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On November 21, 1993, about 1356 hours eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-161, N3011F, collided with a free-falling parachutist while in cruise flight over the Northampton Airport, Northampton, Massachusetts. The airplane subsequently impacted terrain during an uncontrolled descent and was destroyed. The certificated private pilot and the three passengers were fatally injured, and the parachutist received serious injuries. The airplane was operated by Red Hook Air Service, Red Hook, New York. The personal flight originated in Red Hook and was destined for Bedford, Massachusetts. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a flight plan was not filed for the flight.
According to the operator, the accident airplane departed the Red Hook Sky Park about 1300 hours for a round-trip, cross country flight. The purpose of the flight was to return the son of the pilot and the son's acquaintance to the Boston area after a weekend at the pilot's home in Rhinebeck, New York. An acquaintance of the pilot was also on board and intended to return to Rhinebeck with the pilot.
No record of communications between the pilot of the accident airplane and any FAA facility were found.
As the flight of the accident airplane proceeded eastbound in cruise flight toward Boston, another airplane, N50442, a Cessna 210, departed from the Northampton Airport. The airplane was a "jumper" airplane with five sport parachutists and the pilot on board. According to the operator of the jumper airplane, the purpose of the flight was to drop five parachutists in free fall over the Northampton Airport. Four of the five parachutist on board were to jump as two pairs of "tandem" jumpers. The solo jumper was not attached to anyone and was designated as the "spotter"; he was to guide the pilot over the jump zone and jump out of the airplane first. The flight was the fifth jumper flight of the day.
According to FAA air traffic control (ATC) voice recordings, the pilot of the jumper airplane contacted Bradley Approach Control at 1347:21 hours immediately after departing from the Northampton Airport. The pilot reported that he was at 1,800 feet and climbing to 8,000 feet "... with jumpers." The controller, having already issued a discrete transponder code for the previous four jumper flights, provided a traffic advisory and requested that the jumper airplane "... report one minute prior ..." to releasing the jumpers. According to the jumper airplane pilot:
I climbed and circled (to clear for traffic) for about eight minutes. My job is to put the jump plane over the 'spot'. It was pretty windy at altitude and I would estimate our ground speed to be about 45 knots when we turned onto the course for the jump run. I turned from 90 degrees onto the jump run as a final clearing turn. I did not see any other traffic. I contacted Bradley and gave them a 'one minute to jump' warning.
The jumper airplane pilot also stated that he transmitted the same warning on the Northampton Airport common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF).
According to ATC voice recordings, the jumper airplane pilot issued a "one minute prior" warning to Bradley Approach Control at 1355:32 hours. The controller then made the following transmission on the Approach Control frequency: "Attention all aircraft one minute to parachute jumping vicinity of Northampton Airport surface to eight thousand feet."
No advisories were issued by the controller to the jumper airplane pilot concerning the accident airplane. Also, no communications were made by the accident airplane with either Bradley Approach Control or the Northampton CTAF.
According to the solo parachutist on the jump airplane, he was the first to jump out of the jumper airplane. He stated that he received the "door open" sign from the pilot, opened the door, and looked out to "fine tune" the pilot's course over the jump zone. He stated that he did not observe any other air traffic in the area as he was looking out the door. He then jumped out of the airplane.
About five to six seconds later, he observed "... an airplane coming right at me. I was coming from above it - angling down towards it." He stated that he thought he would miss the airplane, but "... hit the tail ..." instead. He then deployed his parachute and floated toward the drop zone. He stated that as he was floating, he observed the accident airplane "... about 200 feet above the ground, going in totally out of control."
A ground witness located at the Northampton Airport reported that as he was observing the jumper airplane, he noticed the accident airplane heading in the "... totally opposite direction ..." of the jump airplane. He observed the first parachutist jumping out of the jumper airplane and striking the rudder of the accident airplane. He observed "... a rudder piece fall off ..." and then saw sparks. He stated that it was "... only a few seconds from the time the jumper came out to the time he hit the Piper."
