On August 6, 1998, at 0450 central standard time, a Cessna 421B, N5MJ, operated by Rhodes Aviation, collided with the terrain at the Columbus Municipal Airport while attempting to return to land shortly after takeoff. The airline transport rated pilot, the co-pilot, and two passengers received minor injuries. The remaining two passengers were seriously injured. The airplane was substantially damaged by impact with the terrain and a post impact fire. The 14 CFR Part 135 flight was operating in visual meteorological conditions on an IFR flight plan. The intended destination of the flight was Detroit, Michigan.

The pilot-in-command (PIC) reported that shortly after takeoff, upon reaching an altitude of about 400 feet above the ground, the left side nose baggage compartment door opened. He reported he informed the co-pilot that the door was opened and that they were going to return to land on runway 14. They had departed on runway 05. He reported he raised the gear and made a maximum power turn the left. He rolled the wings level and lowered the nose. He reported that at this time he thought perhaps the right side nose baggage door opened. He reported, "...knew I was going down so I put gear down tried to land in field. Landed and left wheel caught rut and broke landing gear causing left tip tank to hit ground catching fire and sliding sideways." He reported that after coming to a stop he went into the back of the airplane, opened the door and got everyone out.

The co-pilot reported that after takeoff she heard the PIC say something about the door. She reported she turned around, looked at the rear door, and told the PIC that it looked fine. She continued to report that the PIC started a left turn at which time the stall warning came on and the PIC stated they were "going down." She reported that she did not see the field which the airplane impacted. She reported that after the impact there was fire on the left wing. The PIC then opened the rear door and everyone exited the airplane.

Post accident inspection of the airplane was conducted by Inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration Indianapolis, Indiana Flight Standards District Office. They reported the airplane touched down in the field on a northerly heading. It then slid around coming to rest on a southwesterly heading. They reported all three landing gear were separated from the airplane. The airplane had sustained severe fire damage. The left nose baggage door was open.

The investigation revealed that both pilots were qualified to act as PIC of the flight and both had completed portions of the aircraft preflight. This flight would have normally been a single pilot operation; however, the company whose employees were being transported requested two pilots for the flight. The operator did not have any written procedures regarding the division of duties for a two pilot operation for this type of aircraft.

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