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On October 16, 2001, about 1550 Pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-18, N7502K, collided with a tree while the pilot was attempting to land in a field about four miles east of Sandy, Oregon. The student pilot, who was the owner and operator of the aircraft, received fatal injuries. The second individual on board, the holder of a private pilot certificate, received serious injuries. The aircraft sustained substantial damage. The 14 CFR Part 91 VFR pleasure flight, which departed Madras, Oregon, about 90 minutes earlier, was in an area of instrument meteorological conditions at the time of the accident. No flight plan had been filed. The ELT, which was activated by the impact, was turned off at the scene.
On the day of the flight, the owner of the aircraft and his passenger, departed Country Squire Airpark, Sandy, Oregon, between 0930 and 1000. From there they flew to Redmond, Oregon, and then on to Bend, Oregon, in order to visit the Lancair factories at those locations. After refueling in Redmond, the pilot departed for Madras in order to meet an extended family member for lunch prior to returning to Country Squire. The aircraft arrived in Madras around 1400, but the pilot elected not to stay and have lunch because a strong westerly wind had started blowing and clouds were starting to back up against the west side of Mt. Hood. The occupants of the aircraft and the family member discussed the fact that worsening weather might have begun to move in from the west, and the family member offered to drive the pilot and his passenger back to the Sandy area. The pilot chose not to accept the offer, and said that he was going to depart right away so that they could get back to the Sandy area before the weather got bad. The aircraft departed Madras en route to Country Squire Airport around 1420.
According to the passenger, as the aircraft approached the area around Timothy Lake, about 30 miles southeast of Sandy, they encountered a well defined and distinct wall of clouds, mist, and rain. As the pilot continued toward Sandy, the aircraft entered the instrument meteorological conditions associated with this wall, and the visibility became severely restricted. The passenger said that he asked the pilot to turn around and go back to Madras, but reportedly, the pilot stated that he did not want to leave the aircraft at Madras, and that they could use his hand-held global positioning system (GPS) to help find the Country Squire Airport. According to the passenger, as they continued, they reached a point where he could not see the ground ahead from the back seat of the aircraft. At that time he believed that the pilot also could not see the ground and was maintaining aircraft control by referencing a turn-and-bank indicator in the aircrafts instrument panel, but a post-accident inspection of the aircraft determined that there was no such instrument onboard. Reportedly, as they approached an area about five miles east of the accident site, they encountered heavy rains, strong winds, and very strong updrafts and downdrafts. Then according to the passenger, when the GPS indicated they were in the vicinity of the airport, the pilot descended below the clouds so that both occupants could attempt to spot the airport itself.
As they maneuvered around the area where they had descended, they continued to encounter strong winds, downdrafts, rain, and very low ceilings. During the time they were searching for the airport, which the passenger estimated was about three or four minutes, they spotted a clearing in the forested terrain. At that point, the pilot said he was going to land there, and then initiated a right turn to line the aircraft up with the long part of the open area. While the aircraft was on a short final to the clearing, the passenger heard a loud crack and felt the aircraft rotate around its vertical axis. Later he realized that the noise was generated by the aircraft colliding with the top of a tree. He also believes that he remembers seeing part of the tree pass by just at the moment of impact. The passenger said that there was no indication that there was any problem with the aircraft's engine, flight controls, or structure.
Approximately five minutes prior to the accident, the aircraft was spotted by a driver of an automobile that was heading west on Highway 26 about five miles east of Sandy. This witness said that the aircraft had flown low over his car a short distance east of the accident site. He reported that he was surprised when he heard it coming from behind him before he actually saw it fly low over his car heading to the west. He estimated the aircraft was about 200 feet above the highway, and just below the overcast ceiling when it passed by. He said that as it proceeded on toward the west, he saw it going in and out of the fragmented fog and clouds. He said that the aircraft was going very slow, and that he was almost able to keep up with it for about two minutes. The witness said that it appeared to him that the pilot was trying to follow the road, and that there was a hard steady rain coming down at the time.
The owner of the aircraft, who was sitting in the front seat at the time of the accident, had been issued a student pilot's certificate on September 25, 2001, three weeks prior to the accident. His logbook entries showed that since that time, he had flown the aircraft twice, both times with an instructor, for a total of 1.5 hours. On October 14, 2001, two days before the accident, he had been signed off by a CFI for solo flight in a Piper PA-18 and Piper J-3, but he had not acquired the solo cross-country CFI endorsement required by FAR 61.93C for the subject flight. His logbook also indicated that he had taken flight instruction in an Enstrom F-28 helicopter from June 1984 to October 1984, accumulating a total of 9.5 hours. His total logged flying time was 11.0 hours. During post-accident interviews with family members, it was determined that the pilot had taken numerous other flights in this aircraft and another aircraft he owned that had not been entered in his log book. Members of the extended family said that they believed that his total flying time, both before and after the issuance of the student pilot's license in 2001, was considerably more than what he had logged.
