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On September 12, 1999, at 1329 Eastern Daylight Time, a mid-air collision occurred between N973FS, a Cessna 337C, and N3255P, a Cessna 305C, while conducting fly-bys at an airshow at Harriman and West Airport (AQW), North Adams, Massachusetts. Both airplanes were destroyed. The certificated commercial pilot in the Cessna 337 and the certificated private pilot in the Cessna 305 were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flights that had departed from AQW. No flight plan had been filed for the flights, which were, conducted under a waiver to 14 CFR Part 91, issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
According to interviews, the Cessna 337 was restricted to a minimum altitude of 500 feet above ground level (AGL), and the Cessna 305 was restricted to a maximum altitude of 200 feet AGL. The airplanes were conducting in-trail fly-bys. The Cessna 337 was on its second fly-by, while the Cessna 305 was on its initial run, and was following a Piper J3C-65.
In a video of the accident, the Piper preceded the Cessna 305 on the fly-by. After passing show-center, the Piper maintained its low altitude. As the Cessna 305 passed show-center, it began to climb. The climb was approximately 13 seconds in duration. About 2 seconds prior to the collision, the Cessna 337 became visible on the video. It was descending and rolling to the right when its left wing made contact with the aft, upper fuselage, behind the aft window of the Cessna 305.
After the collision, the Cessna 305 rolled left and descended in a nose-down attitude. The airplane struck the ground in a near-vertical attitude, after which, a fire developed. The Cessna 337 continued ahead of the Cessna 305 and performed a descending 360-degree roll to the left. The roll stopped for about 1 second and then resumed. The airplane disappeared from view in an inverted, descending attitude.
During the airshow, all airplanes were operating under the direction of an air boss, who was in radio contact with them.
Prior to the accident, a witness heard the air boss tell the pilot of the Cessna 337, "use caution, the Bird Dog [the Cessna 305] is climbing on you." He did not remember hearing a reply from the pilot of the Cessna 337, and was then distracted by the collision.
The air boss reported that as the Cessna 337 commenced its run, he advised the pilot of the two airplanes ahead, and the pilot reported that he had both of them in sight. When the Cessna 305 was show center, he again advised the pilot of the Cessna 337 to watch for the traffic ahead of him. He remembered making the call about 10 to 20 seconds prior to the collision. He did not remember receiving a reply from the Cessna 337.
The pilot of the Piper reported that he heard two radio calls from the air boss. The first call was when he was mid-field, and the second call came when he was about 3/4 of the way down the runway. In both calls, the air boss asked if the pilot of the Cessna 337 had the preceding airplanes in slight, and he remembered that he heard an affirmative reply from both radio calls.
The accident occurred during the hours of daylight at 42 degrees, 41.75 minutes north latitude and 73 degrees, 10.36 minutes west longitude.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with single and multi-engine land airplane ratings. In addition, he held an instrument rating for airplanes. He was last issued a second class FAA airman medical certificate on February 9, 1999. The pilot's logbook was not recovered, and his recency of experience was not determined. According to FAA records, his total flight experience was 1,750 hours when he applied for his medical certificate. A friend of the pilot estimated the pilot of the Cessna 337 had flown in about 30 airshows.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a single engine land rating based upon the issuance of a foreign certificate. According to FAA records, the pilot had previously been issued a private pilot certificate from the Netherlands. Family members were unable to locate the pilot's logbook, and his recency of experience was not determined. He was last issued a third class FAA airman medical certificate on October 28, 1998. His most recent FAA airman application, dated November 13, 1997, revealed a total time of 781 hours. Based upon interviews with the pilot's son, the pilot's last FAA airman application, and maintenance records from the airplane, the pilot was estimated to have a total flight experience of 965 hours, with 365 hours in make and model. The pilot's son reported his father had flown about 100 hours in the preceding year, and 25 hours in the preceding 90 days. The pilot's son reported his father had flown in airshows before; however, he was not certain of the total number of airshows his father had participated in.
ORGANIZATIONAL AND MANAGEMENT INFORMATION
An application was submitted to the FAA by the City of North Adams, for a waiver from specified regulations in order to conduct an airshow. The application was signed by a commercial pilot/flight instructor who worked for a local fixed base operation, and who was also a member of the airshow's organizing committee. Another member of the organizing committee was the announcer for the airshow, and he brought in Northeast Airshows, which in turn, arranged for many of the performers.
According to the application:
"...All arriving air traffic before 1:00 P.M. and departing air traffic after 5:00 P.M. will be assisted over the UNICOM frequency 122.8. During FAA wavered time (1:00-500) all show traffic will be coordinated and directed by Air Boss...."
