HISTORY OF THE FLIGHT Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
On October 3, 1998, about 1300 Alaska daylight time (ADT), a wheel equipped Beech G-35 airplane, N4479D, departed the Haines Airport, Haines, Alaska, on a visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country flight to the Seattle, Washington, area. The flight was the first portion of a continuing flight to Fenton, Michigan. No flight plan was filed for the Title 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight. At an estimated time of 2000 Pacific daylight time (PDT), the airplane is presumed to have crashed into the ocean in the vicinity of Neah Bay, Washington, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The certificated private pilot, the sole occupant, has not been found, and is presumed to have received fatal injuries.
Review of recorded telephone weather briefings from the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA), Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS), Juneau, Alaska, revealed the pilot telephoned the AFSS on October 2, 1998, about 2312. The pilot first inquired about weather conditions by asking the AFSS specialist how long the high pressure over the Haines area was expected to last. The AFSS specialist said the high pressure should last for another two days. The pilot then inquired about expected weather conditions for a route of flight from Haines, direct to Cut Bank, Montana, and then to Michigan. The flight service station specialist advised the pilot that the areas around Terrace, Smithers, and Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, were experiencing snow and rain showers. The AFSS specialist said the conditions were expected to persist for a couple of days.
The pilot then inquired about the weather conditions along the coast of Alaska, and Canada. The AFSS specialist advised that a route through Ketchikan, Alaska, Prince Rupert, and Port Hardy, Canada, was expected to have better weather conditions. The pilot then inquired about weather conditions over the Cascade Mountains. The specialist said Abbotsford, and Penticton, Canada, were nice. He said the main area of poor weather was above Prince George, but once past Williams Lake, Canada, conditions improved. He added that the coast was a better route. The pilot said he had friends in Seattle, and he could take a break there. The pilot added that his mind was made up, and planned to go through Seattle. He said he would call in the morning to file a flight plan.
Other than inquiring about the weather conditions, the pilot did not receive a formal weather briefing.
Family members reported the pilot had voiced tentative plans to stop in the Seattle area on his way to Fenton, where he was scheduled to arrive before October 10, 1998. A personal friend in Seattle reported the pilot had mentioned that he may stop in Seattle, but the friend had not received any communication from the pilot to confirm any plans.
Following the airplane's departure from Haines, on October 3, 1998, no further communication was received from the pilot.
A fuel attendant at the Petersburg, Alaska, airport, reported observing a V-tailed Beechcraft Bonanza land at the airport about 1400 on October 3, 1998. He reported the airplane, a white color with wing tip tanks, taxied to the southwest side of the airport ramp. One person exited the airplane. He did not pay any further attention to the airplane, and no record of a fuel purchase was found. The identity of this airplane was not established.
No evidence of the airplane's location was found until October 4, 1998, about 0730 PDT. At that time, an airplane fuel tank was discovered floating about 200 yards from Chito Beach, Clallam Bay, Washington, which is located about 8 miles east of Neah Bay. The operator of a local resort recovered the tank.
The route of accident flight from Haines to Neah Bay, the time en route, and the airplane's fuel consumption, all were estimated to establish a probable time of the accident.
SEARCH AND RESCUE INFORMATION
The recovery of the fuel tank was reported to the Clallam County Sheriff's Office, Washington, the U.S. Coast Guard, Port Angeles, Washington, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) personnel in Seattle. Since no flight plan had been filed, the FAA was not aware of any overdue airplanes. FAA personnel asked the finder of the tank to transport it to Port Angeles, and leave it with Rite Brothers Aviation, at the Fairchild International Airport. FAA inspectors planned to retrieve the tank at their next visit to Port Angeles, near the end of the month.
The Coast Guard Station, Port Angeles, was notified of the fuel tank on October 4, 1998, at 1030 PDT. Search personnel did not have any report of an overdue airplane from the FAA, or from Canadian Air Traffic Control personnel. A helicopter search of the area around Clallam Bay did not reveal any airplane debris. After an aerial search, the Coast Guard initiated an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast (UMIB) at 1220 PDT to local area marine vessels, advising boaters to look for any wreckage debris.
When the pilot did not arrive in Fenton, the flight was reported overdue by family members on October 13, 1998, to the Alaska State Troopers. An alert notice (ALNOT) for the airplane was issued by the FAA in Alaska, on October 14, 1998, at 0155 ADT.
