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On December 12, 2000, at 1002 Pacific standard time, a Cessna 182P single engine airplane, N182ER, impacted desert terrain following an abrupt maneuver and loss of airplane control near the General William J. Fox Airfield, Lancaster, California. The airplane was maneuvering to enter the traffic pattern at the time of the accident. The airplane was destroyed and the commercial pilot, who was the sole occupant, received fatal injuries. The airplane was registered to and operated by the California Department of Justice as a public-use flight under 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated from the Fresno Yosemite International Airport, Fresno, California, at 0852. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and a flight plan had not been filed.
The pilot reported to the air traffic controller at General William J. Fox Airfield (WJF), that he was about 7 or 8 miles northwest of the airport, at 8,500 feet msl, and was inbound for landing with ATIS information India. The local air traffic controller asked the pilot if he could, "get down from there? Uh, you're, uh, distance away?" The pilot replied, "Yeah, if I could do right traffic, I'll go into a imitation of a rock, see what I can do." The controller said, "Okay, very good, uh, if you want, you can just, uh, continue right overhead, midfield, enter a left downwind, give you a little more, uh, rock room." The pilot responded, "Okay, that'll be great, we'll do a midfield, uh, for left traffic runway 24." The controller issued the current winds to the pilot, which were from 270 degrees at 25 knots. The pilot stated, "Okay, sounds like, uh, the gust spread's pretty good," to which the controller said the winds were between 21 to 28 knots, and holding steady at 25 knots. The pilot responded with a "thank you," which was his last transmission.
About 3 minutes later, the local air traffic controller looked at his D-BRITE radar display scope and did not see the target representing the inbound airplane. He called the pilot several times but did not receive a reply.
Several witnesses, within a mile of the accident site, reported seeing an eastbound airplane that was southwest of the airport. They described the airplane as being in a steep, nose down attitude at a rapidly increasing rate of descent. The airplane maintained a perpendicular, nose down attitude until they lost sight of the airplane behind low scrub brush. About the same time they lost sight, they reported seeing a dust cloud rise in the same vicinity. The dust cloud quickly dissipated in the gusting surface winds.
Aircraft mode C data obtained from Los Angeles Center depicted the airplane descending at a rate of 1,833 feet per minute at a groundspeed of 178 knots from 8,200 feet to 6,000 feet msl (which was the next to the last radar return). The last mode C radar return indicated the airplane was at 4,900 feet msl and was approximately 1,000 feet west of the accident site. The average rate of descent between the last two radar returns equates to approximately 5,500 feet per minute. The radar data was spaced at 12-second intervals, and the accident site elevation was 2,355 feet.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with single engine, multiengine, and instrument airplane ratings, and an instrument helicopter rating. He was issued a second-class medical certificate on May 01, 2000, with a limitation to wear corrective lenses. The operator reported the pilot had accumulated approximately 6,940 total flight hours, of which 2,600 hours were accumulated in the accident airplane make and model.
California Department of Justice personnel described the following procedure used by the mishap pilot to lose altitude quickly: reduce power and slow aircraft to 120 knots; position propeller control full forward; allow the engine temperatures to normalize; and trim aircraft nose down to achieve an indicated airspeed near Vne (redline - Never Exceed Speed; 176 knots). It was reported the pilot learned this from other pilots who took parachutists to altitude.
The airplane was manufactured, issued a standard airworthiness certificate, and delivered in February 1975. Between 1975 and 1995, the airplane flew a total of 3,290.7 hours. In March 1995, the airplane was purchased and modified (via supplemental type certificates) for the California Department of Justice (CDOJ) use. The modifications included the following: installation of a Flite Research Sportsman STOL (Short TakeOff and Landing) kit, installation of a BAS, Inc., shoulder harness system, installation of an observer window, and installation of a heavy duty nose gear fork strut and larger wheels. The original 230-horsepower Continental O-470-S reciprocating engine was replaced with a 6-cylinder, 300-horsepower, Continental IO-520-D116B engine. This engine modification resulted in the addition of a 1-gallon header fuel tank. The original two-bladed McCauley propeller was replaced with a three-bladed Hartzell propeller.
