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On November 29, 1998, at 1610 central standard time (cst), a Cessna 172F, N72RE, operated by a private pilot was destroyed when while maneuvering near Coleman, Wisconsin, the airplane struck a stand of trees and subsequently impacted into a wooded area. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was being conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. There was no flight plan on file. The pilot and a passenger on board were fatally injured. A pilot-rated passenger on board sustained serious injuries. The cross-country flight originated at Charlotte, Michigan, at 1500 eastern standard time (est) and was en route to Coleman, Wisconsin.
A line person at the Clarion County Airport, Clarion, Pennsylvania, said that the airplane arrived at the airport on November 27, 1998, at 1520 eastern standard time (est). The witness said there was a pilot and two passengers on board. On their arrival, the pilot purchased 16.7 gallons of fuel.
The witness said that the pilot and two passengers took off from the airport at 1045 est, on the day of the accident. Prior to departing, the pilot did not obtain a weather briefing from the computer system provided, nor did he receive a weather briefing from the Flight Service Station at Altoona, Pennsylvania.
An employee for the fixed base operator (FBO) at Fitch H. Beach Airport, Charlotte, Michigan, said that the airplane landed between 1500 and 1600 est. The FBO register listed one pilot and two passengers. The witness said that they purchased 30 gallons of fuel which topped off the airplane's fuel tanks. The witness did not determine if the pilot obtained any updated weather information.
The pilot-rated passenger (and wife of the pilot) said the weather was clear at Charlotte, Michigan, when they took off at approximately 1400 cst. They climbed to 6,500 feet mean sea level (msl) and flew over Lake Michigan to the Coleman, Wisconsin, area. She said that over Wisconsin they flew through three different cloud layers in the descent. She recalled passing 2,500 feet msl when they entered the first cloud layer. She said that they flew between cloud layers. The last time she recalled seeing the altimeter, it indicated that the airplane was descending through 1,000 feet msl. The pilot-rated passenger said that at approximately 1555 cst, she called her son, who was at their home airstrip, on her cellular phone, and asked him how the weather was there. Her son told her that the weather was fine, but that it was getting dusky and they should come straight in. The pilot-rated passenger said that her husband (the pilot) was flying the airplane. He talked to someone over the radio about the current altimeter setting. She said that she was not paying much attention, but recalled hearing the word "bravo" associated with the weather conditions. She recalled entering the geographical coordinates of their private airstrip into the airplane's Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver. "We were doing a 4 mile circle to get down. We could see land and trees. Then we couldn't see anything. It was pure white. Then I was looking at this big birch tree."
A witness on the ground, approximately 1/4 mile southeast of the accident site, said that he and his father were hunting in the woods when he heard an airplane fly over. The witness said that the visibility was low, less than 1/2 mile. He said that they were about to quit hunting because it was so foggy. The witness said the airplane made two circles around where they were located. The witness said that he heard the engine power come up just before he heard the sounds of wood breaking.
Another witness, who was hunting with his brother in the area, also heard an airplane fly over. He said that it was approximately 1610 cst. He said the fog was thick at the time. The witness said the airplane made two circles over the area where they were located. When the airplane flew over, it didn't sound as if anything was wrong. The witness said that the airplane must have been a lot lower during the second circle. It was louder than the first. The witness then heard a loud revving of the engine followed one to two seconds later by the sound of wood cracking.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a single-engine land rating. According to the pilot's logbook and records recovered at the accident site, the pilot had 844.0 total flight hours, and 541.4 hours in the accident airplane.
The pilot's wife (pilot-rated passenger) holds a private-pilot certificate with single-engine land rating. According to her pilot logbook and her personal statement, the pilot's wife has approximately 100 hours of total flight time.
The airplane was owned and operated by the pilot, doing business as Ridgeview Enterprises, and used principally for pleasure.
The airplane, serial number 172-52068, was manufactured in 1964. A Cessna Aircraft Company Bill of Sale dated September 21, 1964, and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Certificate of Aircraft Registration, dated August 7, 1965, designated the airplane as being originally registered in the United States as N8168U. An letter from the first owner to the FAA, dated October 31, 1968, stated that the airplane was sold to a new owner, residing in Canada, that the registration number was removed for export to Canada, and that the airplane had been issued a Canadian registration CF-YGB. Airframe and engine maintenance records beginning October 31, 1968, cite the airplane as previously being Canadian registered under the letters C-FYGB. Several Canadian aircraft registration certificates were recovered from the airplane, indicating that the airplane may have had as many as four different owners while in Canada. The owner, previous to the pilot, registered the airplane with Regional Director, Aviation Licensing, Transport Canada, on July 27, 1993.