The ground witness also stated:
The Piper stayed level for a second or two [after it was hit], then it banked to the right, then to the left, then to the right again. It kept on spiralling down to the right in a really nose down attitude. It looked almost inverted as it got closer. The tailcone looked intact, but there was no rudder. There was no fire or smoke as it descended. I saw it until it disappeared behind trees.
At 1356:43 hours, a sound similar to the tone of an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) was recorded on the ATC voice recording. At 1357:04 hours, the jumper airplane pilot transmitted "jumpers away" to Bradley Approach Control. At 1357:08 hours, Bradley Approach Control issued a traffic advisory to the jump airplane, stating that traffic was "one mile east of your position altitude indicating two thousand six hundred." At 1358:29 hours, the jumper airplane pilot issued a "MAYDAY" to Bradley Approach control and reported that he had just witnessed an airplane accident.
The accident occurred during the hours of daylight at 42 degrees 19.34 minutes North, and 072 degrees 35.50 minutes West.
The pilot of the accident airplane, age 49, was issued a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land on February 2, 1992. According to his personal flight logbook, he had accumulated a total of 177 hours of flight time, all in type. He received an FAA third class medical certificate on July 28, 1993.
The pilot of the jumper airplane, age 28, was a certificated airplane transport pilot and certified flight instructor. He reported that he had logged over 3,000 hours of flight time. He was employed by the operator of the jumper airplane for six months preceding the accident.
The solo parachutist who struck the tail of the accident airplane, age 51, held an "A" sport parachute rating. He stated that he had accumulated about 37 sport parachute jumps during the preceding two years.
According to the FAA, the ATC specialist who was providing advisories to the jumper airplane was receiving on-the-job training at the time of the accident. A full performance ATC specialist was designated as his instructor at the time of the accident.
The reported surface weather observation at Bradley International Airport, located about 24 nautical miles south of the accident site, three minutes prior to the accident was: "sky clear, visibility 20 miles, temperature 46 degrees F, dewpoint 19 degrees F, wind 220 degrees at 14 knots, altimeter 30.23 inches Hg."
At the time of the accident, the true bearing to the sun at 7,000 feet mean sea level (msl) was 214.9 degrees. The altitude of the sun was 21.3 degrees of declination.
The Northampton Airport is uncontrolled and has a single paved runway. The field elevation is 122 feet msl. The CTAF that serves the airport is 122.7 Megahertz (Mhz).
According to the FAA, the Northampton Airport parachute jumping area is described as a three nautical mile radius of the Barnes VORTAC 039 degree radial at 11 nautical miles, surface to 13,000 feet msl in Class E airspace. The published hours of operation of the jumping area were 0800 hours local until one hour after sunset.
The Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission granted the airport an annual permit to operate as a Massachusetts Parachute Jump Center prior to the accident. The airport successfully passed an additional inspection by the Commission about one week after the accident.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane wreckage was examined at the accident site on November 21, 1993, and during the two days that followed. The examination of the wreckage revealed that portions of the airplane's rudder and the entire vertical stabilizer had separated in flight. Pieces of the top portion of the rudder, including the counterweight, beacon, and fairing, were found about 1/3 nautical miles from the main wreckage, and about 2/3 nautical miles from the Northampton Airport. The magnetic bearing from the separated pieces to the main wreckage site was 124 degrees. The entire vertical stabilizer was not recovered, despite numerous ground and air search efforts.
The main wreckage was found in a wooded area adjacent to the Connecticut River. An examination of the site revealed no evidence of fire. A single branch from a tree located about 45 feet from the wreckage was found broken. No other tree branches displayed evidence of a fresh separation in the vicinity of the accident site. The right wing was found partially wrapped around the trunk of tree. The entire airplane was found resting upright within its own dimensions. Uniform crush damage was observed along its entire underside. The airplane was oriented on a magnetic bearing of about 135 degrees.
An examination of the tail section revealed that the rudder remained loosely attached to the tailcone and was bent 90 degrees to the right at the base. The rudder was also wrinkled at its midspan. The front and rear attach points for the vertical stabilizer were sheered off about four inches from their base. The entire vertical stabilizer had separated. The horizontal stabilizer and trim tab remained intact.
An examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal any evidence of pre-impact mechanical deficiencies.
A current New York Sectional Chart was found in the wreckage.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by Dr. Beauchamp, M.D., at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Springfield, Massachusetts, on November 22, 1993. The cause of death listed on the report of autopsy was "multiple trauma." No pre-existing conditions were noted on the report of autopsy.
A toxicological examination was conducted on specimens from the pilot by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C. On their report dated December 9, 1993, negative results were reported for ethanol. Positive results were reported for two screened antidepressant drugs; the report stated that the liver contained "2.1 mg/kg of doxepin" and "1.5 mg/kg of nordoxepin."
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Two Bendix/King transceivers found in the wreckage were forwarded to a laboratory at the Allied Signal, Inc., General Aviation Avionics Division, in Olathe, Kansas. Both transceivers underwent laboratory testing on January 5, 1994, under the supervision of the Safety Board. A report of the testing is attached. The integrated circuits from both transceivers were removed and the stored radio frequencies were extracted from them.
The "in use" frequency stored on one of the transceivers was 120.30 Mhz. This is the published frequency used by the Bradley International Airport Control Tower. (Warnings for parachute jump activity were given over the frequency for Bradley Approach Control.)
The "in use" frequency from the second transceiver was 122.80 Mhz. This is the published frequency used as the CTAF at the Red Hook Sky Park. The published CTAF at the Northampton Airport is 122.7 Mhz.
Recorded Radar Data Study.
A Recorded Radar Data Study was performed by the Safety Board's Office of Research and Engineering. A report of the study, which includes a plot of the flight paths of the jumper airplane and the accident airplane, is attached. According to the report:
Inspection of the resultant flightpath plot revealed that at 1354:32 Local Time, N3011F [accident airplane] was determined to be travelling east at an recorded Mode C altitude of 5600' and 5700' MSL. At the same time, the parachute jump plane, N50442 was travelling westbound while climbing through 6500' MSL. BT target returns were recorded for N3011F through 1356:18.0 at a Mode C altitude of 5700', and then a final return at 1356:50.4 at 5000' MSL.
FAA Air Traffic Controllers Handbook.
According to the FAA Air Traffic Controller's Handbook, FAAH 7110.65H, Section 9, Paragraph 9-93:
Handle notification to conduct jump operation in other Class E airspace as follows:
a. Issue a traffic advisory to the jump aircraft before the jump. Include aircraft type, altitude, and direction of flight of all known traffic which will transit the airspace within which the jump will be conducted.
FAA Air Traffic Controller Statements.
The air traffic controller who was communicating with the accident airplane stated that he did not see a target transmitting a beacon code of 1200 in the vicinity of the jumper airplane about the time the pilot reported one minute prior to "jumpers away." He stated that because he did not see the target, he did not issue a traffic advisory to the pilot of the jumper airplane.
The controller was receiving on-the-job training at the time of the accident. The full performance level controller who was training him provided a similar statement concerning the accident.
Information and Publications Depicting Parachute Jump Activity.
According to the FAA, there was no Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) disseminated on the accident date because the parachute jump area is depicted on the New York Sectional Chart and activity items are published in the Airport/Facility Directory.
The New York Sectional Chart contains a symbol shaped like a parachute located just above the Northampton airport symbol. The parachute symbol is about 1/8 inch in height and is blue in color. It is superimposed over the depiction of the Connecticut river, also blue in color. No other information concerning parachute jumping is contain on the New York Sectional Chart.
Information concerning the parachute jumping area at the Northampton Airport is also published in the Airport/Facility Directory, page 320, effective November 11, 1993 through January 6, 1994, as provided to the National Flight Data Center on August 3, 1987. The sentence "Parachute Jumping" is the complete amount of verbiage concerning sport parachute jumping at the Northampton Airport under the "AIRPORT REMARKS" section.
Release of Airplane Wreckage.
The airplane wreckage was released to Mr. John Dean, Vice President, Phoenix Aviation Managers, Inc., Andover, New Jersey, representing the owner, on May 11, 1994.