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On August 12, 2002, approximately 0820 central daylight time, a Cessna 152 single-engine airplane, N49998, was destroyed when it impacted the terrain while maneuvering near Ithaca, Nebraska. The non-instrument rated private pilot, sole occupant of the airplane, was fatally injured. The airplane was owned by Steven Thomas Inc., of Lincoln, Nebraska, and operated by Silverhawk Aviation, Inc., of Lincoln, under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight. The local flight originated from the Lincoln Municipal Airport (LNK), near Lincoln, at 0718.
Approximately 0630 on the morning of the accident, the chief pilot for Silverhawk Aviation Inc. reported that the pilot arrived late for his 0600 scheduled flight. The chief pilot and pilot talked briefly about the weather for the local flight. The pilot stated he wanted to fly north 40 to 50 miles and return for a total of one hour flight time. Shortly after, the chief pilot noticed the accident airplane's engine start, then shutdown, and the pilot exit the airplane. The pilot then approached the chief pilot and inquired how to operate the airplane's "new" transponder. The chief pilot explained the operation then observed the pilot buckle his seatbelt and close the door. The chief pilot stated the pilot appeared to be in good spirits.
A witness, who was a flight line employee for Silverhawk Aviation Inc., reported he moved the accident airplane out of the hangar for the pilot and noticed the pilot had not preflighted the airplane. The witness stated, "he just got into the plane and sat slumped down and leaning on the door looking directly at me." The witness stated the pilot sat in the airplane for approximately 15 minutes prior to starting the engine. After the engine started, the pilot sat in airplane on the ramp for approximately another 15 minutes prior to taxi. The witness noticed the pilot had not adjusted the seat, seatbelts, or radios, "he just sat there."
According to air traffic control communications provided by the LNK control tower, the pilot of N49998 requested a northbound visual flight rules (VFR) departure from Lincoln. At 0718, the pilot of N49998 was cleared for takeoff from runway 17L. At 0720, the pilot established initial contact with Lincoln departure control and was instructed to turn right to a heading of 270. At 0733, the pilot of N49998 was informed that radar contact was lost and radar service was terminated. The pilot acknowledge the radio transmission.
Radar data obtained from Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center depicted a VFR target squawking a transponder code of 1200, flying in an easterly direction at 0800. The radar indicated the target had executed a series of turns between an altitude of 1,600 and 1,800 feet msl. At 0819:37, radar contact with the VFR target was lost.
At 1248, the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center contacted the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) regarding a emergency locator transmitter signal near Wahoo, Nebraska. At 1425, the wreckage of the airplane was located by CAP personnel.
The pilot obtained his private pilot certificate on June 14, 1999, with an airplane single-engine land rating. The pilot was issued a second-class medical certificate in July 2002. A review of the pilot's logbook revealed the pilot had accumulated approximately 85 hours of flight time. According to a Silverhawk Aviation Inc. renter's agreement dated June 15, 1999, the pilot's most recent biennial flight review was completed on July 31, 2001. The agreement indicated the pilot was checked out in the Cessna 152 and Cessna 172 airplanes.
The 1978-model Cessna 152 airplane, serial number 15281434, was a high wing, fixed landing gear, and semi-monocoque design airplane. The airplane was powered by a four cylinder, air cooled, horizontally opposed, normally aspirated Lycoming O-235-L2C (serial number L-15008-15) engine, rated at 110 horsepower. The airplane was configured to carry a maximum of two occupants.
The airplane was issued a standard airworthiness certificate on March 2, 1978, and was certificated for utility category operations. The airplane was registered to the owner on March 12, 2002. According to the airframe and engine logbooks, the airplane underwent it's most recent 100-hour inspection on July 22, 2002, at a total time of 4,216.8 hours. The airplane underwent an annual inspection on September 12, 2001, at a total time of 3,941 hours. At the time of the accident, the airframe had accumulated 4,264.8 hours, and the engine had accumulated 2,244.8 hours since a field overhaul.
At 0735, the LNK Automated Surface Observation System (ASOS), located 22 nautical miles southwest of the accident site, reported the wind from 230 at 3 knots, 10 statute miles visibility, few clouds at 7,000 agl, temperature 75 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 66 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 29.91 inches of Mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane impacted 8-foot tall corn stalks and terrain in a matured corn field in an estimated 30-degree nose down angle. The wreckage came to rest inverted at 41 degrees 08.35 minutes North latitude and 096 degrees 26.47 minutes West longitude at an elevation of 1,200 feet. The wreckage was distributed along a linear path approximately 115 feet in length and oriented 160 degrees magnetic. The distribution path originated from the initial cut corn stalks to the main wreckage. Ground scars, consistent with the main landing gear and leading edges of the wings, were located at 28 and 44 feet, respectively, from the initial impact with the corn stalks. Pieces of the red navigation lens were located on the right side of the distribution path approximately 50 feet from the initial impact. The main wreckage, located 115 feet from the initial impact, consisted of both wings, the empennage, cockpit, and engine. There was no evidence of fire.
The leading edges of the left and right wings were found crushed aft. The aileron and flap control surfaces remained attached at their respective attach points. The right aileron control rod was found separated at the bellcrank, and the fracture surfaces displayed signatures consistent with overload. According to the airframe manufacturer representative, the flaps were found in the UP position.
The empennage was partially separated aft of the rear cabin bulkhead. The horizontal and vertical stabilizers remained intact, and their respective flight control surfaces and cables remained attached.
Flight control continuity was established at the accident site from all control surfaces to their respective cockpit controls.
The cockpit was destroyed by impact forces; however, the seats remained attached to their seat rails. Both horns on the left control yoke were separated, and the control tube was fractured. The right control yoke was not damaged. The cockpit throttle and mixture controls were found in the full forward position, and the fuel selector was found in the ON position. The left and right door pins were found in the engaged position.
The engine remained attached to the firewall; however, all of the mounting tubes were bent or separated. The engine was removed from its mounts and visually examined. The vacuum pump was removed and the engine crankshaft was rotated from the vacuum pump drive. Thumb compression was noted on all cylinders. Engine control continuity was established to all aft gears. The spark plugs were removed and only the #4 spark plug displayed lead deposits. No anomalies were noted with the engine.
An autopsy was performed by Nebraska's Douglas County Morgue, on August 13, 2002. According to the report, "The cause of death...[was] attributed to the internal and extremity injuries...secondary to blunt trauma as the result of an airplane accident." Toxicological tests performed by the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) were negative for carbon monoxide, drugs, and alcohol.
According to an investigator for the Lincoln Police Department, the pilot was the subject of an on-going criminal investigation. The investigator reported that motions were to be heard in court on August 14, 2002. In a written letter, the police investigator stated, "I cannot remember how many people told me, but I can assure you it was more than one, who told me [the pilot] would kill himself. The manner in which they spoke was that he would rent an airplane and intentionally crash it. When questioned about this the people with whom I spoke told me that [the pilot] would kill himself before he went to jail."
The airplane was released to the owner's representative on August 13, 2002.