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On April 2, 2000, about 2020 central daylight time, a Cessna 177RG, N1997Q, registered to a private individual, collided with trees then the ground during takeoff from a private airstrip near Chipley, Florida. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed for the 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight. The airplane was substantially damaged and the private-rated pilot was fatally injured. A passenger sustained serious injuries. The flight was originating at the time of the accident.
According to the pilot's father-in-law who is the owner of the airstrip and is a pilot and airplane mechanic, the airplane was scheduled to land at his airstrip around 1700 hours but did not land until 1830 hours. After landing, his son-in-law immediately started flight planning for a flight to the Peachtree City Airport and called a flight service station. The pilot's father-in-law stated that the pilot was "so adamant about flying out that night." He advised the pilot that lighting at the departure end of the south runway and also a light on a fencepost half-way down the runway would orient him as he would be flying into darkness. The pilot "agreed to this but insisted that he could see the horizon." A flashlight was placed on a fencepost that bordered the west side of the runway about midpoint of the runway and a car was positioned at the departure end of runway 19, facing towards the approach end of the runway with "dim lights". He reported waiting 30 minutes or better for the pilot to perform a preflight run-up and get ready to depart. The father-in-law reported that while waiting for the flight to depart, he advised his daughter who was with him that the pilot was taking too long and "I didn't like this." Shortly after saying this he heard the engine rev and the pilot began the takeoff roll. After rotation the airplane banked 10-15 degrees to the left and, "he was halfway from the centerline of the runway to the edge of the trees with a gradual increased bank (max 15-20 degrees). Then the airplane went into a steep pitch and further increased bank." The airplane collided with a tree approximately 30 feet above ground level (agl), continued to climb up the tree then "turned from an almost vertical nose up to a vertical nose down attitude to the right and hit the ground." The father-in-law also reported that the engine sounded as if it were producing full power during the takeoff and when he arrived at the wreckage, the fuel selector valve was positioned to the "both" position. The father-in-law reported that at the time of the accident, the visibility was 2-3 miles and it was dark.
The pilot was the holder of a private pilot certificate with the ratings airplane single engine land, instrument airplane. He was the holder of a third class medical certificate issued September 2, 1999, with the limitation that he wear corrective lenses.
Review of the pilot's pilot logbook that does not contain any carried forward flight time and begins with an entry dated August 28, 1999, and ends with an entry dated March 29, 2000, revealed that he had accumulated approximately 13 hours in the accident airplane. He logged a total of 6 night landings within the preceding 90 days, all in the category and class of the accident airplane and received his complex airplane endorsement on March 18, 2000. Additionally, he had logged a total of 17.7 hours and 16 landings in complex airplanes. The pilot had accumulated an additional 6.6 hours in the accident airplane since rental, as determined by the hour meter readings listed on paperwork located in the wreckage.
Review of paperwork located in the wreckage from the operator titled "Solo Minimums Retractable Complex SEL [single engine land] Revised 9/15/99" revealed the pilot was required to have in part, "10 hours retract/complex as PIC [pilot-in-command] with 25 TO [takeoff] and LDNS [landings]."
Review of the maintenance records revealed that the airplane was inspected last in accordance with an annual inspection on July 26, 1999; the airplane had accumulated approximately 38 hours since the inspection at the time of the accident.
