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On November 26, 2000, about 1120 eastern standard time, a Mooney M20K, N252MW, was destroyed when it impacted terrain, while maneuvering near Rixford, Pennsylvania. The certificated private pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. An instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for the flight, between Bradford Regional Airport, Alton, Pennsylvania, and Yeager Airport (CRW), Charleston, West Virginia. The personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
A review of the air traffic control audio transmissions revealed that at 1053, the pilot requested and received clearance to take off from Bradford Airport's runway 14. At 1056, the pilot reported that he wanted to return to the airport. He then made two additional calls, in which he stated that he wanted vectors back to the airport. After the third call, the controller from Cleveland Center asked if "five two mike whiskey" was calling. The pilot answered yes, and stated again that he'd like to get vectors back to the airport. He also stated that he had an engine emergency, but did not reveal the nature of the emergency.
After the pilot stated he wanted vectors, the center controller responded that he did not have the airplane in radar contact. When the pilot did not respond, the controller called him again, and the pilot responded that he heard him "loud and clear." The controller reiterated that he did not have the airplane in radar contact, and that he could not give the pilot vectors. He then asked the pilot for his position, but the pilot did not respond.
About a minute later, at 1058, the pilot of another airplane that was on the ground at Bradford Airport reported that he had seen the Mooney on his TCAS (Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System), and that it appeared to be on a short final for runway 32. The controller responded that he'd like to know when the airplane landed, and that hopefully, the Mooney pilot would then be able to talk to him about what occurred.
About 1059, a voice similar to that of the accident pilot transmitted, "can you see the field or the runway? i'm trying to get down."
For approximately the next 1 1/2 minutes, the controller talked to other airplanes. He then asked the accident pilot if he was on the ground at Bradford. The pilot responded that he was not, and asked if the controller had him on radar. The controller replied that he did not, and that the pilot's airplane was too low. The controller then asked the pilot if he was on final approach, and the pilot responded that he was not.
At 1102, the controller advised the pilot that he had the airplane on radar, at 3,500 feet, and asked if the pilot had made a missed approach at Bradford. The pilot responded, "no sir, unable. i'm trying to get the engine here to [unintelligible]." He then asked the controller for a radar vector. The controller asked him if he wanted vectors for runway 32, and the pilot confirmed that he did. The controller then told the pilot that he would have to maintain 3,500 feet or greater, that the airplane was in radar contact, and to fly a heading of 170 degrees. The pilot acknowledged the heading.
About 1/2 minute later, the controller asked the pilot if he could maintain 4,000 feet. The pilot stated that he thought he could, and controller then told him to climb to 4,000 feet, which the pilot acknowledged.
About 1103, the controller stated that the airplane was about 2 miles northwest of Bradford Airport, and that he'd vector the airplane to the outer marker, at 4,000 feet. The pilot did not answer.
A minute later, the controller asked the pilot if he were on a 170-degree heading, and the pilot responded that he was, but then said he was "one forty now." The controller then asked the pilot to verify his transponder code, but the pilot did not answer.
The controller attempted to contact the pilot three more times, but the pilot still did not answer. At 1106, the controller stated that radar contact was lost again, and the airplane's last known position was over Bradford Airport. The pilot answered, "okay."
The controller then confirmed with the pilot that he (the pilot) was unable to make a visual approach, and asked the pilot if he were on a 170-degree heading. The pilot first responded that he was on a 160-degree heading, and shortly thereafter, a 170-degree heading.
The controller responded that the pilot's transmissions were "breaking up." He then informed the pilot that he was not on a 170-degree heading, but a 070-degree heading. The controller then twice repeated the 170-degree heading, for vectors for the "localizer three two approach." The controller then stated that the airplane was 2 miles north of Bradford Airport; however, the pilot did not respond.
