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On March 5, 2003, at 2240 central standard time (cst), a Beech A36, N7253Z, piloted by an airline transport pilot (ATP), was substantially damaged during an in-flight collision with trees and terrain near Sparta, Illinois. Night instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 while on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan. The pilot and his passenger were fatally injured. The flight departed Duluth International Airport (DLH), Duluth, Minnesota, at 1951.
According to information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot had filed an IFR flight plan from DLH to the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport (CGI), Cape Girardeau, Missouri. While en-route the pilot reported to air traffic control (ATC) that the airplane had encountered icing conditions and ultimately requested to divert to Sparta Community Airport (SAR), Sparta, Illinois. The airplane impacted trees and terrain approximately 4.3 nautical miles (nm) south of the airport.
The pilot of N7253Z contacted Princeton Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) on three occasions prior to departing DLH. At 1522, the pilot called Princeton AFSS and received a standard weather briefing for an IFR flight from DLH to CGI. At 1558, the pilot contacted Princeton AFSS to file an IFR flight plan from DLH to CGI with a proposed departure time of 1630. At 1906, the pilot called Princeton AFSS to obtain an abbreviated weather briefing and reported that the flight was going to depart within the hour.
At 1929, the pilot contacted Duluth ATC to request taxi and departure clearances. At 1951, the pilot was cleared for takeoff and a climb to 7,000 feet above mean sea level (msl). The flight continued uneventfully until 2119:46 (hhmm:ss) when the pilot asked Springfield approach control if he could descend from 7,000 feet to 6,000 feet msl because the airplane was "starting to pick up a trace of ice." The controller cleared the pilot to descend and maintain 6,000 feet msl. At 2121:24, the pilot asked to descend from 6,000 feet to 5,000 feet msl. The controller cleared the pilot to descend and maintain 5,000 feet msl.
At 2136:07, the pilot established radio communications with St. Louis departure control and reported being at 5,000 feet msl. At 2142:21, the pilot told St. Louis departure control that he was "picking up a little ice" at 5,000 feet msl and requested to descend to 4,000 feet msl. The controller cleared the pilot to descend and maintain 4,000 feet msl. At 2144:07, the pilot told the controller that the airplane descended below the cloud base around 4,600 feet msl.
At 2148:31, St. Louis departure control asked the pilot if his airplane was equipped with "weather equipment." The pilot replied that the airplane was equipped with a storm scope. At 2148:43, the pilot asked the controller, "We got thunderstorms down there?" The controller told the pilot, "uh I don't know what kind of precipitation it is sir, uh, it just indicates some precipitation along your uh route ahead at uh beginning at about twelve o'clock and about fifteen miles." At 2148:55 the pilot stated, "uh roger that, well maybe we should go over to St. Louis Regional too, but let me dig out the charts here so I can pick up the uh approach first." The accident airplane and a Cirrus Design SR-22 (N1039) departed DLH around the same time and both were en-route to CGI. The accompanying airplane elected to divert to St. Louis Regional Airport (ALN), Alton, Illinois, after encountering the adverse weather conditions. At 2148:57, the accident airplane was at 4,000 feet msl and 4.7 nm north-northeast of ALN, according to a plot of ATC aircraft radar track data.
At 2152:06, St. Louis departure control asked the pilot if he was going to continue to CGI. The pilot replied, "yeah, I'm having trouble finding the approach book for down there." At 2152:15, the pilot asked the controller if there was any precipitation near CGI. The controller responded, "all I know, what I'm looking at is about twelve o'clock to you and about seven miles now, and uh it's almost like a line you're going to have to pass through here. I don't know the intensity on it, but it begins at twelve o'clock and about seven miles." At 2152:30, the pilot asked for radar vectors around the weather. The controller told the pilot to make a right turn to a heading of 250 degrees magnetic. At 2152:30, the airplane was at 4,000 feet msl and 6.1 nm southeast of ALN.
At 2152:57, St. Louis departure control told the pilot that there was "no defined break" in the weather and that the pilot would have to "just keep looking to your left and just pick your best spot." At 2155:00, the pilot asked the controller, "how about direct Cape Girardeau now, does it look pretty good?" The controller replied, "um well, you can still go through the same precipitation sir, proceed direct and just keep me advised." At 2155:01, the airplane was at 4,000 feet msl and 6.9 nm south of ALN.