Following the overdue report, U.S. Coast Guard personnel in Juneau, Alaska, on October 14, 1998, began to coordinate a search for the airplane in Alaska, Canada, and the Port Angeles area. They confirmed the pilot inquired about weather conditions, and possible routes, from the Juneau AFSS. Investigation of the proposed route of flight provided by family members initiated the Coast Guard's coordination with FAA personnel in Alaska and Seattle. On October 14, 1998, at 1905 ADT, Juneau FSS personnel recalled a report of recovery of a fuel tank near Neah Bay on October 4, 1998. This information provided the link for Coast Guard personnel to connect the overdue airplane with the found fuel tank.
Following the linking of the overdue airplane and the found fuel tank, Coast Guard personnel from Port Angeles reopened their search of the Chito Beach area. An extensive aerial, and surface search, utilizing ocean drift data from the Canadian Coast Guard, failed to locate any additional wreckage debris.
The airplane was equipped with external, wing tip mounted auxiliary fuel tanks. Each tank had a capacity of 20 gallons. They were installed on the airplane on May 14, 1998, in Fenton, Michigan. Coast Guard personnel obtained information that the airplane had a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) to utilize automotive fuel.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board office in Seattle, retrieved the fuel tank from Rite Brothers Aviation on October 15, 1998. The tank was dented along the underside and had a torn, separated portion of wing structure attached to the inboard end. Electrical wires were attached to a position light assembly. A fuel cap was still retained in the tank fuel spout. About one quart of water and amber colored fuel was found within the tank. Family members traveled to Seattle, and met with NTSB personnel. On the evening of October 15, 1998, family members positively identified the recovered fuel tank as a part of the accident airplane. They identified previous repairs made to the underside of the tank. The fuel tank was released to a representative of the owner.
No maintenance logbooks for the engine or airframe were located. A mechanic in Fenton, Michigan, reported he previously worked on the airplane. A work order, dated May 14, 1998, contained a record of the tip tank installation, and an annual inspection. At that time, the airplane's recording hour meter indicated 3,970.80 hours. The engine's time since a major overhaul was recorded as 1,046.95 hours.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. It was issued on March 16, 1997. The most recent third-class medical certificate was issued to the pilot on February 24, 1998, and contained the limitation that the pilot must have available glasses for near vision.
No personal flight records were located for the pilot and the aeronautical experience listed on page 3 of this report was obtained from a review of the airmen Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records on file in the Airman and Medical Records Center located in Oklahoma City. On the pilot's application for medical certificate, February 24, 1998, the pilot indicated that his total aeronautical experience consisted of 260 hours, of which 40 were accrued in the previous 6 months.
Weather products available to the Juneau AFSS specialist when the pilot discussed his proposed route of flight, included forecast information from the National Weather Service offices in Juneau, and San Francisco, California, and weather observations from FAA facilities. The following is weather data pertaining to the pilot's inquiries of his possible routes of flight.
An area forecast for the eastern gulf coast and southeast Alaska, was issued on October 3, 1998, at 0545. The forecast synopsis, valid until 0000, stated, in part: "A trough of low pressure persists offshore the panhandle through the reporting period. High pressure persists over western Canada through the reporting period. Lynn Canal and Glacier Bay, valid until 1800: Clouds and weather, 4,000 feet scattered, 7,000 feet scattered to broken, tops at 9,000 feet. Outlook, valid from 1800, to October 4, 1998, at 1200, VFR. Passes: White and Chilkoot, VFR. Turbulence: Nil significance. Icing and freezing level: Nil significance, freezing level, 4,500 feet."
From the Juneau weather office: "Thunderstorms imply possible severe or greater turbulence, severe icing, low level wind shear, and IFR conditions Non-mean sea level heights noted by AGL. AIRMET Sierra, issued on October 2, 1998, at 1745; IFR and mountain obscuration, valid until 0000. Southern and southeast Alaska, until 2100, mountains occasionally obscured in clouds, improving. AIRMET Tango, issued October 2, 1998, at 1745; Turbulence and strong surface winds, valid until 0000, None. AIRMET Zulu, issued October 2, 1998, at 1745; Icing, valid until 0000, None."