The airplane was purchased by the pilot on April 9, 1996, and delivered to the United States soon after. The total airframe time recorded by the previous owner, on April 10, 1996, was 3,779.15 hours. A new registration certificate was issued by the FAA on March 17, 1998, establishing the airplane as N72RE.
The most recent airplane logbooks indicate that the airplane had an annual inspection performed on March 12, 1998. The total airframe time recorded at the annual inspection was 4,270 hours.
An employee for the fixed base operator (FBO) at Fitch H. Beach Airport, Charlotte, Michigan, described the weather between 1500 and 1600 est, as foggy, hazy and drizzly. The witness said that "both IFR and VFR" flight training had been cancelled for the day at Charlotte.
At 1622 cst, the Flight Service Station at Green Bay, Wisconsin, reported a broken ceiling of 800 feet above ground level (agl), an overcast ceiling of 1,100 feet agl, 3 miles visibility, light rain and mist, a temperature and dew point of 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and winds from 190 degrees magnetic at 13 knots.
At 1635 cst, the weather reporting station at Menominee-Marinette Airport, Michigan, reported an overcast ceiling of 100 feet agl, 1 and 1/2 mile visibility, and winds from 160 degrees magnetic at 7 knots.
Witnesses on the ground who were within 1/2 mile of the accident site at the time the accident occurred described the weather as consisting of thick fog and mist.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The NTSB on scene investigation began on November 30, 1998, at 0830 cst.
The accident site was located in a wooded area located adjacent to a farm field, and approximately 1/2 mile north of Marinette County Road M, a two-lane, east-west running paved road.
The accident site began at a stand of water birch trees at the east edge of the farm field. The top 10 to 12 feet of one tree was sheared through the trunk, approximately 40 feet up from its base. The tree trunk was 8 to 12 inches in diameter. The top of the tree and several pieces of severed branches were found resting on the ground, and among other trees and brush, fanning outward for approximately 20 feet from the tree, on a 280 degree magnetic heading.
The accident site extended through the wooded area along a 310 degree magnetic heading, concluding at the main wreckage location, 375 feet from the stand of water birch trees, which contained the severed tree, on the edge of the farm field.
The airplane's left wing was suspended 7 feet above the ground in an oak tree located 102 feet from the first impact point [the severed water birch] on a 312 degree magnetic heading. The left wing was separated at the wing root. the wing spares were bent aft and broken. The left wing strut was torn out at the underwing attach point. The leading edge of the wing showed numerous deep dents and skin wrinkles along the entire span. The landing and taxi light cover was broken out. The bulb covers and filaments were shattered. The left wing tip was broken off longitudinally at the rivet line. The left aileron was intact. The left flap was bent downward, buckled and crushed inward at the inboard edge. The aileron control cable was frayed and unraveled at the wing root. Pieces of broken plexiglass from the windscreen and cabin windows and severed pieces of water birch tree branches, 1 to 4 inches in diameter, were scattered along the ground in the area beneath the oak tree and extended south- southwest for approximately 50 feet.
The airplane's left wing tip was found on the ground 104 feet from the severed water birch tree on a 280 degree magnetic heading. The wing tip was broken longitudinally at the rivet holes.
The airplane's rotating beacon was located 136 feet from the severed water birch tree on a 310 degree heading. The beacon lens cover and filament were broken.
The airplane's rudder was located 195 feet from the severed water birch tree on a 310 degree magnetic heading. The rudder was embedded in numerous tree branches next to an 18 foot long, 8 inch diameter downed maple tree trunk. The rudder was broken out at the hinge attachments, twisted and bent in a "c-shaped" curvature to the right. The maple tree was broken off at the base and fell along a 310 degree magnetic heading. The tree was sheared through at the end of the trunk.
The airplane's left elevator counterweight was embedded 10 inches into the ground, 221 feet from the severed water birch tree on a 310 degree magnetic heading.
A 5 foot long, 4 inch diameter section of tree trunk and several tree branches were located beginning 226 feet from the severed water birch tree, and running along the 310 degree magnetic heading.
The airplane's empennage, to include the vertical stabilizer, left and right horizontal stabilizers and elevators, was found resting at the base of several 2 and 1/2 to 3 inch diameter trees, 235 feet from the severed water birch tree, on a 310 degree magnetic heading. The empennage was sheared off at the rivets just beneath the horizontal stabilizers. The leading edge of the vertical stabilizer was crushed inward and bent slightly to the right. The left horizontal stabilizer and elevator were bent upward and buckled. The stabilizer tip was broken longitudinally along the rivet line. The elevator balance weight was broken off longitudinally along the rivet line. The outboard 16 inches of the left horizontal stabilizer was bent aft and twisted upward. The right horizontal stabilizer showed numerous bends and buckles. The right elevator was bent downward at the balance weight. Flight control cables to the elevator were separated at the control surface attach points. Flight control cables and pulleys to the rudder were torn out inside the vertical stabilizer. All of the cables were frayed and unraveled.
