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On April 12, 2001, at 2146 central daylight time, a Cessna 172E airplane, N5638T, was destroyed when it impacted terrain during an emergency descent following a total loss of engine power near Bay City, Texas. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot. The instrument rated private pilot, sole occupant of the airplane, sustained fatal injuries. Dark night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan was not filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. The cross-country flight originated from the Alpine-Casparis Municipal Airport, Alpine, Texas, at an unknown time, with an intermediate fuel stop at the Kimble County Airport, Junction, Texas, and was destined for the Bay City Municipal Airport, Bay City Texas.
According to witnesses, the flight departed Alpine en route to Bay City, and made a fuel stop at Junction. According to a fuel receipt from the Junction airport, at 1747, 27.1 gallons of aviation grade fuel (100LL) were added to the airplane's fuel tanks. Approximately 1800, the pilot called his wife, who was in Bay City, and informed her that he had just refueled and would be arriving in Bay City between 2030 and 2100.
According to radar data, at 1759:03 the airplane departed Junction. The radar data revealed that that the airplane flew an easterly heading from Junction to a point approximately 10 miles west of the Sugarland Municipal Airport, Houston, Texas. The airplane then turned to a southerly heading toward Lake Jackson, Texas (located in the vicinity of the destination airport in Bay City). However, before reaching Lake Jackson the airplane turned approximately 135 degrees to a northerly heading (toward Houston). The airplane flew to a point approximately 10 miles south of the William P. Hobby Airport, Houston, Texas. At 2045:27, the airplane was at 4,000 feet and had reversed course, again heading toward Lake Jackson.
At 2110:05, the airplane was at 3,100 feet and 18 miles northeast of Bay City. The radar data depicted the airplane making multiple "S" turns, 360-degree turns, and at one point flying past the destination airport. The airplane's altitude varied between 3,100 feet and 600 feet. At 2135:01, the airplane's transponder code changed from 1200 (visual flight rules [VFR]) to 7700 (emergency), and the pilot contacted the Conroe Automated Flight Service Station (CXO AFSS). He reported that he had "10 minutes of fuel on board and was disoriented." Conroe AFSS then contacted the Houston Air Route Traffic Control Center (HOU ARTCC), advised them of the situation, and asked them to provide vectors to the nearest airport. The HOU ARTCC controllers advised the pilot of the nearest airport; however, at 2145, the pilot reported that he had "run out of fuel." At 2146:28, the final radar return was received, approximately 10 miles north of Bay City. According to the radar data, the airplane was airborne for 3 hours and 47 minutes.
On April 13, 2000, at 0430, the Civil Air Patrol located the airplane (by tracking the emergency locater transmitter [ELT] signal) on a private ranch, approximately 9 miles north of the Bay City Municipal Airport.
On March 31, 1995, the pilot was issued a private pilot certificate. He held airplane single engine land, airplane multi-engine land (VFR only), and instrument airplane ratings. On February 2, 2000, he was issued an FAA third class medical certificate with no limitations or waivers. According to the medical certificate application, the pilot had accumulated a total of 1,500 flight hours.
The 1964-model high wing airplane was equipped with a 145-horsepower Continental O-300-D engine, and a two-bladed McCauley fixed pitch propeller. On March 30, 2001, the airframe and engine underwent their most recent 100-hour/annual inspections, and had accumulated a total of 3,321.10 hours. At the time of the accident, the airframe and engine had accumulated a total of 3,329.57 hours. Additionally, the engine had accumulated a total of 213.07 hours since major overhaul. The airplane was equipped for instrument flight rules (IFR) flight conditions. It was outfitted with an airspeed indicator, altimeter, turn and bank indicator, heading indicator, attitude indicator, vertical speed indicator, and one very high frequency omnidirectional range (VOR) receiver.
The airplane was equipped with two 21-gallon metal fuel tanks. According to the airplane owner's manual, the unusable fuel for each tank in a straight and level flight attitude is 0.5 gallons, and in all flight attitudes the unusable fuel per tank is 1.5 gallons.
The airplane was equipped with lap belts; however, it was not equipped with shoulder harnesses. Shoulder harnesses were not required at the time that the airplane was manufactured.
No record of the pilot receiving a weather briefing from a flight service station prior to or during the flight was found.
At 2153, the weather observation facility at the Brazoria County Airport, Angleton/Lake Jackson, Texas, (located 22 miles northeast of the Bay City Airport) reported a broken cloud layer at 1,000 feet and an overcast layer at 2,800 feet, wind from 160 degrees at 8 knots, visibility 7 miles, temperature 75 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 73 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 29.95 inches of mercury.
According to an NTSB meteorologist, review of surface conditions and satellite data revealed that marginal visual meteorological conditions (MVMC), patchy low-level clouds, and patchy instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) existed over southeastern Texas near the time of the accident.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
A global positioning system (GPS) receiver recorded the accident location at north latitude 029 degrees 06.50 minutes and west longitude 095 degrees 57.90 minutes. The initial impact point was the top wire of a barbed wire fence. The top wire measured 3 feet 9 inches above ground level. The energy path measured 91 feet in length and was oriented along a 145 degree magnetic heading. The main wreckage, which consisted of the airframe, was located 40 feet 10 inches from the initial impact point. Both wings came to rest against the base of two trees, approximately 25 feet apart. The outboard sections of both wing leading edges contained semicircular indentations, consistent with the shape and size of the tree trunks. Furthermore, both tree trunks displayed witness marks that began 15 feet above their bases, and extended downward to the bases of the trees. The engine separated from the airframe and the propeller separated at the engine crankshaft. The engine and propeller were found 26 feet and 19 feet southeast of the main wreckage, respectively. Neither of the propeller blades displayed leading edge gouges, chordwise scratches, nicks, or abrasions. Flight control continuity was established for the aileron, rudder, elevator and elevator trim systems. The flaps were in found the retracted position. The elevator trim tab actuator was extended 1.5 inches. According to Cessna, a 1.5-inch extension equates to 10 degrees tab up deflection.
The cockpit was examined. The throttle was observed at the idle position and the mixture was at the full rich position. The fuel selector was in the both position, the primer was in and unlocked, and the magneto switch was in the both position. The flap handle was in the retracted position.
The integrity of the fuel system was not compromised during the accident. The right wing fuel tank was cut open and three ounces of fuel was observed. The left wing fuel tank was cut open and 1.5 gallons of fuel was observed. Both fuel caps were removed and examined. The fuel caps' rubber seals were intact and did not appear worn. Both fuel caps seated properly when reinstalled at their respective fuel filler ports. The wing skin area surrounding the right wing fuel filler port displayed a small amount of staining, and the wing skin area around the left wing fuel filler port did not display evidence of staining. The fuel system was examined and no evidence of a fuel leak was noted.
The engine was examined at the accident site. The cylinder valve covers and top spark plugs were removed. The engine crankshaft was rotated and continuity was confirmed to each cylinder and to the accessory drive gear. According to the Teledyne Continental Engine representative, each cylinder exhibited "good" hand compression. The magnetos were examined, and sparked at all terminals when rotated. The carburetor remained intact; however, it had separated from the engine. The carburetor was disassembled and residual fuel was observed in the bowl. Furthermore, the metal float and needle were intact and free to move.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed by the County of Galveston Medical Examiner's Office, Texas City, Texas. The cause of death was determined to be "craniocerebral trauma," as a result of the airplane accident. Toxicological testing was performed by the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The tests were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and drugs.
The airplane was released to the owner's representative on April 19, 2001.