At 2200:04, the pilot told St. Louis departure control, "yeah, we're picking up moderate ice, what are you painting ahead of us, we might have to turn back." The controller replied, "I'm not painting any ice, but uh we've pretty much had icing reports in the clouds for uh most of the evening, basically between three thousand and seven thousand." At 2200:05, the airplane was at 4,000 feet msl and 8.0 nm east-northeast of St. Louis Downtown Airport (CPS), 9.2 nm west-northwest of Scott Air Force Base/MidAmerica Airport (BLV), and 15.9 nm south of ALN.
At 2200:29, the pilot stated, "okay, we're at four maybe thirty five would help, I don't know." At 2200:47, the controller replied, "I got traffic below ya there, I can't give ya lower till you get by him, but I uh got a guy down south that went from four to three and he's doing a little better at three, but he's still getting ice at three." At 2201:03, the pilot told the controller that the airplane had accumulated "about an inch of rime [ice]." The controller cleared the pilot to descend and maintain 3,100 feet msl. At 2201:05, the airplane was at 4,000 feet msl and 7.8 nm west-northwest of BLV and 8.0 nm east-northeast of CPS.
At 2203:05, the controller cleared the pilot to descend and maintain 3,000 feet msl. At 2208:36, the controller asked the pilot if the weather conditions were "getting better" at 3,000 feet msl and the pilot replied "yeah it's still the same, but it doesn't seem to be going anywhere." At 2208:36, the airplane was at 3,000 feet msl and 13.1 nm south-southwest of BLV and 18.5 nm south-southeast of CPS.
At 2210:03, the pilot established radio communications with Kansas City Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) and reported "we've got a fair load of ice on board." At 2216:30, the controller told the pilot to cross 25 miles north of CGI at 3,500 feet msl. At 2216:52, the pilot told the controller "three thousand five hundred, I don't know if I can get back up there." At 2116:55, the airplane was at 3,000 feet msl and 7.6 nm southwest of SAR.
At 2219:22, the pilot told Kansas City ARTCC, "we're gonna need vectors to Chester, we're not gonna make it up there, we're already in stall mode, for this airplane is full of ice." The pilot was referring to Perryville Municipal Airport (K02), Perryville, Missouri, located about 3.4 nm south-southwest of Chester, Illinois. The controller told the pilot that he was "not familiar with Chester" and offered vectors to SAR instead. At 2219:22, the airplane was at 3,100 feet msl and 9.4 nm south-southwest of SAR and 9.1 nm north-northeast of K02. At 2219:47, the controller cleared the pilot to descend and maintain 2,000 feet msl and to fly heading 010 degrees magnetic toward the airport.
At 2221:28, the pilot stated "I've got an airport at twelve o'clock which is S A R, is that Sparta?" The controller replied "affirmative" and the pilot reported that he was "heading straight for Sparta." At 2221:40, the controller asked the pilot, "do you have a visual on the airport, or you just have it on the charts?" The pilot replied, "we have it on the GPS [global position system]." The controller cleared the pilot to maintain 2,300 feet msl until the initial approach fix and cleared him for the "approach at the Sparta airport." At 2221:41, the airplane was at 2,500 feet msl and 7.8 nm south-southwest of the airport.
At 2223:03, the controller issued the current weather conditions at BLV and cleared N7253Z to change to SAR airport advisory frequency. At 2223:29, the pilot asked if there were any weather reports for SAR. The controller did not respond. At 2223:31, the airplane was at 2,200 feet msl and 4.9 nm south-southwest if the airport.
According to radar track data, the airplane continued northbound until 2228:31, when the airplane turned back south toward SAR. At 2228:31, the airplane was at 2,200 feet and 3.2 nm north-northwest of the airport. Between 2230:31 and 2230:49 the airplane was directly over the airport, between 2,200 feet and 1,900 feet msl. The airplane then continued southbound, away from the airport.
At 2233:19, the controller attempted to contact N7253Z. The pilot replied, "yeah we're trying to set up this approach over here at Sparta." At 2233:22, the airplane was at 2,000 feet msl and 4.3 nm south-southeast of the airport. At 2235:42, the controller told the pilot that the airplane was about 7.5 nm south of the airport. The pilot replied, "roger we're just starting to turn back now." About 2236:00, the airplane began a left turn back toward the airport. At 2236:31, the airplane was at 2,300 feet and 8.9 nm south of the airport.