On August 10, 1999, the application for waiver was approved. Among the restrictions listed was the following:
"...[ the application signer] shall ensure that participants are thoroughly briefed on special field rules, manner and order of events, and are available for briefing on the provisions of the waiver(s) or authorization(s) before beginning the activities. No person may participate in any event unless that person has signed a statement stating that they have received a briefing on the provisions of the waiver(s) or authorization(s). Teams may be represented by one performer...."
The airplane was a 1968 Cessna 337C, which was painted to match a US Air Force Cessna O-2, used during the Vietnam War. The maintenance records were not recovered.
The airplane was originally produced for the French Government on May 22, 1957, and subsequently returned to the United States in mid-October 1982. The owner at the time of the accident acquired it on January 19, 1995. The military designation of the airplane was L-19E, and the civilian designation was 305C.
Harriman & West was an uncontrolled airport, with a single runway designated 11/29. The airshow was operated with a 500-foot separation from the show line to the crowd. The show line was located 200 feet south of the runway.
Communications were accomplished by use of a common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) of 122.8 Mhz. For the airshow, all air/ground communications were accomplished on a CTAF of 122.92 Mhz. Neither of these frequencies was recorded.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The Cessna 337C impacted the ground in a swampy area, abeam the departure end of Runway 29, and 120 feet south of the runway. The airplane fragmented. A strong smell of 100 LL aviation grade gasoline remained at the accident site. The first object found was the outboard portion of the left wing, located 1,092 feet prior to the main impact site, and 250 feet south of the south side of the runway. The next item was the left wing outboard fuel tank. It was located 690 feet from the main impact site and 110 feet south of the south edge of the runway.
The front engine had separated from the airframe and was in the initial impact crater. The rear engine remained with the airframe. The landing gear and wing flaps were retracted.
Flight control continuity was confirmed to the elevator and rudder, but could not be confirmed to wings due to the separated left wing.
The Cessna 305 impacted a cornfield in a nose-down attitude, and was consumed by a post-crash fire. All debris was within a 50-foot radius of the airplane. The leading edges of both wings were crushed rearward, and the fuel tanks had ruptured. The rear two cylinders of the six-cylinder engine were visible above the ground.
Flight control cables were attached to the elevator, rudder, and ailerons. The floor section in the vicinity of the front cockpit control stick and rudder pedals was crushed. The control stick was bent forward.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The toxicological testing reports from the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was negative for drugs and alcohol for both pilots.
Autopsies were conducted by an Independent Medical Examiner in North Adams, on September 13, 1999, for the Medical Examiner's Office, State of Massachusetts.
The FAA had issued waivers for the following FARs: 91.117(a), (b); 91.119(b), (c); 91.303(c), (d), (e). In part, this allowed the airshow participants to operate closer than 500 feet to each other.
A pre-departure airshow brief was required by the FAA, and was conducted by the air boss. The air boss reported that he "grouped" the Cessna 337 with the Cessna 305 and the Piper J3C-65. He had worked with the pilot of the Cessna 337 before, and was familiar with him. He did not specifically assign any altitudes for separation between the three airplanes, but left it up to the group to work out the specifics. The air boss also reported that he wanted to keep airplanes at show-center as much as possible, and envisioned at least two passes for each group of airplanes.
The person who submitted the waiver request reported that he was present at the pilot briefing, and discussed the special problems associated with houses located to the east of the runway. When asked what his understanding of the fly-bys were for the Cessna 337, the Cessna 305, and the Piper, he reported that the faster airplane, the Cessna 337, would not descend below 500 feet AGL, while the two slower airplanes would not climb above 200 feet AGL, and that there would be multiple fly-bys.
The pilot of the Piper reported that the pilot of the Cessna 337 briefed him and the pilot of the Cessna 305 on the group's procedures. The Cessna 337 would maintain a minimum altitude of 500 feet AGL, while the two slower airplanes would be limited to a maximum altitude of 200 feet AGL and a minimum altitude of 100 feet AGL. He further reported that the pilot of the Cessna 337 was very clear on the altitudes to be flown, and that he realized there would probably be multiple passes.
The pilot of the Piper also reported that the pilot of the Cessna 305 appeared to be nervous, and asked several questions about the procedures to be conducted, and the altitudes to be flown.
Additionally, the airboss reported that all pilots were briefed to set their altimeters to read 0 at field elevation.
The airplanes departed for the designated holding area, known as a perch, at 1315, about 6 minutes ahead of the schedule the air boss was using. The pilot of the Piper reported that the pilot of the Cessna 305 did not initially make the rendezvous as briefed. When he observed the Cessna 305, it was about 3 miles away, and when the Cessna 305 finally came to perch, it was above the Cessna 337, and not below as had been briefed.
According to documentation from Cessna Aircraft Company, the average downward visibility over the nose of a Cessna 337 was 5 degrees below the horizon.
No items were retained from either airplane. They were released to the North Adams, Massachusetts Police Department on September 13, 1999.