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On June 22, 1998, about 1100 eastern daylight time, a Mooney M-20E, N2709W, registered to a private individual, operating as a 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight, crashed while attempting a forced landing following a loss of engine power near Pickens, South Carolina. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a visual flight rules flight plan had been filed. The airplane was destroyed, the private-rated pilot sustained fatal injuries, and two passengers received minor injuries. The flight originated from Greenville, South Carolina, about 1030 of the same day.
According to the pilot's husband, the pilot and her two children, a boy, age 16 and a girl, age 14, were returning home to Morristown, Tennessee, after spending a holiday weekend with the pilot's father. The husband stated that the pilot telephoned him after her arrival in Greenville, to inform him about the flight. She had mentioned that the flight was uneventful except that she could not get boost from the turbocharger. He remembered telling her to check the waste gate lever control or its control cable movement. He added that he had been teaching her the operation of the "Smart Scanner" EGT/CHT analyzer that had been installed in the Mooney.
According to the two survivors in subsequent statements, they both confirmed the engine was sputtering and that their mother said the engine failed. When their mother requested from the radar controller the nearest airport, and was given Pickens County, the daughter, the right front seat occupant, said she and her mother kept trying but could not get the "Q" of the airport's identifier, "LQK" entered into the onboard GPS. The radar controller continued to give heading and distance recommendations to the pilot and when he advised that the airport was 7 miles away, the pilot felt she wouldn't make it and chose the field, instead. According to the statements, the pilot "overshot the first field" and was trying for a second field. The first tree collision came as a surprise and the daughter stated, "she was concentrating on the landing and may not have seen the trees". The daughter confirmed that in her opinion, the airplane did not stall into the trees, as they had plenty of airspeed. When asked her opinion why they collided with the pine trees, she stated that possibly the pilot, "misjudged" the clearance height of the trees.
According to transcripts of radio communications with FAA Greenville/Spartanburg Control Tower, N2709W was in radio and radar contact, and was about 30 miles northwest of the Greenville/Spartanburg Airport between 7,900 feet and the assigned altitude of 9,500 agl, when the pilot radioed that she was having engine trouble, had reversed course, and requested the location of the nearest airport. The mode C, (altitude readout feature) of the onboard transponder ceased showing a return on ATC radar as the flight climbed through 7,900 feet agl, and shortly thereafter a 7700, (emergency) transponder return was observed. The pilot was being vectored to Pickens County Airport when she decided to try for the vacant hay field.
According to the pilot's logbook, she trained in the Cessna 152 and 172 between September, 1995 and April, 1997, for about 73 hours, (52 dual and 21 as pilot-in-command, (PIC)) culminating in a private pilot rating. Her logged time in the Mooney was about 30 hours, (14 dual and 22 as PIC). She received her high performance/complex airplane endorsement on April 11, 1998, and had logged about 20 hours as PIC between that time and the accident. The pilot's logbook lists total flight time as about 116 hours. Additional personnel information is included in this report under First Pilot Information.
Examination of the airplane's airframe and engine logbooks revealed the airplane was equipped with a manually operated Rajay turbocharger, (normalizer) per STC SA1411WE and STC SE32WE, as well as an Electronics International, Inc. Model SR-8 digital automatic EGT/CHT analyzer, known as the "Smart Scanner" per STC SA4302NM. A II Morrow 820C global positioning system had been installed. The engine had undergone a major overhaul and was fitted with the Chuck Ney Enterprises, Inc. cam lobe and lifter oiling nozzles per STC SE 8628SW, in July, 1997. The engine had accumulated 93.27 hours since the overhaul. See attached engine log pages under, Other Pertinent Forms and Reports.
Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. Additional meteorological information is contained in this report under, Weather Information.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The general topography of the area chosen by the pilot for the emergency landing was hilly farm fields with occasional stands of trees up to 50 feet above ground level about 7 miles northwest of the airport she was being vectored to. Average elevation of the area is about 1,050 feet above sea level. The airplane collided with two pine trees within a stand of pines about 40 feet above ground , in a relatively flat, wings level, upright attitude. The tree stand was located at the near end, relative to the airplane's direction of flight on approach for landing, of a field that sloped downward about 12 degrees. Paint transfer and glass light lens shards in the trees revealed the airplane was upright at initial tree collision. Following initial impact the airplane continued airborne for about 310 feet over a relatively clear field until a second impact with dense brush and 8- to 12-foot trees adjacent to a small creek. Evidence at the second impact area revealed the airplane collided with the trees in an inverted attitude. The wreckage path was oriented about 68 degrees, magnetic. The airplane came to rest inverted on the creek bank, nose down, but not into the creek, on a heading of about 340 degrees.
