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On December 5, 2002, about 2040 eastern standard time, an AAA Aircraft Leasing 192 experimental airplane, N192FW, experienced an in-flight fire, followed by a loss of control and impact with a building owned by the Federal Reserve in Miami, Florida. The airplane, registered to AAA Aircraft Leasing of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and operated by Four Winds Aircraft of New Smyrna Beach, was destroyed, and the building was damaged. The commercial pilot and the private pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured. There were no injuries to anyone on the ground. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and no flight plan was filed for the 14 CFR Part 91 business flight. The flight departed from Marathon, Florida, about 2000 with an intended destination of New Smyrna Beach.
The flight was transitioning through the Miami Class B airspace and receiving visual flight rules (VFR) advisories from Miami Approach Control. According to a transcript prepared by the facility, at 2033:36, one of the pilots transmitted to the controller, "is there anyone else at a lower flying airplanes uh complained of like the air stinking or anything is there a fire out um in the everglades or something." The controller responded, "nah nobody said anything yet." The pilot stated, "we just want know if it's the airplane that smells or the air." At 2035:48, the controller advised the pilot of a frequency change, and the pilot acknowledged. At 2036:06, the pilot checked in with another controller on the new frequency, and at 2036:24, the pilot acknowledged being given a current altimeter setting. At 2037:36, the controller transmitted that he was not receiving the airplane's Mode C transponder altitude. The pilot did not respond to this transmission or to repeated calls from the controller, and there were no further communications from the airplane.
Radar data indicated that when the pilot queried the controller about a fire in the Everglades, the airplane was at 5,500 feet msl, heading north, about 9 miles southwest of the Federal Reserve building, which is located about 3 miles west of Miami International Airport. The airplane's radar track continued northbound at an altitude of 5,500 feet msl until 2037:13, at which time the last transponder return from the airplane was recorded. The remainder of the radar track, which consisted of primary targets only, showed the airplane turning right to a heading of east-southeast. This heading placed the airplane on a course directly toward Miami International Airport. About 2039:20, the airplane turned further right to a heading of south, which placed it on a course directly toward the Federal Reserve building. The last radar return was received at 2039:36 and showed the airplane about 1/4 mile north of the Federal Reserve building. The flight was lost from radar, and about 3 minutes later the controllers were notified by the police that the airplane had impacted the northeast corner of the building.
Statements were obtained from two witnesses. One witness reported that the airplane was flying at an altitude of about 500 feet agl in a southeast direction, when it made "a slight right turn, then a slight left turn, then a sharp right turn, then descended in what appeared to be in excess of 30 degrees nose down." This witness reported that the airplane's position lights were illuminated and there was also a light visible in the center of the airplane's nose. The second witness observed the airplane at an altitude of less than 100 feet agl "in an excessive nose down attitude towards the ground." Both witnesses reported that a large post-impact fire erupted.
The pilot, who was seated in the right front seat, held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single and multi-engine land and instrument ratings. Additionally, he held a flight instructor certificate with airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane ratings. He held a first class medical dated August 29, 2002, with the limitation "must wear corrective lenses." According to FAA records, the pilot had accumulated a total flight time of 1,400 hours.
The passenger, who was seated in the left front seat, held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single engine land rating. He held a second class medical certificate dated January 31, 2001, with the limitation "must wear corrective lenses." According to FAA records, the passenger had accumulated a total flight time of 500 hours. The records indicated the passenger was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 231 pounds.
The airplane was constructed by Four Winds Aircraft as a prototype for an experimental amateur built kit. The airplane was issued a special airworthiness certificate in the category of experimental research and development on July 9, 2002. According to marketing material produced by Four Winds Aircraft, the four-place, four-door, high-wing airplane had a composite fuselage, a 4130 chromolly steel cage, a strutless high performance wing, and was powered by a Lycoming IO-360 engine. Examination of the airplane's maintenance records indicated that the airplane received a 100 hour inspection on November 25, 2002, at a total time in service of 94.1 hours.
