IAD01LA106
IAD01LA106

On September 23, 2001, at 1330 eastern daylight time, a homebuilt Starduster Too, N49894, was substantially damaged during collision with trees while maneuvering near Watertown, Connecticut. The student pilot was seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local personal flight that originated at the Waterbury-Oxford Airport (OXC), Waterbury, Connecticut. No flight plan was filed for the flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

Witnesses, who observed the airplane flying at low altitude at the time of the accident, contacted the Watertown Police Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to report their observations. Two witnesses provided written statements to the FAA. According to one witness:

"I heard the loud and sudden noise of a low flying aircraft overhead, with little advanced warning. I estimated the aircraft's altitude to be 100 feet above the treetops and 150 feet above the ground. I watched the plane make five tight, high-speed counter-clockwise circles while maintaining its low altitude.

"I was unable to view the pilot or obtain the biplane's (N) number due to its rapid speed and low altitude passes overhead. The plane's engine also was operating properly at high rpm, having no skips or visible smoke."

According to the second witness:

"I heard an aircraft approaching from the east; it was quite loud and sounded close. I had heard it quite some time before I was actually able to see it. The aircraft did not appear to be any higher than 500 feet agl, possibly lower. It was at an altitude that I though was not very prudent for it to be operating at."

The witness said that the airplane's engine sound was loud and continuous.

Examination of the Watertown Police Department report revealed that the dispatch officer had received several complaints, and that a Watertown patrol officer had seen the airplane perform "loops" and "barrel rolls."

The pilot was interviewed at the hospital by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aviation safety inspector, and the inspector provided a record of interview. According to the record of interview:

"[The pilot's] attention was distracted while trying to tune in his hand held radio. He mentioned that he was having a problem changing the channels and was trying to adjust to the AWOS frequency when he flew into the trees at over 100 MPH. He considered himself very lucky to be alive. He told me, 'I screwed up, there was nothing wrong with the airplane'."

The pilot provided a written statement that was consistent with the statement he gave to the FAA. The pilot said:

"With terrain rising from Thomaston to Watertown, and [me] trying to change radio stations, before I knew it, I was in the trees. I guess while tuning the radio I must have pushed slightly down on the control stick. Engine was running when I hit the trees. That's all I remember."

The pilot reported there were no mechanical deficiencies with the airplane.

The student pilot's most recent third class medical certificate was issued May 4, 1998.

According to the FAA inspector, a review of the pilot's logbook revealed the pilot logged 31.7 hours of flight experience, 17.9 hours of which were in the Starduster Too. The pilot later reported 60 hours of flight experience, with 50 hours in the Starduster Too.

The weather reported at Waterbury-Oxford Airport, 7 miles south of the accident site, was few clouds at 3,900 feet, ceiling broken at 4,700 feet, with winds from 330 degrees at 4 knots.

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