At 2240:19, the controller stated, "November seven two five zulu, no need to acknowledge, I show you about three miles south of the field." At 2240:22, the airplane was at 900 feet msl and 4.7 nm south of the airport, according to the aircraft radar track data. The main wreckage was located 4.3 nm south of the airport.
There were no additional communications received from the accident airplane. Plots of the aircraft radar track data and transcripts of the voice communications between N7253Z and ATC are included with the docket material associated with this investigation.
The pilot, age 57, held an ATP certificate with single-engine land and multi-engine land airplane ratings. The FAA issued the ATP certificate on August 10, 1992. The pilot also held a certified flight instructor (CFI) certificate with single-engine, multi-engine, and instrument airplane ratings. The pilot renewed the flight instructor certificate on April 28, 2002. FAA records indicated his last airman medical examination was completed on August 29, 2002, when he was issued a second-class medical certificate with the following restriction: "Must wear corrective lenses."
The pilot's current flight logbook was not recovered. The last entry of the most recent logbook was dated July 10, 2002. The pilot had logged 8,783.8 hours, of which 7,995.3 hours were as pilot-in-command. He had flown 7,685.1 hours in single-engine airplanes, 1,095.7 hours in multi-engine airplanes, and 3.0 hours in helicopters. He had logged 605.7 flight hours in actual IMC and 121.9 hours of simulated instrument conditions. He had flown 1,254 instrument approaches. The pilot had logged 1,014.2 flight hours during night conditions.
The logbooks of former students were reviewed to determine the pilot's remaining flight experience. Between July 2002 and the accident date, the pilot had flown 196.3 hours as flight instructor with three students. During this period he accumulated 27.8 hours at night and 23.4 hours in actual IMC. He had flown 80 instrument approaches, of which 25 were completed in actual IMC conditions.
The passenger had been receiving flight instruction, but he did not possess a student pilot certificate or airman medical certificate at the time of the accident. The passenger had accumulated 42.8 hours of flight instruction, according to his flight logbook.
The accident airplane was a 1985 Beech A36 (Bonanza), serial number E-2279. The Bonanza is a low-wing airplane equipped with a retractable tricycle landing gear, electrically actuated wing flaps, and a single reciprocating engine. The fuselage and empennage are of an all-metal semimonocoque construction. The full-cantilever wings are of an all-metal construction. The airplane is equipped with dual controls and two cockpit seats. The airplane can accommodate six occupants and has a certified maximum takeoff weight of 3,650 lbs.
The airplane was issued a standard airworthiness certificate on October 22, 1985, and was certified as a utility category airplane. The accident airplane had accumulated a total flight time of 2,428.2 hours since new.
The last annual inspection was completed on May 15, 2002, and the airplane had accumulated 130.0 hours since the inspection. According to the aircraft maintenance logbooks, all applicable FAA Airworthiness Directives were complied with as of the last annual inspection. The altimeter, static system, automatic pressure altitude reporting equipment and ATC transponder were last tested/certified on October 04, 2001.
The airplane was not equipped with deicing equipment and was not approved for flight into known icing conditions.
The airplane was equipped with an IFR approved King KLN 90B GPS receiver. The GPS receiver was installed on November 19, 1996.
A Skymap IIIC portable GPS receiver was found in the wreckage. The Skymap IIIC incorporates GPS track data on a color cartography display. The Skymap IIIC is not approved for IFR navigation.
The airplane was equipped with a turbo-normalized 300 horsepower Teledyne Continental Motors IO-550-B(1) engine, serial number 297074-R. The IO-550-B(1) is a six-cylinder, 550 cubic inch displacement, fuel injected, horizontally opposed reciprocating engine. The engine was factory rebuilt on May 23, 1998. The engine had a total time of 807.4 hours at the time of the accident. A review of the engine maintenance records found no history of operational problems.
The propeller was a three-bladed McCauley D3A32C409/G82NDA-2, hub serial number 850725. The propeller was overhauled on October 16, 1996, and was installed on the accident engine on October 24, 1996. The propeller had accumulated 1,021.0 hours since the overhaul.
The closest weather reporting station to the accident site was located at the Sparta Community Airport (SAR), about 4.3 nm north of the accident site. The airport was equipped with an Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS). The following weather conditions were reported before and after the accident:
At 2225: Wind 300 degrees true at 4 knots; visibility 2 statute miles (sm) with precipitation; overcast ceiling at 500 feet above ground level (agl); temperature -02 degrees Celsius; dew point -02 degrees Celsius; altimeter setting 29.87 inches-of-mercury.