The passenger had been issued a private pilot certificate, with an airplane, single-engine, land rating, in September of 1991, and had accumulated 75.7 hours of flying time as of June 6, 1993. His logbook had no in-aircraft flight entries since that time, and his last medical had expired in January of 2001. He logged 5.0 hours of simulator time in January of 1998.
Witnesses who were in the area at the time of the accident said that a squall line was moving through the area from west to east, and that in addition to the heavy rains, gusty winds started blowing about five minutes prior to the time the aircraft impacted the terrain. The witness who was driving the car that the aircraft flew over on Highway 26 said that about five miles east of Sandy he entered an area of low clouds, fog, and heavy rain. According to this witness, the cloud bases, which were uneven and ragged, were down on the hills on both sides of the road. He said that below the ragged base of the ceiling, there were areas where fog and small puffy clouds substantially reduced visibility. The owners of the property where the aircraft crashed said that the clouds were down to the hills just south of their house, and that to the east of the house, the direction the aircraft came from, there were areas where the clouds were almost down to the trees.
The 1553 surface aviation weather observation (METAR) taken at Portland-Troutdale Airport, which is located about 13 nautical miles northwest of the accident site, indicated winds 260 degrees at 5 knots, visibility 4 statute miles, light rain and mist, few clouds at 1,100 feet, overcast of 3,500 feet, and a barometric pressure of 30.14 inches of mercury.
The 1555 METAR for Portland International Airport, located about 19 miles northwest of the accident site, showed calm winds, 7 miles visibility, few clouds at 500 feet, broken clouds at 3,500 feet, an overcast at 4,900 feet, and an altimeter of 30.14.
An observation taken at Portland-Troutdale Airport about 15 minutes prior to the accident recorded winds gusting to 17 knots with light rain and mist, and the METAR taken at Portland International one hour before the accident showed the winds were gusting to 20 knots with light rain and mist.
Neither the FAA nor the commercial DUATS service providers had any record of the pilot checking the weather or getting a weather briefing on the day of the accident, and his passenger said that he did not get a weather update while they were in the Redmond/Bend area.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The aircraft's initial impact was near the 70 foot level of an 85 foot conifer tree. The tree was snapped off just below the impact marks, and its diameter at the fracture was approximately four inches. The base of the tree, which was located about 5,000 feet south of State Route 26, was approximately 1,450 feet above sea level (MSL). After colliding with the tree, the aircraft traveled another 285 feet before impacting the terrain. The first 150 feet from the tree to the ground impact site was on a 10 degree upslope, and the remaining distance was on a shallower 2 degree upslope.
The aircraft came to rest in a nose-down attitude, with the left wing folded back against the left side and slightly underneath the fuselage. The engine had been pushed back into the firewall, and the front cockpit area was partially collapsed. The right wing had rotated forward approximately 30 degrees, and its outboard half had been crushed back about eight inches. The bolts holding the right lift strut to the longeron had failed, and the aft spar fitting had torn away from the fuselage. The left lift strut was still attached to the wing spars and the lower longeron, and both spar fittings were still connected to the top longeron. The left wing had experienced extensive rearward crushing just outboard of the fuel tank, and the tank had been ruptured. The right fuel tank was still intact, and was at least half full of fuel. The ground below where the left tank had ruptured was soaked with what looked and smelled like aviation fuel. Control continuity was established to all flight controls, and there was no evidence of a flight control malfunction.
The propeller had separated from the crankshaft flange, and both blades showed longitudinal twisting. One blade had chordwise scarring along its most outboard 10 inches, and the other had chordwise scarring along the outer half of its span. There was rotational scarring on the propeller spinner. The spark plugs displayed grayish combustion colors, and there was no unusual wear, lead deposits, or buildup of contaminants. The crankshaft rotated freely, and all rockers and valves operated in conjunction with the rotation. There was no evidence of a lack of lubrication or thermal stress. A spark was produced by rotating the left magneto. The right magneto, which was damaged where the leads protruded from its cover, did not produce spark. Fuel was found in the carburetor inlet line, and the finger screen was clean. There were no indications of any pre-impact engine malfunctions or anomalies.
ADDITIONAL DATA AND INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the student pilot/owner by Nikolas J. Hartshorne, M.D., and the manner of death was listed as accidental, with the cause being blunt impact injuries to the head and trunk.
A toxicological examination was performed on specimens from the student pilot by the Federal Aviation Administration's Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory. The tests for carbon monoxide and cyanide in the blood were negative. The test for ethanol in the vitreous fluid was negative, as was the test for prescription, nonprescription, and illegal drugs.
The NTSB did not take custody of the uninsured aircraft at the accident site, and the family had it moved to a temporary storage site after the investigator-in-charge (IIC) had finished his inspection of its engine, systems, and structure.