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On July 22, 2001, about 1840 central daylight time, a Cessna 177, N235LA, piloted by an airline transport pilot, was destroyed on impact with objects and terrain during initial climb from runway 36 (2,720 feet by 60 feet, asphalt) at Benton Municipal Airport (H96), near Benton, Illinois. A post impact fire occurred. The personal flight was operating under 14 CFR part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. No flight plan was on file. The pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. The flight was originating from H96 at the time of the accident and was destined for Warsaw Municipal Airport (ASW), near Warsaw, Indiana.
A person representing N235LA placed a call to the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) St. Louis Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) between 1813 and 1821. During that time that person requested a weather update between H96 and Terre Haute, Indiana. The pilot stated his intended destination was ASW.
The FAA supplied a tape recording and transcript of that briefing given from Preflight Briefer 10 position (PF10) at St Louis AFSS. The first communication time listed was 2313:54 Zulu, which is 1813:54 central daylight time. An excerpt from the transcript stated the following.
TIME & IDENT COMMUNICATION
PF10 SAINT LOUIS FLIGHT SERVICE
N235LA YES SIR, MA'AM UH, I'M IN A CESSNA NOVEMBER
TWO THREE FIVE LIMA ALPHA AT BENTON AND
UH, WE WERE GOING TO TERRE HAUTE BUT
WEATHER GOT A LITTLE BAD SO I LANDED HERE
UH, CAN YOU GIVE ME AN UPDATE ON WHAT'S
GOING ON BETWEEN HERE AND TERRE HAUTE?
PF10 AND WHERE DID YOU SAY YOU LANDED?
N235LA UH, BENTON, I BELIEVE, B E N T O N
PF10 YOU HAPPEN TO KNOW THAT IDENTIFIER,
PROBABLY NOT HUH?
N235LA NO, AND THEY, THE BUILDING'S LOCKED, I'M
OUTSIDE AT THE PHONES, I
N235LA WELL, I CAN TELL YOU THIS, I'M ABOUT A
HUNDRED MILES SOUTHWEST OF TERRE HAUTE
PF10 A HUNDRED MILES SOUTHWEST OF TERRE HAUTE
N235LA MORE OR LESS
PF10 MORE OR LESS
N235LA UH HUH
PF10 OKAY, HOLD ON JUST A MINUTE
PF10 AND LET ME TAKE A LOOK HERE
N235LA YEAH, YOU KNOW IT LOOKS MUCH BETTER
STANDING ON THE GROUND THAN FLYING
AROUND IN IT
PF10 I CAN BELIEVE THAT
N235LA AND WE'RE JUST V F R TYPES SO
PF10 IT'S A WHOLE LOT SAFER DOING IT THAT WAY TOO
N235LA YES, I, I'M GLAD TO BE ON THE GROUND, NOT THAT
THERE WAS ANY PROBLEMS BUT
N235LA YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYING
PF10 I KNOW EXACTALY WHAT YOU'RE SAYING
PF10 AND LET'S SEE, TERRE HAUTE, HUNDRED MILES TO
N235LA UH HUH
N235LA THERE'S A BIG LAKE OVER HERE, LOOKS LIKE A
N235LA BUT THAT'S NOT UNUSUAL IN THIS PART OF THE
PF10 NO, THAT ISN'T, IS IT
PF10 TRYING TO FIGURE OUT JUST WHERE YOU ARE
N235LA WELL LET ME ASK YOU THIS, WHAT IS THE TERRE
N235LA CURRENTLY, AND THEIR FORECAST
PF10 ALRIGHT, HOLD ON JUST, JUST A MOMENT, I THINK I
CAN DO THIS ANOTHER WAY
PF10 HOTEL NINETY-SIX, THAT'S WHERE YOU ARE, HOTEL
N235LA OH, OKAY, IS THAT BENTON?
PF10 THAT'S BENTON ILLINOIS
N235LA NICE LITTLE AIRPORT
PF10 YEAH, JUST IF IT HAD AN OPEN DOOR IT'D HELP, HUH?
N235LA WELL, IT'S SUNDAY
PF10 IT IS AND IT IS GETTING A LITTLE LATER
N235LA IT'S GETTING LATER
PF10 OKAY, HOTEL NINETY-SIX, IT LOOKS TO ME LIKE YOU
OUGHT TO BE, ACTUALLY A LITTLE WEST,
NORTHWEST OF TERRE HAUTE
N235LA NNNNO, NO, WE'RE SOUTHWEST, I KNOW THAT
PF10 THEN MAYBE YOU'RE NOT IN BENTON
N235LA NA, MUST NOT, MY NAVIGATOR PROBABLY MESSED
UP BECAUSE WE'VE FLOWN ALL THE WAY FROM
SAN ANTONIO TEXAS AND WE BEEN GOING
NORTHEAST THE WHOLE WAY
PF10 OKAY, WELL, THAT COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE
BECAUSE IF YOU'RE IN BENTON, THERE'S NOTHING
BETWEEN YOU AND TERRE HAUTE HOWEVER IF
YOU'RE A HUNDRED MILES, IF YOU'RE IN ONE
HOTEL TWO WHICH IS UHM, UH, WHERE I HAVE A
KIND OF SUSPICION YOU MAY BE
PF10 THAT ONE IS CALLED EFFINGHAM ILLINOIS, THAT IS A
NICE LITTLE AIRPORT
N235LA OH, YOU BEEN HERE?