The airplane underwent 100-hour and annual inspections since CDOJ ownership. The last annual inspection took place on October 6, 2000, at an airplane total time of 5,700.6 hours. At the beginning of the accident flight, the airplane had accumulated a total of 5,773.5 hours (72.9 hours since the last annual inspection).
The engine manufacturer's recommended time between overhauls is 1,700 hours. Between March 1995 and September 1998, the engine had accumulated 1,704.8 hours. The engine was replaced with a zero-timed factory remanufactured engine. The new engine was factory rebuilt/zero-timed on August 30, 1998, and was installed on the airplane on October 22, 1998, at an aircraft total time of 4,995.5 hours. At the beginning of the accident flight, the engine had accumulated a total of 778.0 hours. At the same time the engine was replaced, the propeller underwent an overhaul. Since its last overhaul, the overhauled propeller had accumulated the same amount of time as the engine at the beginning of the accident flight.
At 0955, the WJF weather observation facility reported the wind from 280 degrees at 23 knots gusting to 27 knots; a few clouds at 4,400 feet agl; temperature 48 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 34 degrees Fahrenheit; and an altimeter setting of 29.93 inches of mercury.
At 1015, the WJF weather observation facility reported the wind from 280 degrees at 22 knots gusting to 29 knots; clear sky; temperature 50 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 34 degrees Fahrenheit; and an altimeter setting of 29.93 inches of mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
A ground scar, containing an imbedded three-bladed propeller and hub, was located approximately 0.65 miles from the departure end of runway 24. Two linear depressions extended from opposite sides of the ground scar. These depressions were dimensionally consistent with the wingspan of the accident airplane and displayed shattered remains of navigation light lenses on each end. The ground scar was consistent with an airplane on a heading of 215 degrees.
All flight control surfaces were located at the accident site. Both main wings were separated from the fuselage and exhibited extensive fore to aft accordion crushing. The wings were fractured into numerous segments. The left and right ailerons were partially attached to the wing. The left flap was fractured into multiple pieces and the right flap was mostly intact and remained attached at one hinge to a portion of the right wing structure. The flap actuator jackscrew assembly was found separated from the motor assembly. The jackscrew was inside the actuator housing and was found in a retracted position. Aileron control continuity could not be established due to the extent of the wing damage.
The empennage surfaces remained attached to each other; however, they sustained extensive aft crushing damage. The vertical stabilizer and rudder were compressed aft such that each measured only 3 - 4 inches when viewing their profiles. The elevator trim tab actuator extension measured 1.8 inches, which equaled approximately 20 degrees tab up. Elevator and rudder control continuity were confirmed at the accident site.
The largest segment of wreckage was a section of the cockpit/cabin floor common with the main landing gear. The instrument/avionics control panel was destroyed. No portion of the seats, seat rails, or restraint system remained intact.
The engine was separated from the engine mounts and exhibited multiple fractures and separations on the case and cylinders. The cylinders had merged with their cooling fins meshed with the cooling fins of their adjacent cylinders. The front two cylinders had separated entirely from the crankcase, and the front 1/2 of the middle cylinders were found separated. The camshaft was visible and sustained extensive damage. The crankshaft and accessory gears were also visible and had sustained damage. The majority of the engine accessories had been dislodged from the accessory case and none were in a testable condition.
The propeller was removed from the ground scar. Each of the three propeller blades remained attached to the hub; however, each blade was distorted with torsional and "S" bending.
A toxicological test on the pilot for volatiles and drugs were negative. An autopsy on the pilot was conducted at the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's Office. According to the autopsy report, the pilot died as a result of "multiple traumatic injuries." According to the pilot's family, he had a cardio event, described as a tachycardia between 2 weeks and 1 month prior to the accident. Review of the Federal Aviation Administration medical records for the pilot revealed that there were no previous reports of heart trouble.