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On January 31, 2002, about 1850 eastern standard time, a (Raytheon) Beech V35B Bonanza, N32BR, was destroyed when it impacted terrain during a night circle-to-land instrument approach at Chester Airport (3B9), Chester, Connecticut. The certificated private pilot and his passenger were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time, and the flight was operating on an instrument flight rules flight plan between Roanoke Regional/Woodrum Field (ROA), Roanoke, Virginia, and Chester. The business flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
According to a representative of the pilot's family, the pilot left home about 0700, and he and the passenger went to Chester in the passenger's car, where the airplane was hangared. The two then flew to Roanoke for a business meeting.
Before beginning the trip home from Roanoke, the pilot called his wife. He noted that the weather in Virginia was beautiful, but that if it deteriorated to the point where he could not land at Chester, he would continue on to Hartford-Brainard Airport (HFD), Hartford, Connecticut, which was close to his home. About the time of the airplane's intended arrival, the pilot's wife went to Hartford-Brainard to wait for him.
The pilot and his wife were scheduled to depart in the airplane the following morning, to visit relatives in Minnesota.
A review of voice transmissions revealed that the pilot contacted the Islip/LOVES sector controller at New York Approach Control at 1825, while "descending forty eight hundred for three thousand." The controller cleared the pilot to proceed direct to the Madison VOR. In addition, he requested that the pilot "advise when receiving the weather at chester and what approach you'd like."
At 1829, the pilot advised the controller, "...we'd like to try g-p-s three five into chester. not sure we'll get in right now, the automated weather says three hundred foot ceiling but we'd like to try g-p-s three five.
The controller responded, "three two bravo romeo, proceed direct to flibb [intersection]. the closest weather i have is new haven, they were reporting as of 2321 [1821 local time], a special, winds zero six zero at seven, visibility three miles, light rain and mist, ceiling seven hundred overcast, temperature zero two [centigrade], dewpoint zero two, altimeter three zero two nine."
The pilot acknowledged the weather report.
At 1844, the pilot asked, "okay (unintelligible) for you for a direct turn into this?" and the controller responded, "i'll turn you in and give you a good intercept there."
At 1845, the controller transmitted, "three two bravo romeo is ah three from the final approach fix. maintain ah two thousand until established on the ah final approach course. fly heading zero ah one zero to intercept, cleared the g-p-s runway three five approach."
The pilot responded, "okay, cleared for the approach. zero ah one zero and down to two thousand, three two bravo romeo."
At 1846, the controller announced, "(unintelligible) station change to advisory frequency is approved," and the pilot responded, "three two bravo romeo roger, we'll ah refer to you."
The controller then stated, "three two bravo romeo report canceling i-f-r in the air on this frequency if you are able to reach me or on the ground with bridgeport flight service station, change to advisory frequency is approved," and the pilot again responded with, "three two bravo romeo roger, we'll ah refer to you."
There were no further transmissions from the pilot recorded on the frequency.
A review of radar data indicated that the airplane flew inbound on the GPS Rwy 35 approach course until it descended to an altitude of 1,500 feet, about 4.5 nautical miles from the airport. Radar contact was then lost due to radar antenna positioning and terrain.
A witness was outside his home at the time of the accident. His home was located on the same road as the airport, at an estimated 1,000 feet northeast of the approach end of runway 17. The witness had lived in his home for the past 22 years, and was accustomed to watching airplanes in the traffic pattern. In addition, he had flown many times with his son, who was a certificated commercial pilot.
The witness reported that the weather at the time of the accident was "not all that great." It was "drizzling a bit," and the night sky appeared to be more gray than black. The airplane caught the witness's attention because it flew almost directly over his house, and he was wondering what the pilot was going to do, given the weather conditions.
The airplane was first seen flying northbound, parallel to the runway and about 1,000 feet east of it, at an altitude estimated to be about 400 feet. The witness observed it make a left turn from the downwind leg through to the final approach. He could see red navigation lights during the whole turn, along with the airplane's silhouette against the gray sky.
The airplane's flight pattern was two to three times closer than what the witness was used to seeing. The witness was "pretty impressed" that the airplane was able to complete the turn in the space available, because the turn radius was much smaller than normal. The witness also noted that he had never seen an airplane fly the turn "so flat" before, and had expected the airplane to make the turn with a much larger angle of bank since the pattern the pilot was trying to fly was so tight. The witness further noted that the airplane was not traveling very fast during the approach - "it seemed slow" - and that engine rpm did not increase during the turn.
As the airplane turned to the final approach course, the witness saw it "instantaneously" change from being relatively wings-level, to being wings-vertical, with the left wing pointing straight down and the right wing pointing straight up. He then lost sight of it, and almost immediately heard a "crunch".