At 1109, the controller attempted to call the pilot again. About 15 seconds later, the pilot stated that he was on a 150-degree heading, at 4,000 feet. The controller told the pilot to maintain the 150-degree heading and 4,000 feet. He also stated that the airplane was about 3 miles north of the airport, and shortly thereafter, told the pilot that he had to make a right turn to 150 degrees, which the pilot acknowledged.
At 1110, the pilot asked the controller if the airplane was in radar contact. The controller responded that he had contact occasionally, and that the last time he had contact, the airplane was 4 miles northeast of the airport. About 10 seconds later, the pilot stated that the airplane was at 4,400 feet. The controller acknowledged the call, and reported that he was not receiving the airplane's transponder.
At 1111, the controller asked the pilot if he was on a 150-degree heading. The pilot confirmed that he was, and the controller stated that he was going to give the pilot a no-gyro turn to the right. He then told the pilot to turn right, but did not receive a response. The controller repeated his instructions, but again received no answer. The controller then told the pilot that if he received the last instruction, he should "ident."
No additional transmissions were heard until 1112, when the controller told the pilot to stop the turn. The pilot responded that that he was stopping the turn, then said, "heading three five [unintelligible]." The controller replied, "no...you should be heading one seven zero, now turn right, heading one seven zero." Again, the pilot did not respond.
Shortly afterwards, the controller asked the pilot to ident again. About 20 seconds later, at 1113, there was an unintelligible transmission. The controller stated that he received the pilot's ident, and then directed the pilot to make a right turn, for a "no-gyro vector for Bradford." There was no response from the pilot.
At 1114, the controller told the pilot to stop his turn, and to ident if he received the transmission.
Shortly thereafter, the controller asked the pilot of the airplane on the ground at Bradford Airport if he would be willing to launch, and lead the Mooney back toward the airport. The pilot agreed, and at 1117, was cleared for takeoff from runway 32. The pilot never made contact with the accident airplane, nor were any additional transmissions heard from it.
A witness at Bradford Airport reported that the accident airplane departed at 1055, and that, at 1057, the pilot reported an emergency and that he was going to return to the airport. At 1103, the airplane flew over the airport from south to north, "with no contact." The airplane then made a 180-degree turn just north of the field, then flew over the airport, from north to south, "with the bottom of the aircraft in sight for just a very short time." The witness further stated, "at the time the aircraft went from north to south, it sounded like the prop was cycling."
The nearest radar antenna to the accident site was about 60 nautical miles to the south. A review of available radar data, from 1111:02 through 1115:49, indicated that the airplane's altitude was 3,500 feet at 1113:02, and 3,600 feet at 1114:01. The remainder of the time, the airplane's altitude ranged between 4,500 feet at the beginning of the time period, and 3,800 feet toward the end. The radar returns, which were sporadic, positioned the airplane within 3 nautical miles of the crash site. The minimum sector altitude was 3,800 feet.
A plot of the last four radar positions revealed they were all within 1/2 mile of the accident site.
The accident occurred during the hours of daylight, and the accident site was located at 41 degrees, 54.73 minutes north latitude, 78 degrees, 29.99 minutes west longitude, about 4/10 nautical mile from the last plotted radar position.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate, which he received on June 9, 2000. He also held an instrument rating, which he received on November 16, 2000. The pilot also possessed a third class medical certificate, dated January 7, 2000.
The pilot's logbook was not located. According to the pilot's application for his instrument rating, as of November 16, 2000, the pilot had 184 hours of total flight time, with 142 hours of instruction received. He also had 43 hours of instrument time, described by a principal of the flight school as both hooded and unhooded practice instrument flight in visual meteorological conditions. The pilot also had about 15 hours training on a Personal Computer-based Aviation Training Device (PCATD).
Additionally, the pilot had taken all of his airborne instrument flight training in the accident airplane. During the pilot's instrument checkride, he had "handled the aircraft very well," and also demonstrated a good working knowledge of the autopilot.
