During inspection of the main fuel strainer, an accumulation of debris was found. The debris consisted of metal chips, soft gel, similar to clear adhesive, and hair like fuzz. The main screen was 10% obstructed. Inspection of the fuel inlet screen of the injector servo revealed it was approximately full of the same type of contamination. No debris was found in the engine driven fuel pump, auxiliary pump, or throttle body.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
A post mortem examination was completed March 16, 1998 by Dr. Steven F. Dunton of the Southeastern Forensic Medicine P.C., in Conyers, Georgia. The cause of death was listed as blunt force trauma, complicated by hypothermia. Dr. Dunton further stated that, "the injuries and associated internal hemorrhage,...Circumstantial evidence from the scene, along with the extremely cold temperatures externally...suggest that hypothermia played a contributory role". A toxicological examination was completed April 23, 1998 by the FAA's Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory. It was negative for carboxyhemoglobin, cyanide, ethanol, and drugs.
According to fuel receipts, the airplane was last fueled on January 26, 1998 in Lawrenceville, Georgia as the airplane was returning to Covington, Georgia. According to the pilot's logbook, the airplane was flown 4.1 hours since refueling, prior to departing on the accident flight. The accident flight was approximately .5 hours in duration. The airplane holds 66 gallons of fuel. The engine burns between 12 and 16 gallons per hour, making the airplane's endurance between 4.125 and 5.5 hours.
According to the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department, they had no procedures in place to respond to an aviation related 911 call. When the witness telephoned the McDuffie 911 service, the 911 operator telephoned the Thomson-McDuffie county Airport, to ask if an airplane had recently landed. At the time of their call, about 1915 eastern standard time, the airport was closed. When they received no answer, the Sheriff's Department sent a deputy to the airport, who found nothing unusual. According to The Director Of The McDuffie County 911 Service, the county 911 service is approximately two years old, and the operating procedures are currently being rewritten. In light of this accident the new procedures manual will include information about how to respond to aviation related 911 calls. The Director stated, and the Georgia State Emergency Management Agency confirmed, that there are no state-wide policies or mandated procedures related to how local 911 providers respond to aviation 911 calls. The 911 operators were trained in accordance with Georgia State requirements.
During the examination of the airframe at the accident site, the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) was found in the off position. The Rescue Coordination Center at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, also stated they received no reports of an ELT signal from the downed airplane. The local Civil Air Patrol stated they never received an ELT signal while searching for the airplane. An ELT functional test was completed; the ELT operated normally, and transmitted an emergency signal.
The airplane wreckage was released to Dr. Karen Dunbar, the pilot's wife