According to representatives of Four Winds Aircraft, the original pilot (left) seat in the airplane was replaced about a month prior to the accident with a six-way power seat from a 1980's Cadillac Cimarron. The seat was installed to accommodate customers' requests for an adjustable seat. The seat incorporated three motors that facilitated the six-way movement of the seat. The seat in its original automotive installation was wired using a 30-amp circuit breaker for protection. If one of the motors failed, it would trip the circuit breaker. If the breaker did not trip, the switch would fail. However, the motors could get hot before the switch failed. The seat was installed in the airplane with a 5-amp circuit breaker. Soon after installation, the circuit breaker for the seat began to trip if a "larger" pilot sat in the seat. The circuit breaker was replaced with a 7-amp breaker.
At 2056, the reported weather conditions at Miami International Airport, located approximately 3 nautical miles east of the accident site, were wind from 170 degrees at 4 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, few clouds at 3,000 feet agl, broken clouds at 25,000 feet agl, temperature 25 degrees C, dewpoint 24 degrees C, altimeter 30.01 inches.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
All major components of the airplane were accounted for at the accident site. The wreckage sustained severe impact and fire damage. Control continuity could not be established due to the extent of the damage. Initial examination of the wreckage revealed the body of only one occupant. Subsequently, the body of the second occupant was located floating in a lake on the Doral Golf Course located north of the Federal Reserve building. The body found in the lake was identified as that of the pilot.
The engine was examined on December 12, 2002, by the NTSB investigator-in-charge and representatives from Textron Lycoming and Four Winds Aircraft. The engine remained attached to the firewall by a few fluid carrying lines. There was no evidence of fire forward of the firewall. The propeller was impact separated from the engine crankshaft flange. One of the blades was separated from the propeller hub and had leading edge damage, S-bending, and chordwise scratching. Another blade had the tip curled over and chordwise scratching. The third blade was loose in the propeller hub and had S-bending and chordwise scratching.
The examination of the engine revealed no evidence of pre-impact mechanical malfunction. After removal of cylinder number two, which sustained severe impact damage, the crankshaft was rotated by hand, and valve train and rear gear continuity were observed. Cylinders number one, three, and four had thumb compression and suction. Spark was obtained at both the left and right magnetos. The fuel servo inlet screen, the oil filter element, and the oil suction screen were free of debris. Fuel was observed at the fuel servo and the fuel pump.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Autopsies of the pilot and passenger were conducted by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department, Miami, Florida. The pilot's body had second and third degree burns covering approximately 25% of the body surface area.
Toxicological tests performed by the FAA's Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol and drugs.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The left seat and the three motors were submitted to an NTSB Fire and Explosion Specialist for examination. The seat was almost completely destroyed. Most of the cushion and covering were gone. A portion remained on the lower section of the seat; however, this was damaged by fire as well. The paint on the frame was discolored in places. One of the plastic mounts for the motors was melted. The seat frame and track were sooted and had paint discoloration ranging from brown to black. Electrical wiring to power the seat motors had melted insulation but the conductors were intact.
The three motors were damaged by fire and by impact. The outer cases were dented and the magnetic sleeves were cracked. Most of the bushings were missing from all three motors. The copper windings inside the motors appeared intact. Due to fire damage, the motors could not be tested to determine if they were operable. Since the three motors were separated from the seat, their exact locations in the seat could not be determined, and they were randomly labeled #1, #2, and #3. Motor #1 exhibited both heat and mechanical damage. The paint on the outer casing was charred and sooted. Motor #2 had signs of heat damage as well as minor exterior mechanical damage. The paint was discolored and sooted. Motor #3 was heavily sooted and the paint was discolored and charred. It had mechanical damage on the exterior and interior as well.
The airplane, with the exception of the left seat, which was retained for further examination, was released to a representative of the owner on December 12, 2002. The left seat was returned to the owner following its examination at the NTSB's Washington, DC office.