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On March 6, 2000, about 1720 hours Pacific standard time, a Piper PA-12, N7586H, was destroyed when it impacted terrain near Cima, California. The commercial certificated pilot, the sole occupant, was fatally injured. The positioning flight, operated by Tommy L. King Enterprises, Inc., under 14 CFR Part 91, departed from North Las Vegas, Nevada, at 1633, destined for Chino, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed.
The aircraft departed North Las Vegas as the wingman in a flight of two aircraft. According to the lead pilot, Las Vegas terminal radar service was terminated with the flight near Jean, Nevada. The two aircraft were at 6,500 feet msl and descended to 4,500 feet near the California-Nevada state line over highway 15 in order to stay in warmer air. Neither aircraft had an operational heater. About 5 miles further south, in proximity of the dry lakebed in the Ivanpah Valley, a mountain pass was ahead and the lead pilot decided he would climb higher, despite the temperature, and continue to follow highway 15. The pilot involved in the accident said he would continue southbound at lower altitude, via the Ivanpah Valley, and would meet up "on the other side." The dry lakebed was the last place the lead pilot saw the accident airplane. The lead pilot said there was still good daylight and he was certain that there were no clouds or dust storms in the Ivanpah Valley. The only bad weather on the return trip was in the form of clouds and low ceilings in the Cajon Pass.
The two aircraft never rejoined. The lead pilot said he was not concerned when the other pilot didn't answer his radio calls because they were flying at low altitude and VHF radio communications are line-of-sight. The lead pilot's aircraft was a little faster than the Piper PA-12, so the lead pilot was not concerned when he arrived at Chino and the other airplane wasn't there. The lead pilot waited around the office for about 30 minutes, then closed up the office and left. He thought the other (accident) pilot had either landed at one of the desert airports due to the poor weather in the Cajon Pass, or had landed at Chino and taxied directly to an airport operator where the pilot was employed, on the other side of the airport, and left the plane there. The following morning, when the plane could not be located, the lead pilot and the operator phoned desert airports and checked with Executive Aviation Logistics (EAL), before calling the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about noon to report the plane missing.
The pilot worked part time at Tommy King Aerial Enterprises, based at Chino, California, mostly on weekends. He was initially trained to tow advertising banners in October 1998, and had accumulated about 950 hours total flying time. The pilot's logbook was not located after the accident. The flight hours in the flight time matrix are those provided by the operator, together with night and instrument flight hours taken from the pilot's application to the FAA for his commercial pilot's certificate in September 1999.
The operator reported he sent two aircraft to Las Vegas on the weekend of March 4th and 5th. The purpose of the trip was to tow advertising banners at the NASCAR auto races that weekend. The pilot flew the Piper tow plane that was later involved in the accident.
According to the other pilot, the two aircraft left Chino for Las Vegas on Friday evening (March 3rd) about 1800, after the pilot got off work at EAL where he was employed full time as an aircraft mechanic. They arrived in Las Vegas about 2030 and went to their hotel. The pilot went to his room around 2330 or midnight. On Saturday, the pilot got up about 0630 to support flights at 0800. The pilot worked on the ground that day and did not fly. He retired to his room about 2300 - 2330 Saturday night. Sunday, the pilot again got up about 0630 and flew a 4-hour flight that took off at 0800. The weather was overcast and windy and the races were cancelled. Because of the poor weather they decided to leave the aircraft in Las Vegas Sunday night and drove a rental car back to Chino. The pilot had to be back at his mechanic job on Monday morning. They arrived back at Chino in the rental car about 1930.
On Monday, March 6th, the day of the accident, the pilot worked at EAL from 0730 to 1200, and then got off work to go pick up the planes in Las Vegas. The pilot, along with the other pilot and another person, left Chino about 1200 in the rental car for Las Vegas and arrived there about 1600. The other pilot reported that, as he drove, the pilot was cheerful, talkative, and apparently rested. They checked the weather, preflighted the two airplanes, and departed as a flight of two for Chino at 1633.
According to the aircraft owner, the aircraft's heater was not operational, and the emergency locator transmitter was removed for repair.
The lead pilot reported that the pilot had not made any comment to him about anything being wrong with the aircraft and stressed that the pilot, being a mechanic, was quick to let such things (squawks) be known. The accident aircraft had an electrical system with functional lighting, communication, and navigation radios and transponder. On the previous Friday evening they flew from Chino to Las Vegas, largely in the dark, and the lighting was functional. Although not certified for flight in instrument meteorological conditions, the aircraft had a "full" instrument panel including a functional horizon gyro instrument.