Another witness, a flight instructor whose house was aligned with runway 17, about 3/4 to 1 mile to the north, heard the noise of what sounded like a Bonanza. It sounded like it was circling to land on runway 17, and was turning onto final between the flight instructor's house and the runway. According to the flight instructor:
"[The engine] rpm was steady and did not sound to be anything wrong at the time. The engine was at a moderate rpm, approximately 1,500 to 1,800 rpm I would guess. As I heard the aircraft flying close to the house I walked to the front...to see who it was. I knew when I left [the airport] earlier, [it] was fogged in [and had] more or less low ceilings and visibility. I did not see the lights of the aircraft, but immediately after hearing the engine I thought I heard a crash or loud thud. Looking towards the airport I could see REIL flash reflecting off the clouds. Slightly to the left of the lights I noticed a reddish/orange glow. The light wasn't steady, and it was bright at first and dimmed out slightly, but continued to glow."
The accident occurred during the hours of darkness, in the vicinity of 41 degrees, 23.47 minutes north latitude, 72 degrees, 30.54 minutes west longitude.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane. His latest Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third class medical certificate was dated August 24, 2000.
According to the pilot's logbook, as of January 14, 2002, he had logged 2,982 hours of flight experience, including 335 hours of night time and 340 hours of actual instrument time. The pilot completed a biennial flight review and an instrument proficiency check on October 20, 2001.
The airplane's logbooks were onboard the airplane at the time of the accident, and were consumed in a post-impact fire. The last partially discernable logbook entry was made on October 12, 2001, at 1,155 tachometer hours, and appeared to be an annual inspection.
A work order subsequent to that last logbook entry indicated that on January 28, 2002, at 1,244 tachometer hours, the vacuum pump was replaced.
According to the former owner of the airplane, the pilot had purchased it from him in either 1983 or 1984.
Weather, recorded at the airport about the time of the accident, included winds from 080 degrees true at 6 knots, visibility 2 1/2 statute miles in mist, an overcast ceiling at 300 feet above ground level (agl), a temperature and a dewpoint of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and a barometric pressure of 30.27 inches HG.
Chester Airport had a single, asphalt runway, 17/35. Runway length was 2,566 feet and width was 50 feet. Airport elevation was 416 feet above mean sea level (msl).
Instrument approaches to the airport included GPS Rwy 35, GPS Rwy 17, and GPS A approaches.
For "Category A" aircraft utilizing the local altimeter setting, the minimum descent altitude (MDA) for the GPS Rwy 35 approach procedure was 840 feet msl (424 feet agl) for the straight-in approach, and 860 feet msl (444 feet agl) for the circle-to-land approach. The MDA for the GPS Rwy 17 approach was 980 feet msl (564 feet agl) for both the straight-in and the circle-to-land approach, and the MDA for the GPS A approach was 860 feet msl (444 feet agl) for the circle-to-land approach (the only variant available.)
All three approaches required 1 statute mile of visibility to initiate the approach.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane's wreckage was located in a wooded area, about 1,500 feet from the threshold of runway 17, near the extended runway centerline. It was facing away from the runway, heading 320 degrees magnetic, and the wings were oriented about an axis of 230-050 degrees magnetic.
The wreckage came to rest nose-down (wings were almost vertical), next to a tree estimated to be about 65 feet tall. The only tree damage was cut and shorn branches which had been directly above the wreckage. Numerous branches exhibited clean, 45-degree cuts. There were no ground scars, except for those directly under the wreckage.
All flight control surfaces were accounted for at the accident scene, and control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit to those control surfaces. The wings exhibited leading edge crushing. The cockpit and passenger areas were consumed by the post-impact fire. The empennage was separated from the fuselage, folded forward, and was in front of the cockpit/passenger area upside down. The flight and engine instruments were destroyed. The magneto switch was in the "both" position, the mixture was "rich", and the throttle and propeller controls were full forward. The fuel selector was on the right tank, and the single yoke was to the left.
The landing gear was down, and one wing flap jackscrew was extended 6 1/4 inches, which corresponded to 30-degree flaps (full flaps down.) The other wing flap jackscrew mechanism was destroyed. The pitch trim was 15/16 inch, which correlated to 4 degrees up tab (nose down.)
The propeller, still attached to the engine, was embedded in the ground to a depth of about 1 1/2 feet, and had cut through several large tree roots. The propeller hub was broken. The three propeller blades exhibited chordwise scratching, s-bending, and blade-tip-bending. One propeller blade had two deep leading-edge gouges.
The engine exhibited impact and fire damage. The electrodes of the spark plugs that could be removed were light gray in color. Engine crankshaft continuity was confirmed. The vacuum pump drive shaft was melted, and the rotor vanes were fractured. There was no scoring on the interior walls of the rotor housing.
On February 2, 2002, the wreckage was released verbally, and on February 6, 2002, a representative of the owner's insurance company provided written acknowledgement of the release.