PF10 UH, YES
PF10 BUT I'M NOT TO SAY THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG
WITH BENTON, BUT IT'S, IT'S CLOSER TO WHERE
YOU'RE DESCRIBING YOURSELF BEING
N235LA EFFINGHAM, YOU MEAN
N235LA EFFINGHAM, OKAY
PF10 YEAH, AND THERE IS A LITTLE BIT OF A
THUNDERSTORM WEST OF YOU ABOUT TWENTY
MILES, DO YOU SEE BUILDUPS TO THE WEST?
PF10 DUE WEST
N235LA UH HUH
PF10 YEAH, I HAVE A SUSPICION YOU'RE ACTUALLY AT
PF10 AND THAT WOULD PUT YOU JUST KIND OF WEST
SOUTHWEST OF UH, TERRE HAUTE
N235LA THAT'S, I'M SURE THAT'S CLOSE
PF10 ABOUT A HUNDRED MILES
PF10 UH, THOSE THUNDERSTORMS TO THE WEST OF YOU
IS THE ONLY THING EVEN VAGUELY CLOSE TO YOUR
ROUTE OF FLIGHT
N235LA OH WELL
PF10 THE REST OF ITS PRETTY MUCH DISSIPATED, IT'S, IT'S
A witness observed the airplane taking off to the north from H96. The witness demonstrated the angle the airplane was climbing at, an angle of approximately 45-degrees. She stated that she heard what she thought was thunder. She saw smoke and called 911.
A FAA inspector interviewed two witnesses. The report of their interview stated that they were at a stop at 1817 and they saw an airplane coming from the northeast going southwest. They thought it was landing at the airport. Approximately 20 minutes later they saw the airplane again coming from the northeast going southwest. They heard two loud claps of thunder and saw lightning strike in the vicinity of the airport. They reported that after the second clap of thunder, they saw smoke coming from the boat factory. The said that the whole northern sky was black and they could hear thunder. They stated they did not see the airplane strike the ground.
A Federal Aviation Administration inspector interviewed fire department personnel that were the first on the scene. A responding fireman stated that the rain began approximately three minutes after fire trucks arrived. The fireman said that there was frequent lightning and thunder prior to the start of the rain and while it was raining.
The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with an airplane multiengine land rating and commercial privileges for single-engine land airplanes. On his application for his FAA second-class medical certificate, dated October 3, 2000, the pilot reported that he had accumulated 5,600 total flight hours. He reported he had flown 0 hours in the past 6 months. That certificate was issued with two limitations. One limitation was that the certificate was "valid for 12 months following the month examined" and the other limitation was that he "must wear corrective lenses for near and distant vision."
The front seat passenger held a FAA third-class medical certificate, dated July 17, 2000, that was issued with no limitations. On the application for that certificate, the pilot checked the application box for "Airmen Medical and Student Pilot Certificate. He reported that he had accumulated 0 total flight hours and had flown 0 hours in the past 6 months. The passenger was the accident airplane's registered owner.
The accident airplane, N235LA, was a 1968 Cessna 177, Cardinal, serial number 17700297, single-engine, high-wing airplane with fixed landing gear. Its engine was a 150 horsepower Lycoming O-320-E2D engine, serial number L-20034-27A. Its propeller was a fixed pitch, two-bladed, McCauley TM 7653, serial number E8424. The airplane's logbooks were not located.
At 1848, the Williamson County Regional Airport, near Marion, Illinois, weather was recorded as: Wind calm; sky condition scattered 2,500 feet scattered 9,500 feet; temperature 28 degrees C; dew point 22 degrees C; altimeter 29.87 inches of mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
An on-scene investigation was conducted. The airplane impacted off-airport objects and terrain west of runway 36. The area impacted was a yard, adjoining the airport, that contained boats and boat construction media. There was tall grass in the yard. The grass exhibited a linear path, 75 feet long and 270 degrees as view toward the main wreckage. The pitot tube, propeller, and left door were found in this path. The propeller blades exhibited chordwise abrasion and scratches. The propeller shaft was found fractured. The airplane was found inverted, discolored and deformed. Sections of the fuselage and impacted boat media were found melted. The empennage's right horizontal stabilizer was found under the right wing. The right wing's leading edge was found crushed rearward from about its middle, outward. The left horizontal stabilizer was found deformed and melted. The rudder was found deformed, and melted. The left wing was found deformed, discolored, and melted. The throttle, mixture, and carburetor heat were found in the forward position. Valve train continuity was observed at all cylinders. All cylinders exhibited a thumb compression when the crankshaft was rotated. Both magnetos were found discolored and deformed. Removed spark plugs exhibited a gray color. Flight control continuity was established. Engine control continuity was established. A witness mark was found on the airspeed indicator at 93 mph. A blue colored fluid was found in the right wing's fuel tank. That fuel tank was ruptured. See appended photographs.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Franklin County Coroner's Office performed an autopsy on both the pilot and the passenger on July 24, 2001.
The FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute prepared a Final Forensic Toxicology Accident Report. The reports were negative for both pilots.
There was a post impact on-ground fire. The Benton Fire Department stated they received an alarm notification at 1842 and arrived on-scene at 1848. The department reported using 1,500 gallons of water to put out the fire.
Sections of the airplane's left wing, empennage, and fuselage were consumed by the fire. Boat construction material in the area of the wreckage was discolored, melted, and charred. Tall grass in that area was discolored and charred.
Subsequent to the accident, the briefer working the Preflight 10 position at St Louis AFSS was decertified, given additional training, and has been reinstated.
The parties to the investigation included the FAA, Cessna Aircraft Company, and Textron Lycoming.
The aircraft wreckage was released to a representative of the towing company that recovered the wreckage.