Weather, recorded at Bradford Airport at 1053, included winds from 170 degrees true, at 4 knots, visibility 5 statute miles in light rain and mist, an overcast cloud layer at 200 feet, and a temperature and dewpoint of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather, recorded at 1153, included winds from 210 degrees true at 4 knots, visibility 4 statute miles in light rain and mist, an overcast layer at 200 feet, and a temperature and dewpoint of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. A special observation, at 1126, included variable winds at 3 knots, visibility 1/2 statute mile in fog, an overcast layer at 100 feet, and a temperature and dewpoint of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
The pilot of the search airplane reported that the clouds at the time of his takeoff, at 1117, were a "solid 300 to 400 feet off the ground." Additionally, he reported the top of the clouds as ill-defined, at 5,700 feet.
There was no record of the accident pilot's contact with any Flight Service Stations on the day of the accident flight.
According to the Airport/Facility Directory, the elevation of Bradford Regional Airport was 2,143 feet. The airport was located on a large plateau, in an area of rolling hills and mountains. Instrument approaches at the airport included an ILS RWY 32 approach, and a VOR/DME or GPS RWY 14 approach.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane's wreckage was located on rising terrain in a mountainous area, about 10 statute miles northeast of Bradford Airport. A trail of tree impact marks, bent over trees, and cut branches commenced about 150 feet prior to the ground impact point, and descended at an angle of 8 degrees, on an approximately straight-line heading of 300 degrees magnetic. Broken tree trunks and branches were also consistent with an approximately wings-level attitude. The airplane's ground impact point was at the base of an earthen bank, which led up to a shoulder of a dirt road. Much of the wreckage, including the engine and the cockpit area, came to rest on top of the shoulder. The wreckage site elevation was about 2,120 feet above mean sea level.
All flight control surfaces were accounted for at the accident site. The cockpit area had been consumed in a post-crash fire. The propeller had separated from the engine. One blade showed no leading edge damage, while the other exhibited leading edge gouging, chordwise scoring, and minor "s-bending." The engine could not be rotated due to impact damage. The spark plug electrodes were gray in color. The vacuum pump was examined, and the interior walls of the housing exhibited rotational scoring. The engine was retained for further examination.
The airplane's maintenance records were not located. According to maintenance work orders, on July 1, 2000, the pilot authorized repairs as a result of a propeller strike during a hard landing. The repairs resulted in a propeller replacement and an engine disassembly, inspection, and reassembly. The work was completed on August 28, 2000.
On August 31, 2000, the fuel flow gauge was removed, for readings of 35 to 45 gallons per hour, and it was reinstalled October 17, 2000. On September 27, 2000, the airplane entered maintenance for an engine oil leak. A leak was pinpointed to the right magneto, which required the replacement of its gasket. Another leak was located in the center of the number 4 cylinder, which resulted its replacement. The maintenance was completed on October 24, 2000.
A flight instructor noted that during a later flight when the pilot was receiving instrument training, the tower asked if the airplane "always smoked that much." The instructor also felt the engine "surging" at the time. On downwind, the instructor leaned the mixture, and the engine ran smoothly thereafter.
The airplane was examined by maintenance facility personnel after the flight. The engine was found to be running rich, and using approximately 1/2 to 1 gallon of fuel per hour higher than normal. The airplane was ground-checked, no maintenance was performed, and flight operations were continued without any further problems noted.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
On November 27, 2000, an autopsy was performed on the pilot's remains by a forensic pathologist from the McKean County Coroner Office, Bradford, Pennsylvania. Toxicological testing performed by the FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and legal and illegal drugs.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The engine underwent a disassembly examination at Teledyne Continental Motors, Mobile, Alabama, under the supervision of an FAA inspector. The company's analytical inspection report, with concurrence of the inspector, revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunction.
On December 5, 2000, the main wreckage was released to a representative of Universal Loss Management, West Trenton, New Jersey. The engine was subsequently released on June 25, 2001.