The propeller, with the fractured crankshaft flange still bolted to the hub, had separated and rested midcreek in ankle deep water. The spinner was in place and showed rotational scoring. One blade had broken loose in the hub and was uniformly bent aft about 10 degrees with a 1/2-inch nick at the tip leading edge. The other blade was not bent, and both blades showed chordwise scratching. The engine's crankcase was fractured near the nose oil seal, but the seal was intact and in place. The airplane was tangled in barbed wire. The landing gear were in their respective wheel wells, but not locked up, and the gear handle was in neither locked position. Most of the left wing outer panel and the left horizontal stabilizer, as well as the right wingtip and right aileron were shorn as the airplane impacted the smaller trees. Their positions as well as the tree signatures confirmed the airplane was inverted at the second impact. The cabin had sustained inward crushing and the upper two-thirds of the vertical stabilizer was bent right about 80 degrees due to the inverted crash attitude. The vernier type mixture control was found about 1/2-inch from the idle cutoff position. The throttle was full open and the propeller control was in full increase. The turbocharger wastegate was in the open position, as was its control knob. Fuel was leaking from the overwing fuel caps, and evidence of previous crash site fuel spillage was present. Fuel tanks had been topped off with 100 octane LL before departure, confirmed by fixed base operator, (FBO) service order and invoice.
All airframe components were found in the immediate area. Flight controls and airframe components showed no signs of precrash failure or malfunction. Integrity of all flight controls was established. Inspection of the fuel flow divider revealed clean, uncontaminated fuel. The test for water content was negative.
There were no obstructions noted within the induction system and the alternate air source had not been operated. The exhaust system, including the turbocharger, showed normal coloration and no obstructions to exhaust gas path were noted. The spark plugs exhibited normal deposit coloring using the Champion Aviation Check-a-Plug Chart. Clean, uncontaminated engine oil was found in the engine and propeller dome. The crankshaft was manually rotated and continuity was confirmed for all rocker arms, valve and gear train, and no evidence of engine overspeed was found. All timing marks on accessory gears lined up properly. Leakage was noted past the piston rings on cylinder Nos. 2, 3, and 4. Magneto timing appeared normal relative to piston position. Fuel injectors were uncontaminated, inlet screen of servo was clean, and the engine-driven fuel pump operated properly when hand stroked. The right magneto sparked normally from all four terminals when rotated. All cylinders were removed and combustion chambers were found clean, with all valves in place and intact. Piston tops were dark, sooty in appearance and rings were in place, intact, with no ring gap line-up. Piston pins were in good condition. Connecting rods were removed and all bearings appeared in good condition, as well as all crankshaft journals and bearings.
The left magneto underwent repair station examination and exhibited good spark upon bench testing over a period of about 20 minutes.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The husband mentioned that the pilot had shown a history of having difficulty with the arm movement required in manipulating the Mooney landing gear handle due to previous shoulder surgery. An adjustable wrench/pliers combination tool was found in the cockpit. The husband mentioned that the pilot used the tool to manipulate the floor mounted fuel selector valve.
Postmortem examination of the pilot was performed by Dr. J. R. Pruitt, M.D. at the Oconee Memorial Hospital, Oconee, South Carolina, on June 23, 1998, and revealed cause of death to be multiple trauma of head and thorax. No findings that could be considered causal were noted. Toxicological tests were conducted at the Federal Aviation Administration Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The tests were negative for ethanol, carbon monoxide, and cyanide. Diphenhydramine, (.056 ug/ml, ug/g) and Fluconazole were detected in the blood and urine. Diphenhydramine is an over-the-counter antihistamine. Fluconazole is a prescription tablet used for yeast infections. The Physicians Desk Reference states that users of Diphenhydramine should be warned about engaging in activities requiring mental alertness such as driving a car or operating appliances, machinery, etc.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The Greenville FBO used by the pilot for weekend parking previous to the flight supplied confirmation that the pilot ordered the fuel tanks be topped off. The fuel, 8.2 gallons of 100 octane LL aviation fuel, was pumped into the airplane on June 20, 1998. The fuel storage facility and the fuelling vehicle had undergone satisfactory checks for contamination the day of fuelling and all days of June, previously.
The fuel servo and fuel flow divider, fuel lines, and injectors assembly underwent repair station bench testing and disassembly examination. The fuel servo contained a small amount of cellulose fiber contaminant in its integral filter, as well as in a spare outlet port. Bench air check, and fluid flow check of the fuel flow divider, fuel lines, and four injector nozzles showed normal operation. Throttle valve and throttle stop adjustments showed wear. According to factory specifications, the idle adjustment valve gap should measure .006 inch yielding a 5#/hr. idle fuel flow, the gap measured .022 inch yielding a 18#/hr. idle fuel flow.
The aircraft wreckage, less those components listed on the "Release of Aircraft Wreckage" form, was released to the Manager of Pickens County Aero, Inc. on June 24, 1998. All components retained by the NTSB for further examination were returned to the operator's insurance representative on February 22, 1999.