Review of a certified copy of a voice tape from the Gainesville, Florida, Automated Flight Service Station (GNV AFSS) revealed that the pilot phoned that facility three times. During the first contact, the pilot requested a standard weather briefing for a proposed IFR flight from the private airstrip near Chipley, Florida, to the Peachtree City-Falcon Field Airport, located in Atlanta, Georgia. The briefing specialist asked the pilot when he would be leaving to which the pilot responded that it depended on the weather that he was provided, in 30 minutes. The briefing specialist started the briefing but the pilot terminated it due to his inability to hear. The pilot phoned a second time to the GNV AFSS approximately 1 minute later and again requested a standard weather briefing. The pilot was provided information pertaining to a tornado watch in effect through 0300 UTC, current weather conditions at airports near the route of flight, the forecast near the destination airport, winds aloft, and Notice to Airman (NOTAM) information. The tape indicates that the pilot asked the specialist what the recommended route of flight was; the specialist recommended Marianna, Albany, Macon, then direct to the destination airport. The pilot then asked the specialist what the outlook for the morning with a proposed departure time of 0600 hours local. The specialist provided the forecast weather conditions for the departure area, near the midpoint of the flight, and near the destination airport. The specialist then responded, "you'd be better off to go tonight". The pilot filed an IFR flight plan with a proposed departure time of 2000 hours local. The pilot phoned a third time to the GNV AFSS and changed the proposed departure time to 2015 hours local.
The Orange Hill Airport, is located approximately 6 nautical miles south-southeast of Chipley, Florida, has one grass runway, and is private according to the airstrip owner. Examination of the airstrip revealed no illumination from buildings in the immediate vicinity of the runway. According to the "2000 Florida Airport Directory" which lists Florida's public and private airports and is published by the aviation office of the Florida Department of Transportation, the runway is designated as 01/19, and is 2,090 feet long. A fence parallels the west side of the runway, trees border most of the east side of the runway and also the west side of the runway from about midpoint to the departure end of the runway 19. Runway edge lights were not installed. WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane crashed on the Orange Hill Airport. Examination of the accident site revealed tree branches on the ground on the left side of the runway approximately 1,640 feet from the approach end of runway 19. Damage to trees approximately 43 feet above ground level was noted adjacent to the area where the tree limbs were found on the runway. An approximate 1-inch diameter tree limb was observed to have 45 degree cuts at both ends.
The main wreckage was located upright on a magnetic heading of 308 degrees approximately 1,884 feet from the approach end of runway 19 with the empennage elevated at an approximate 25-degree angle. The main wreckage was in a clearing approximately 150 feet east of the runway centerline. All components necessary to sustain flight were attached to the airplane. The nose landing gear was collapsed; the left and right main landing gears were down and locked. Aileron, rudder, and elevator flight control continuity was confirmed. Examination of the left wing revealed the tip was displaced up approximately 4 inches and chordwise crushing was noted for a distance of approximately 42 inches inboard from the tip. Scratches were noted on the lower left wing skin. Examination of the right wing revealed chordwise leading edge crushing for a distance of approximately 75 inches inboard from the tip. The tip was displaced up; no scratches were noted on the lower right wing skin. A compression wrinkle was noted on the fuselage at the rear bulkhead. Scratches were noted on the right side of the fuselage from the aft door-post extending aft to the leading edge of the right horizontal stabilator. No scratches were noted on the left side of the fuselage. The leading edge of the right horizontal stabilator exhibited impact damage and a semi-circular indentation on the leading edge near the inboard leading edge slot. Leaves were noted near the tip of the left horizontal stabilator. The stabilator trim actuator was measured and found to be outside normal limits. A total of 14 gallons of fuel were drained from the left and right fuel tanks, 3 gallons were drained from the left fuel tank and 11 gallons were drained from the right fuel tank. Approximately 4 ounces of fuel were drained from the right header tank and approximately 12 ounces of fuel were drained from the left header tank; no contaminants were noted. The pointer end of the fuel selector valve was broken. Examination of the landing light bulb revealed that the filament was stretched. The left and right wing navigation light bulb filaments were broken and were not stretched. The gascolator bowl was impact damaged; the screen was clean. The auxiliary fuel pump operated when using an alternate power supply.