The lead pilot reported there was a lot of banner towing equipment and baggage in the rear cockpit of the plane when they left Las Vegas. The control stick was not installed in the rear cockpit, however, the stick socket on the floor stuck up about 8 inches above the floor. The lead pilot thought it might have been possible for an item of baggage to become wedged between the stick socket and the rear seat and to impair elevator control.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident location is in the Ivanpah Valley in the central Mojave Desert approximately 7 miles north of the town of Cima and 7 miles south of the settlement of Wheaton Springs. The location is at latitude 35 degrees 21.40 minutes north and longitude 115 degrees 27.45 minutes west (gps). The elevation is approximately 4,000 feet (msl). The site is in open, level desert terrain, sparsely populated with Joshua trees, mesquite shrubs, and cacti. To the west, the desert terrain slopes gently upward over about 2 miles along an alluvial slope to the base of the Ivanpah Mountains, oriented north-south, which peaks about 3 miles west at about 6,000 feet. To the east, the terrain slopes gently downward into a wide, open desert valley approximately 10 miles wide. A paved two-lane road, oriented northeast-southwest, in the bottom of the valley passes about 3 miles southeast of the site, and the (dirt) Morningstar Mine road, oriented northwest-southeast up the alluvial slope, passes about 300 yards southwest of the site. To the north and south the terrain is approximately level following the contour of the mountain range to the west.
All of the aircraft was present at the accident site and there was a postcrash fire. When viewed from south to north (approximately 010 degrees magnetic), there was an area of freshly disturbed dirt, then, adjacent to the north of the disturbed dirt area was the wreckage, and a fan-shaped area of fire-damaged vegetation over about 20 feet. The wreckage was intact except for the propeller, which was adjacent to the area of freshly disturbed dirt. The area of freshly disturbed dirt was a hole about 4 feet in diameter and 1 foot deep with fresh dirt mounded on the northern perimeter of the hole. Approximately 5 feet to the south of the hole, symmetrically to the left and right, were two smaller marks in the dirt separated a distance approximately equal to the main landing gear tread. Approximately 8 feet south of these two marks was a 4-foot-tall yucca tree which was undamaged. Approximately 3 feet north of the hole, symmetrically to the left and right, were two scrape marks in the dirt separated a distance approximately equal to the wingspan of the aircraft.
Approximately 9 feet north of the disturbed dirt area and 6 feet to the east was the cockpit area. The fuselage, in the cockpit area, was oriented about 030 degrees (magnetic), and the wings were adjacent, lying on the ground at right angles to the cockpit, the covering consumed by fire. Aft of the cockpit, the fuselage was bent to the right approximately 20 degrees and the empennage was lying adjacent to the disturbed dirt area on the east side. The fuselage was burned except for the vertical fin, rudder, right horizontal stabilizer, and right elevator. There was no longitudinal soot streaking on the unburned surfaces of the empennage nor were there any fabric flapping abrasion marks. Flight control and stabilizer trim tab cables were intact and attached to their respective end fittings. The control stick interconnect torque tube and pitch linkage assembly was intact. There were 3 threads visible above the horizontal stabilizer trim jackscrew follower and 14 threads below. All wing struts and wing strut attach fittings (rod ends) remained attached to their respective wing and fuselage attach points. The wing drag and anti-drag wires were intact.
There was an area of fire-damaged vegetation over a fan-shaped area about 20 feet north of the fuselage. Both wing-mounted fuel tanks exhibited bulging deformation and were split open at the leading edge in an inboard-outboard orientation. The front and aft wing spars were melted in proximity of the fuel tanks. The left tank fuel cap was in place on the tank. The right tank fuel cap was on the ground about 6 feet in front of the tank and one of the two tangs (retaining ears) was bent up, away from the cap, approximately 30 degrees. The auxiliary fuel tank, under the rear seat was destroyed; however, the tank cap was located attached to the tank neck assembly.
The aircraft was equipped with a towing hook and release assembly near the tail wheel. In the rear seat area were four fiberglass poles about 6 feet long and a grappling hook. None of the loose equipment was in proximity of or interfering with the flight control cables.
The engine mount and firewall were collapsed aft into the instrument panel and the instruments were destroyed.
The propeller was separated from the engine and was located on the mound at the north end of the area of freshly disturbed dirt. Both blades exhibited chordwise striations over the outboard foot of span accompanied by S-shaped bending at the trailing edge and torsional bending over the span. One blade was bent aft approximately 90 degrees and twisted about 90 degrees clockwise over the outboard 2/3 of the span. A section of engine cowling (aluminum) was impaled over the tip of this blade. When the cowling section was slid off the tip of the blade, the hole in the aluminum resembled a puncture and was not accompanied by propeller leading edge slicing.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
According to the lead pilot, after leaving Chino about noon on the day of the accident (by car), they stopped at a Taco Bell restaurant in nearby Ontario (about 1230) for lunch. The pilot ate a "Mexican Pizza." Calls to the restaurant and the San Bernardino County Environmental Health Department revealed there were no complaints filed regarding food served at that location, that day.
An autopsy was performed by the San Bernardino County Coroner's Office, case number 00-1704JK. A toxicological analysis was performed by the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (attached).
The aircraft wreckage was released to the owner on March 24, 2000.