SEA02LA034
SEA02LA034

On January 18, 2002, approximately 1815 Pacific standard time, a Rockwell International 500-S, N1187G, experienced a collapse of the nose gear strut during the landing roll at Baker City Municipal Airport, Baker City, Oregon. The private pilot and his two passengers were not injured, but the aircraft, which is owned and operated CXA Financial, Inc., sustained substantial damage. The 14 CFR Part 91 personal transportation flight, which departed Tacoma Narrows Airport, Tacoma, Washington, about two hours prior to the accident, was operating in visual meteorological conditions at the time of the event. The pilot had been on an IFR flight plan to Hailey, Idaho, but cancelled his IFR clearance when he diverted into Baker. The ELT did not activate during the accident sequence.

According to the pilot, while he was en route to Hailey, the flight entered an area where a significant amount of ice accumulated on the aircraft, and he was having trouble maintaining the altitude he needed to continue the flight. He therefore asked for vectors to divert into Baker City as a safety precaution. After descending below the clouds, the pilot executed a visual approach while looking through a partially ice-covered windshield. According to the pilot, in addition to the restricted visibility created by the ice on the windscreen, a thick overcast shielded the moonlight and created a very dark night. Because of the aerodynamic effects of the ice buildup on the airframe, the pilot used a higher than normal approach speed (approximately 130 mph) and kept some power in throughout the landing sequence. In a telephone interview just after the accident, the pilot said that the aircraft was still in a fairly high rate of descent when the main gear contacted the runway. He said that the main gear hit the runway very hard, followed almost immediately by the solid impact of the nose gear. The pilot said that at the moment the nose gear hit, it felt like the nose gear strut collapsed. Soon thereafter, the aircraft departed the side of the runway, went through a 30 inch high snow bank, and came to rest between the runway and an adjacent taxiway. According to the pilot, although the middle of the runway was clear, there was packed snow near its edges.

A post-accident inspection of the aircraft revealed that the hard landing and the collision with the snow bank resulted in substantial damage to the fuselage in a number of areas (see photographs). On both sides of the fuselage, underneath the wings, there was a permanent deformation crease running forward and down at a 45 degree angle from where the aft part of the wing attaches to the fuselage structure. On both sides of the fuselage, just forward of the windscreen, where the sides of the aircraft curve inward toward the top of the fuselage nose, the skin had buckled inward along a line about 12 to 18 inches long. The top skin on the inboard two feet of both wings was wavy and oil canned, and the fuselage area just forward of where the right wing leading edge connects with the fuselage skin had a permanent inward flex along 18 inches of the fuselage-to-wing reinforcement plate. It was also noted that the force of the hard landing had pushed the left main gear strut into its housing to the fully compressed limit, where it remained even while the aircraft was airborne on a ferry flight back to the aircraft's home airport.

It was also determined that the belly skin around the nose wheel well, aft of the forward wheel well bulkhead, had been compressed inward (hydrauliced) around the lower part of the fuselage structural bulkheads. The nose wheel strut down-lock had failed and the nose wheel strut and fork had been forced up into the wheel well. The strut fork and the skin forward of the nose wheel well forward bulkhead showed no scaring, denting, deformation, or any other damage consistent with impact with the runway surface or the snow bank. The aforementioned skin around the nose wheel well showed some minor surface rubbing of the paint, but did not contain any longitudinal gouging or scaring consistent with that area sliding on the surface of an asphalt runway. The tire support rim of the nose wheel had fractured away from the wheel main drum around both sides of its circumference, and a number of these rim pieces were recovered from the runway. Although the fracture faces of the rim pieces had the familiar irregular gray granular surface, most of the matching fracture faces of the main wheel drum had been burnished to a smooth and shinny finish. The drum portion of the wheel was still resting loosely inside the nose tire when pulled from the nose wheel well.

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