Cursory examination of the engine revealed fuel at the engine-driven fuel pump outlet, fuel pressure line, auxiliary fuel pump, and at the servo fuel injector. The inlet screen of the servo fuel injector was clean; the servo fuel injector was retained for further examination (see Tests and Research section of this report). Six of the eight ignition leads exhibited cuts on the core insulator and in the shielding. The engine was removed for further examination. Impact damage to the crankshaft flange precluded an engine run. Rotation of the crankshaft by hand revealed crankshaft, camshaft, and valve train continuity. Thumb suction and compression were noted in all cylinders. The single drive dual magneto was slightly loose. With the propeller and the fuel manifold cover removed, rotation of the engine using the starter revealed spark at all towers of both magnetos and fuel was noted to flow from the fuel manifold valve. Circumferential scoring was noted on the spinner bulkhead. Examination of the top and bottom spark plugs revealed evidence of normal wear and color. All fuel injector lines and nozzles were clear. The oil suction screen and oil filter were clean.
Examination of the three bladed propeller revealed that blade No. 3 exhibited a slight aft bend with the leading edge twisted towards low pitch. Examination of blade No. 2 revealed an aft bend of approximately 20 degrees with the leading edge twisted towards low pitch. Examination of blade No. 1 revealed a slight aft bend with the leading edge twisted towards low pitch. Chordwise abrasions were noted on all three propeller blades.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Postmortem examination of the pilot was performed by Marie A. Herrmann, M.D., District Fourteen Medical Examiner, Panama City, Florida. The cause of death was listed as multiple blunt force injuries.
Toxicological analysis of specimens of the pilot were performed by the Federal Aviation Administration Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory (CAMI), located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and the University of Florida Diagnostic Referral Laboratories. The result of analysis by CAMI was negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, and ethanol. Acetaminophen (37.221 ug/ml) was detected in urine. The result of analysis by the University of Florida Diagnostic Referral Laboratories was negative in the blood for ethanol and comprehensive drug screen. The result was also negative in vitreous for ethanol. Acetaminophen was positive in the vitreous fluid.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Paperwork located in the wreckage titled "Aircraft Rental Policies and Procedures" indicates that under "Pilots Responsibilities", "Except for emergencies, operate only at FAA designated airports."
An individual from the operator provided a document titled "Aircraft Rental Policy Clarification" pertaining to authorized airports. The document indicates that FAA designated airports, "includes any airports listed in the Airport Facility Directory (AFD) for the state in which the airport is located. Specifically excluded are private non-commercial type airports with other than hard-surface runways including grass strips." The airports clarification document was reportedly in place at the time the accident pilot received his flight training. Additionally, an individual from the operator also indicated that it is standard practice to have each customer read the Aircraft Rental Policies and Procedures document and sign a statement indicating that he/she has read the document, understands the procedures, and agrees to comply. The signed statement is then placed in the permanent records. The operator could not locate the signed statement by the accident pilot. The individual from the operator also indicated that if a customer wished to land at an airport that did not meet their criteria, it was possible to meet with management to allow him/her to fly into that airport. There was no indication that the accident pilot had met with management to allow him to fly into the private grass airstrip.
Bench testing of the servo fuel injector (servo) revealed that the fuel flow was erratic and remained so after 5 minutes on the test bench. The regulator was momentarily sticking with throttle reduction or application. The fuel flow in terms of pounds per hour (pph) at idle and cruise power were within limits. The fuel flow at full throttle was 118.0 pph; the specification is 120.0 to 125.2 pph. The servo was removed for disassembly that revealed slight contamination on the fuel diaphragm, and on the mixture control valve. The mixture control housing was clean and the fuel diaphragm stem was bent .0025 inch at the tip. A slight amount of oil was noted on the air-side of the regulator.
According to the person who moved the fuel selector valve, the broken end of the fuel selector valve was pointing towards the instrument panel. He rotated the valve counterclockwise so that the broken end was facing aft towards the "off" position as indicated by a placard near the selector valve. The fuel leakage reportedly stopped after he rotated the valve.
By design of the fuel selector valve, the "both" position is located at the 12 o'clock position (towards the instrument panel) on the valve, when viewed from the rear looking forward.
The airplane minus the retained servo fuel injector was released to Liability Specialist David E. Gourgues, of Universal Loss Management, Inc., on April 7, 2000. The retained servo fuel injector was also released to Mr. Gourgues, on April 17, 2000.