A 28 inch long section of the airplane's right wing to include part of the right fuel tank was located 260 feet from the severed water birch tree, on a 311 degree magnetic heading. The section was broken open and twisted. The smell of fuel was prevalent.
The airplane's right wing tip was located 275 feet from the severed water birch tree on a 313 degree magnetic heading. The wing tip was intact and broken longitudinally along the rivet line.
The right wing aileron was located 284 feet from the severed water birch tree on a 312 degree magnetic heading. The aileron was broken out at the hinges and control rod. The control surface was bent and twisted.
A 64 inch long section of the right outboard wing was found among several severed and broken tree branches, at the base of a water birch tree, located 294 feet from the first severed water birch tree on a 311 degree magnetic heading. The wing section was bent and twisted. Several severed pieces of tree debris in this area averaged 3 to five inches in diameter.
The tailcone was located 316 feet from the severed water birch tree, on a 312 degree magnetic heading. It was broken out longitudinally and radially along the rivet lines. A 15 foot long, 6 inch diameter fallen tree trunk laid next to the tailcone, along a 312 degree heading. The far end of the trunk was embedded in the ground at the beginning of a 21 foot long, 3 foot wide ground scar, located 325 feet from the first severed water birch tree. The ground scar ran along a 310 degree magnetic heading.
The left cabin door was located along the southwest side of the ground scar, 328 feet from the first severed water birch tree, on a 310 degree magnetic heading. The door was intact and broken out at the hinges. The cabin door handle was in the closed and locked position. A 36 inch wide section of the airplane's right wing fuel tank rested on the north side of the ground scar opposite the left cabin door. The wing section was broken open twisted.
The left main landing gear wheel, strut and brake assembly and pant was located on the north side of the ground scar, 330 feet from the first severed water birch tree, on a 311 degree magnetic heading. The gear strut was broken rearward. The front one third of the wheel pant was broken radially.
The main wreckage consisted of the airplane's fuselage, the engine, propeller, right main landing gear, inboard 80 inches of the right wing and the right wing flap. The fuselage was broken laterally through the forward cabin at the windscreen frame and cabin door posts. The section of the fuselage aft of the fracture, which contained the cabin, baggage compartment and aft fuselage, was suspended vertically in tree, 3 feet above the ground. The penetration angle of the cabin/aft fuselage section was 96 degrees from the horizontal plane, and canted left, 26 degrees from vertical plane. The right front portion and aft portion of the cabin were intact. The right aft cabin window was broken out. The left forward cabin, to include the cabin floor pilot's seat, and cabin door were broken out. The top of the cabin was buckled outward and crushed aft. The right main landing gear was intact. The gear strut was pushed upward. The left side of the aft fuselage was crushed inward. The top left aft portion of the fuselage, beginning behind the left rear cabin window and running aft to the point where the empennage had broken off, was torn open. The right wing was broken aft longitudinally, 80 inches outboard of the wing root. The right wing fuel tank was broken open. The smell of fuel was prevalent in this area. The inboard 24 inches of the right flap was bent downward.
The forward part of the fuselage, to include the instrument panel, control yokes, rudder pedals, firewall, engine mounts, engine, cowling, nose gear and propeller, was broken off and turned 180 degrees from the remaining cabin/fuselage section, and rested vertically on the ground, adjacent to the cabin/fuselage section, with the instrument panel facing downward. The instrument panel was crushed inward. The majority of the instruments were broken out. The engine, firewall, and engine mounts were intact. The left side of the cowling was crushed inward. The nose gear strut was bent aft. The nose wheel pant was broken off. The propeller spinner was broken off. The propeller showed torsional bending , chordwise scratches, and tip curling. Continuity from the yokes and rudder pedals through the fuselage was confirmed. Examination of the engine, and engine controls revealed no anomalies.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy of the pilot was conducted by the Marinette County, Wisconsin, Coroner, on December 1, 1998, in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The results of FAA toxicology testing of specimens from the pilot were negative for all tests conducted.
Parties to the investigation were the Federal Aviation Administration Flight Standards District Office, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Cessna Aircraft Company, Wichita, Kansas, and Teledyne Continental Motors, Mobile, Alabama.
The aircraft wreckage was released and returned to Kuchta Farms, Coleman, Wisconsin.