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On May 5, 1999, about 1945 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172, N30DS, registered to a private individual, impacted with rising terrain in a mountainous area near Fontana, North Carolina. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time, but clouds and low ceilings were reported in the area of the crash site. A VFR (visual flight rules) flight plan was filed for the 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight. The airplane was destroyed. The airline transport-rated pilot was fatally injured. The flight had originated at 1636 from Jacksonville, Florida, and was en route to Knoxville, Tennessee.
The flight took off from Jacksonville, Florida, and the pilot contacted departure control. The pilot was instructed to fly a heading of 020 degrees and climb to 3,000 feet. At 1657, the pilot requested VFR flight following to Knoxville Downtown Airport, at an altitude of 4,500 feet, and was issued a transponder code of 2662. The flight was radar identified 23 miles west of Brunswick, Georgia, and the pilot was told to advise of any altitude changes.
At 1710, ATC (air traffic control) advised the pilot of weather along his flight path, and the pilot deviated west of course. En route the pilot contacted Macon Approach, Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC), and Knoxville Approach.
The pilot made radio contact with Knoxville (TYS) Approach Control, and reported that he was level at 8,500 feet, inbound to the Knoxville Downtown Airport. The controller advised the pilot of reported tops of the clouds at 7,000 feet msl (mean sea level), and that the base of the clouds in the area were at 3,400 feet msl. The pilot reported to the controller that he had ground contact, and advised he was familiar with the mountainous terrain. About 8 minutes after initial contact, radio and radar contact were simultaneously lost. At the time of the accident the pilot was receiving VFR advisories from TYS approach control. The airplane impacted in rising terrain, in a heavily wooded area of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
The wreckage was spotted by a military aircraft on May 6, 1999, but due to bad weather, extremely rough terrain, and the remoteness of the crash site, ground searchers could not reach the wreckage until 1000, May 7, 1999.
The accident occurred during the hours of dusk approximately 35 degrees, 32 minutes north, and 083 degrees, 42 minutes west.
The pilot's personal log book listing his flight hours was not recovered. According to FAA records the pilot had a total of 23,000 hours of combined civilian and military flight hours.
The accident occurred during the hours of dusk. At 1953, the recorded weather at the Knoxville, McGee/Tyson Airport, 30 miles northwest of the crash site was: lowest cloud condition; 2,000 scattered; lowest ceiling 3,600 broken; visibility 10 sm; temperature 70 degrees F; dew point 64 degrees F; wind direction from 130 degrees; wind speed 7 knots; altimeter 29.84 Hg. The weather at the crash site was instrument meteorological conditions.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot, on May 11, 1999, at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, Knoxville, Tennessee, by Dr. Sandra K. Elkins. According to the autopsy report the cause of death was, "...multiple blunt force injuries...."
Toxicological tests were conducted at the Federal Aviation Administration, Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and revealed, "No ethanol or drugs detected."
At 1934:02, the pilot of N30DS made initial radio contact with the Knoxville Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT), Radar East (R-E) controller. He said his altitude was, "...eight thousand five hundred gonna try and get into downtown."
The R-E controller said, "...roger tops have been reported...east of Knoxville at uh seven thousand feet and the current uh bases showin at McGee Tyson three thousand four hundred."
At 1934:27, the pilot said , "Okay I can see the uh the seven thousand footers I've got uh ground contact." The control said "roger", and the pilot said, "...I ought to be able to come down (unintelligible)."
At 1934:39, the R-E controller said, "...roger are you familiar with the mountainous terrain." The pilot answered, "yes sir." According to the radar controller's statement, the pilot's "assertive reply" indicated to him that the pilot was "familiar" with the area, and "...there was no reason for concern."
At 1935:47, the pilot reported. "out of eight thousand five hundred." According to the controller's statement, at some point before 1939;42, "...I observed N30DS level off at 7,000 feet. I remember this distinctly because the radar information showed him level at 7,000 feet for several sweeps."
The R-E control was contacted by the Knoxville ATCT (air traffic control tower), Local Control (L-C), at 1939:43 to discuss another matter. The following exchange occurred between the two controllers from 1940:02 to 1941.
At 1940:02, the R-E control said, "...oh you see that guy twenty three southeast he's v f r man tryin to get in v f r to downtown island over the mountains so I'm workin hard."
L-C control said, "huh I don't see any."
R-E controller answered "tryin to dodge clouds and stuff."
L-C control said, "I don't see any breaks."
R-E, " Well he says he sees the ground."
L-C, "...well good luck (unintelligible) he better descend if he can because there's no breaks out this way but oh well that's for him to decide...."
At 1942:18, the R-E controller said to the pilot of N30DS "...radar contact lost." There was no further response from the pilot. The controller had other pilots on the frequency attempt to contact the pilot, all attempts were unsuccessful, and a search was started.
The airplane impacted in a heavily wooded area, and rising terrain, heading about 360 degrees. The airplane traveled about 200 feet in a northerly direction from the first broken tree observed along the wreckage path. The left wing was found in the vicinity of the first broken tree. The airplane impacted at an elevation of about 4,800 feet. The top of the mountain that the airplane impacted was about 6,000 feet. The up slope of the terrain at the crash site was about 30 degrees.
The rudder and left elevator were found separated and located along the wreckage path north of the first tree that had displayed impact damage. The left fuel tank had separated from the wing, and fuel was found in the left tank. The engine was found separated from the mounts, and was laying a few feet north of the wreckage. The propeller had remained attached to the engine. The location of the wreckage precluded detailed examination at the crash site. The wreckage was removed from the crash site and taken to the facilities of Atlanta Air Salvage, Griffin, Georgia.
TEST AND RESERCH
On July 15, 1999, the airframe, engine, and propeller were examined under the supervision of Phil Powell, NTSB, Atlanta, Georgia.
The engine was disassembled and did not reveal any discrepancies. Examination of the propeller revealed that both blades had aft bending and aft torsional twisting.
The airframe was laid out, and all sections were identified. Examination of the airframe revealed that both cabin doors had separated. The outboard section of the right wing was breached. The right fuel cell had separated from the outboard section, and had been breached. The right fuel cell exhibited an impact mark, perpendicular to the wing, at the outboard leading edge similar to a tree mark.
The tailcone displayed scrape marks along the left side. The left horizontal stabilizer was crushed aft, and the left elevator had separated from the stabilizer. The vertical fin and rudder were bent aft and had separated from the tailcone. The right horizontal stabilizer and elevator remained attached to the tailcone.
The flap handle was found in the 10 degree detente slot. The left flap had separated from the wing, and its position was not determined. The right wing flap was found about 10 degrees extended. Control cable continuity was confirmed from the aft cabin to the bellcrank and the elevator torque tube. Control continuity to the separated left wing was established through the left wing. Control continuity was established to the right wing flight controls.
There were no representatives of the owner available so, the airplane was released to Mr. Jeff Carisle, Park Ranger, National Park Service, on May 8, 1999. Mr. Carisle then released the wreckage to the owner's insurance company. The engine and propeller were released by Mr. Phil Powell, NTSB, on July 10, 1999, after completion of the engine examination to Atlanta Air Salvage, who was storing the wreckage for the owner's insurance company.