From the San Francisco weather office: "AIRMET Sierra, issued on October 2, 1998, at 1745; IFR and mountain obscuration, valid until 0000. AIRMET for mountain obscuration, Washington, Oregon, and California; from 40 miles east of Princeton, British Columbia, Canada, to Redmond, Oregon, to 30 miles north of Red Bluff, California, to Fortuna, California, to Neah Bay, Washington, to 40 miles east of Princeton, B.C., mountains occasionally obscured in clouds and in precipitation. Conditions continuing beyond 0000, through October 3, 1998, at 0600."
"AIRMET Zulu for icing and freezing level, issued on October 2, 1998, at 1745, valid until 0000; AIRMET for icing, Washington, and Oregon; from 40 miles east of Princeton, B.C., to Lakeview, Oregon, to 70 miles west of Medford, Oregon, to Neah Bay, Washington, to 40 miles east of Princeton, B.C., occasional moderate rime and mixed icing in clouds and in precipitation between 6,000 feet to 14,000 feet. Conditions continuing beyond 0000, through October 3, 1998, at 0600."
"AIRMET for icing, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Utah; from Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, to Bozeman, Montana, to Pocatello, Idaho, to Salt Lake City, Utah, to Winnemucca, Nevada, to Lakeview, Oregon, to 40 east of Princeton, B.C., occasional moderate rime and mixed icing in clouds and in precipitation between 8,000 feet to 16,000 feet. Conditions continuing beyond 0000, through October 3, 1998, at 0600."
"Freezing level, 5,000 feet in northwestern Washington, sloping to 8,000 feet on a line between Fortuna, California, to Rome, Oregon, to 12,000 feet on a line between San Francisco, California, to Tonopah, Nevada, to 15,000 feet in extreme southern California."
"AIRMET Tango, issued October 2, 1998, at 1840, amended; AIRMET Tango, update 1 for turbulence, valid until 0000. AIRMET for turbulence, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, update; from Hoquiam, Washington, to Salmon, Idaho, to Casper, Wyoming, to Akron, Colorado, to Tobe, Colorado, to Bryce Canyon, Utah, to Beatly, Nevada, to Salinas, California, to Fortuna, California, to Hoquiam, Washington, moderate turbulence below 18,000 feet. Isolated severe turbulence in the vicinity of the Sierra Mountains. Conditions continuing beyond 0000, through October 3, 1998, at 0600. Additional isolated severe."
A terminal forecast for the Seattle, Washington, area issued on October 2, 1998, at 2233 PDT, valid from 2300 until 2300 on October 3, 1998, was reporting, in part: "Wind, 200 degrees at 8 knots; visibility, greater than 6 statute miles; clouds, 2,500 feet scattered, 5,000 feet broken. Temporary changes expected between 2300 and 0500 on October 3, 1998, light rain showers; clouds, 2,500 feet broken, 5,000 feet overcast. From 0500, wind 180 degrees at 8 knots; visibility greater than 6 statute miles in light rain showers; clouds, 2,500 feet broken, 5,000 feet overcast. From 1100, wind 180 degrees at 18 knots; visibility greater than 6 statute miles in light rain showers; clouds, 3,000 feet scattered, 6,000 feet overcast with cumulonimbus clouds; 30 percent probability between 1100 and 1700 of light rain and thunderstorms. From 1700, wind 240 degrees at 12 knots; visibility greater than 6 statute miles; clouds, 3,500 feet broken, 7,000 feet broken; 40 percent probability between 1700 and 2300 of light rain showers."
A METAR for Seattle International Airport, issued on October 2, 1998, at 2356 PDT, was reporting, in part: "Wind, 210 degrees at 11 knots; visibility, 10 statute miles; clouds, few at 5,500 feet, 11,000 feet scattered; temperature, 50 degrees F; dew point, 44 degrees F; altimeter, 29.88 inHg."
The closest official weather observation station to Chito Beach, is the Fairchild International Airport, Port Angeles, Washington, which is located about 40 nautical miles to the east. On October 3, 1998, at 1955 PDT, a surface weather observation was reporting in part: Wind, calm; visibility, 15 statute miles; clouds, 7,000 feet overcast; temperature, 50 degrees F; dew point, 46 degrees F; altimeter, 29.93 inHg.
On October 3, 1998, at 2000 PDT, a U.S. Coast Guard remote weather reporting station at Neah Bay, Washington, was reporting a ceiling of 2,000 feet, with a visibility of 1 mile.
A review of archived National Weather Service NEXRAD radar data from Seattle, Washington, at 1856 PDT, 1954 PDT, and 2054 PDT, revealed an area of rain showers moving from Neah Bay, eastbound along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.