On July 5, 2001, at 1623 eastern daylight time, a Rolladen-Schneider LS3-A glider, N113RM, was substantially damaged from collision with a tree and terrain during an off-airport landing near Front Royal, Virginia. The certificated airline transport pilot received minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the local soaring flight that originated at the Front Royal-Warren County Airport (FRR), and conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
An air safety investigator with the Safety Board was flying in the Front Royal area at the time of the accident. He learned of the accident upon returning to the Front Royal Airport and responded to the scene. The investigator examined the site, the wreckage, and spoke with the pilot. He then provided a statement that summarized his observations and his conversation with the pilot. According to the investigator's statement:
"[The pilot] stated to the group [at the scene] that as he was returning from soaring, he realized that he would not have enough altitude to return for landing at FRR. He therefore elected to land off field and found the field that the airplane crashed in. He said that he had plenty of time to circle the field and plan for his landing. When I questioned him about power wires along the approach path some 500 feet away, he said that he saw them. He said that he set up for the landing, planned the approach and lowered the landing wheel.
"He noted that there were trees surrounding the field and although "short" there was more than sufficient length for a safe landing. He stated that everything on the approach was normal until he heard the impact with the tree and felt the airplane hit the ground. He noted that he saw the Plexiglas canopy break and fly apart and a wing leave the airplane. He exited the cockpit and went to a nearby house to inform the authorities of the accident."
The Safety Board investigator further stated:
"I saw the airplane laying in the field with the wings separated from the fuselage. The right wing appeared to be relatively undamaged while the left wing had an impact fracture on the outboard leading edge a couple of feet from the wing tip. The fuselage lay on the ground aligned approximately in the direction of flight and had impact damage to the nose and wing attach area. The tail wheel was intact but impact-damaged. The Plexiglas canopy was closed but broken to the point where you could enter or exit the cockpit. The left wing was broken off the airplane and was lying on the left side of the airplane a few feet away. The right wing was also broken from the airplane and was lying on the right side of the airplane a few feet away. The empennage was intact and appeared to relatively undamaged. The internal cockpit area appeared to be undamaged other than the broken canopy. There was a parachute in the airplane and the seatbelts and seat area were not compromised as a result of the accident.
"I noted two portions of the top of a 15-20 foot tall Cedar tree lying near the fencerow on the approach end of the grass field. There were fresh fractures on the tree and two tree portions about 2-3 feet long laying in the field near the tree in the direction of flight. Following the direction of flight, approximately 30-40 feet from the fencerow there was an impact point with a portion of fiberglass near the impact point. The shape of the impact point corresponded approximately to the shape of the nose of the fuselage. Following the direction of flight from the impact mark, I found portions of clear Plexiglas canopy material. The tailwheel and landing wheel were covered with dirt and grass.
During a subsequent telephone interview, the pilot stated that he'd been aloft for approximately 1 hour. He said that he determined he would have to make an off-airport landing, and selected a field for the landing. The pilot said he surveyed the field, took note of the obstacles surrounding it, and determined it was suitable for landing.
The pilot stated that he'd performed about 6 off-airport landings, and that he was comfortable with the maneuver. He added that while off-airport landings were not entirely common, they were not considered an emergency in the glider community.
According to the pilot:
"The glider gave me everything I asked of it and a little bit more. It was a short field by any standard, and I asked the airplane to give me quite a bit, because I wanted to land in the first one-third. I got such a steep angle of descent out of it, that it was hard for me to judge if the obstacles were going to be a factor.
"I set up for an abbreviated approach when I really didn't need to. I rushed the approach and I was high on my base and turn to final. I knew the trees were there, but I really didn't see them as a factor. If I were 2 feet to the right and 3 feet higher, we wouldn't be having this conversation. I just didn't see the obstacle."
The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with a rating for airplane multi-engine land. He held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and glider. The pilot reported 7,400 hours of flight experience, 130 hours of which were in gliders.
The weather at the Winchester Regional Airport, about 10 miles north of the accident site, was clear skies with 10 miles of visibility. The winds were from 260 degrees at 10 knots gusting to 15 knots.