At 2245: Wind 310 degrees true at 5 knots; visibility 1-3/4 sm with precipitation; overcast ceiling at 500 feet agl; temperature -01 degrees Celsius; dew point -02 degrees Celsius; altimeter setting 29.88 inches-of-mercury.
The National Weather Service (NWS) Area Forecast issued for the accident area expected overcast ceilings between 1,000 and 2,000 feet agl and layered clouds up to 25,000 feet msl, 3 to 5 miles visibility in light freezing rain and moderate snow. An AIRMET for IFR conditions had been issued for occasional ceilings below 1,000 feet agl and visibility below 3 sm with precipitation and mist. An AIRMET for icing conditions had been issued for occasional moderate rime and mixed icing while in clouds and precipitation below 15,000 feet msl.
Several pilot reports (PIREPs) were recorded near the St. Louis metropolitan area between 2000 and 2300 cst. The PIREPs indicated moderate rime and mixed icing between 2,500 and 6,000 feet msl. A PIREP issued at 2229 cst stated that there were numerous moderate icing reports from MD80 and larger aircraft between 2,500 and 3,500 feet msl.
According to data supplied by the U.S. Naval Observatory, the accident occurred at night with no illumination from the moon.
The Sparta Community Airport (SAR) is located near Sparta, Illinois. The airport has two runways: 18/36 (4,001 feet by 60 feet, asphalt) and runway 09/27 (2,450 feet by 135 feet, turf). The general airport elevation is listed as 538 feet msl.
The elevation of the runway 18 threshold is 538 feet msl. Runway 18 is serviced by RNAV/GPS and NDB instrument approaches. The minimum descent altitude (MDA) for the straight-in GPS approach is 940 feet msl and 960 feet for circling approaches. The MDA and circling minimums for the NDB approach are 1,020 feet msl. There are no instrument approaches for runway 36 or runways 09/27.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The National Transportation Safety Board's on-scene investigation began on March 6, 2003.
A GPS receiver was used to identify the position of the initial impact as 38-degrees 04.616-minutes north latitude, 89-degrees 41.575-minutes west longitude. The airplane impacted a small grove of trees before coming to rest atop a prominent hill near Sparta, Illinois. There were several trees with slash marks in their bark and exposed wood. Several severed tree branches were found lying on the ground. A 13-inch diameter tree was found completely severed with a 60-degree angular cut. The wreckage debris field was mapped using a handheld GPS unit. The wreckage debris path was orientated on a north heading. The main wreckage was found 162 feet from the initial impact point. The engine was the furthest item found along the wreckage debris path and was 262 feet from the initial impact point.
Several one to two-inch thick pieces of ice were recovered along the wreckage debris path. A majority of the ice pieces had semicircular shaped edges that were consistent with the shape of a leading edge of an airfoil. The pieces of ice had the appearance of structural rime ice, when compared to descriptions included in FAA publication "Aviation Weather."
No pre-impact anomalies were found with the airframe structure, flight controls, engine, propeller, or accessories.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot on March 6, 2003, at the Wilson Funeral Home, Steeleville, Illinois.
Toxicology samples for the pilot were submitted to the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. A Forensic Toxicology Fatal Accident Report was prepared and the results were as follows:
No carbon monoxide detected in blood.
No cyanide detected in blood.
No ethanol detected in vitreous.
0.444 (ug/mL, ug/g) Norpropoxyphene detected in blood.
7.770 (ug/mL, ug/g) Norpropoxyphene detected in urine.
0.053 (ug/mL, ug/g) Propoxyphene detected in blood.
0.483 (ug/mL, ug/g) Propoxyphene detected in urine.
Propoxyphene is an analgesic drug used to treat pain. Norpropoxyphene is the metabolite of Propoxyphene.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
According to FAA publication "Pilot Guide - Flight in Icing Conditions," a "thin ice accretion on critical surfaces, developing in a matter of minutes, can sometimes have dramatic effects on stall speeds, stability, and control. Wind tunnel testing indicates that if such accretions are particularly rough, they can have more adverse effects than larger accretions that are relatively smooth."
The Beech A36 pilot operating handbook (POH) states that, "Flight into icing conditions is prohibited."
The main wreckage was released to a representative of the owner on March 7, 2003. All retained components were released on September 29, 2003.
Parties to the investigation included the FAA, Raytheon Aircraft Company, and Teledyne Continental Motors.