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On January 5, 2002, at 1558 mountain standard time, a Cessna 172K, N78035, was destroyed when it collided with terrain while maneuvering near Boulder, Colorado. The commercial pilot, the sole occupant in the airplane, was fatally injured. The airplane was owned and operated by the pilot under Title 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local personal flight that had originated approximately 35 minutes before the accident. The pilot had not filed a flight plan.
Radar data indicates that the airplane departed Vance Brand Airport (elevation 5,052 feet), Longmont, Colorado, at 1523. It flew northwest, then south, and then southeast. At 1533, the airplane flew south to Louisville, Colorado. The pilot's wife said that she heard it circle over her location (she said after many years, she knew the sound of his airplane). The pilot then flew north to Lyons, Colorado, circled the city, and then headed south again. At 1557:26, the airplane turned west, and began squawking 7700 (an emergency transmission). The last recorded radar return was at 1558:16, and the airplane's altitude was at 6,500 feet. Calculations made from radar data, during the last 2 to 3 minutes of flight, indicate that the airplane's ground speed was approximately 108 knots in a westerly direction.
Four witnesses, in a car driving north on highway 36 (elevation 5,530 feet), observed the airplane flying westbound across the highway. They said the airplane was flying level and straight. They all thought that the airplane was flying "very low," and it did not turn or pull up before it impacted the mountain. Another witness, who was hiking approximately 1 mile east of the impact site, said that the airplane was flying overhead westbound "abnormally low" (estimated at 600 to 800 feet) and appeared to be flying very slow. He said the engine sounded "normal." Moments later he heard the airplane impact the mountain.
The pilot received his private pilot certificate on October 23, 1983, and his fight instructor's certificate on December 18, 1984. According to his FAA medical application, dated September 28, 2000, he had accumulated approximately 4,500 hours of flight experience. The airplane's maintenance records and the airplane's engine tachometer suggest that the pilot had an additional 176 hours of flight experience at the time of the accident. The pilot's personal flight log indicates that he had given 2,413 hours of flight instruction.
The pilot's flight logbook indicates that he successfully completed his last FAA required flight review on October 8, 2000, and he successfully completed an instrument competency check on the same day. His flight instructor's certificate expired on December 31, 2000.
The mechanic that performed the last annual inspection on the airplane described the pilot as a "loner the last 5 or 10 years."
The airplane was a single engine, propeller-driven, fixed gear, four seat airplane, which was manufactured by Cessna Aircraft Company, in 1968. It was powered by a Lycoming O-360-A4M, four cylinder, reciprocating, horizontally opposed, direct drive, air cooled, normally aspirated (carbureted) engine which had a maximum takeoff rating of 180 horsepower at sea level (the engine was an approved modification installed new on October 11, 1996; STC No. SA4428SW). Aircraft maintenance records indicate that the last annual inspection was accomplished on November 20, 2000. The airplane's tachometer indicated that it had accumulated approximately 4,823 hours of flight time, and the engine had approximately 849 total hours since new.
The airplane had a maximum gross weight capability of 2,300 pounds; its empty weight was 1,369 pounds when it left the factory in 1968. The mechanic who performed the last annual inspection said that "it was a very good airplane." The pilot had supplied the airplane with "a lot" of survival equipment.
At 1545, the weather conditions at the Jeffco Airport (BJC, elevation 5,670 feet), 140 degrees 15 nautical miles (nm) from the accident site, were as follows: wind 280 degrees at 18 knots gusting to 34 knots; visibility 40 statute miles; scattered clouds at 8,000 feet above ground level (agl); temperature 37 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 14 degrees Fahrenheit; altimeter setting 30.09 inches. Witnesses who arrived at the accident site by 1630 reported that the winds were out-of-the-west and estimated to be 25 miles per hour (mph), gusting to 40 mph.
A homeowner, who lived near the accident site, reported that he was driving home on Highway 36 at approximately 1530, and that the wind was so strong and gusty, his car was "moving around." He arrived at his home in the Lake Valley subdivision a few minutes later, and the wind had ceased, there was no wind at all. He said that about an hour and a half to 2 hours later the winds again picked up dramatically and were very gusty for about 15 minutes.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane was found on the eastern side of the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains (N40 degrees, 5.61 minutes; W105 degrees, 17.61 minutes; elevation 6,150 feet) approximately 4 miles north of Boulder, Colorado. The terrain was up-sloping (estimated to be 35 to 40 degrees) and grass covered with occasional 4 to 6 foot high brush. The impact site was approximately 3,300 feet west of highway 36. The first impact crater contained a propeller blade and the nose wheel landing gear; the debris field progressed up slope approximately 25 feet, on a 260 degree orientation, to the main fuselage.
All of the airplane's major components were accounted for at the accident site. The flight control continuity was established from each aileron bell crank to each wing root inboard pulley, and from the elevator and rudder surfaces to the aft cabin pulley sector. The flaps were fully retracted, and the elevator trim was 10 degrees nose down. The fuselage was separated from aft of the wings and forward of the wings. Both wings were broken from the cabin roof section of the fuselage, but still connected by cables, fuel lines, and structural material. They were resting on their aft edges approximately 90 degrees to each other. Their leading edges were symmetrically crushed aft in accordion style. The cockpit area, including instrument panel, engine controls and flight controls, were obliterated. Some individual instruments were retrieved.
The engine was separated from the fuselage. One propeller blade remained attached to the flange and exhibited extensive leading edge gouging; its tip was separated. Both blades exhibited "S" type bending, and deep chordwise scratching and gouging. Both blades were bent aft. The #2 cylinder head (front left side) was destroyed, and the steel barrel was heavily compressed and its piston had a large dent in its forward edge. Numerous crankcase fractures were visible. After all four cylinders were removed, the crankshaft rotated freely and continuity was demonstrated throughout the engine.
No evidence of a postcrash fire was observed to any parts of the engine or airframe, although there was evidence of fire in the grass near the airplane. No preimpact engine or airframe anomalies, which might have affected the airplane's performance, were identified.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Office of the Boulder County Coroner, Boulder, Colorado, on January 6, 2002. On March 7, 2002, the Boulder County coroner ruled the pilot's manner of death as suicide.
The FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology tests on the pilot. According to CAMI's report (#200200005001), the pilot's blood was tested for carbon monoxide and cyanide with negative results; his urine was tested for volatiles (ethanol) with negative results. The drug venlafaxine (trade name Effexor) was found in the pilot's blood and urine; it is a prescription antidepressant. Its' metabolite, desmethylvenlafaxine, was also found in the pilot's blood and urine.
The pilot did not report, on his FAA medical application dated September 28, 2000, that he was taking this mood-altering prescribed medication. The FAA does not approve this medication for pilots while they are on flight status.
The pilot's wife said that he was being treated for depression. A psychotherapist reported that the pilot had been seeing her for approximately 2 and a half months, twice a week, for severe depression. She said he was also taking anti-depressant medication. She further stated that the pilot told her that if "he killed himself, he would do it in a plane, and crash it with only himself in it."
The airplane, including all components and logbooks, was released to the owner's insurance representative on January 21, 2002.