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On March 3, 2003, about 0910 Pacific standard time, an Aero Commander 690A, N132JH, veered off the runway surface and encountered an irrigation ditch while on the departure roll from a private runway in Tracy, California. The pilot/owner was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The private pilot sustained serious injuries; the airline transport pilot rated check pilot in the front seat, and two passengers in the back were not injured. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The business cross-country flight was originating with a planned destination of Lakeport, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan had not been filed.
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector visited the accident site and interviewed both pilots on several different occasions. While at the site, the check pilot reported that when the pilot applied power to both engines, the left engine produced more power as the airplane accelerated down the runway. The airplane veered to the right of the runway center, and the pilot was unable to maintain control. The right main landing gear departed the runway surface, and the airplane continued into an irrigation ditch.
While at the accident site, the FAA inspector documented the new asphalt runway to stretch 40 feet wide, with an irrigation ditch running parallel along the right side. After examining the runway surface he did not see any evidence of attempted braking (via tread marks). He noted that the tire imprints in the dirt surface adjoining the runway were even. The right tire track continued in the dirt until reaching a 4- to 5-foot hole, where the right gear collapsed, and the right wing stuck the ground.
The inspector stated that while at the accident site, he noted that the rudder lock was affixed to the tail and fuselage in the secured position. He noted that the position of the tail was situated in such a high attitude that the installation of the rudder lock would necessitate the use of a ladder. He did not observe any foot prints or unusual markings in the soft dirt below the tail. The passenger, who is also the pilot's son, stated that he installed the rudder lock after the accident in an effort to prevent the wind from causing more damage to the airplane.
In a following interview with the FAA inspector 1 month after the accident, the check pilot stated that that he did not complete a preflight inspection of the airplane prior to takeoff, but he did install the rudder lock after the accident. He added that the purpose of him accompanying the pilot on the flight was because the pilot needed more training operating the throttle controls.
During a telephone conversation with a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, the check pilot reported that his employer had assigned him to fly with the pilot, who needed to gain enough flight time for insurance requirements. He had flown with the pilot about 20 hours in the accident airplane, over the course of about 10 days. Prior to the accident flight, the pilot performed a preflight inspection and the check pilot conducted a quick walk around visual examination of the airplane. The check pilot opined that the loss of control was the result of the runway being too narrow for the pilot's limited familiarity with the airplane. He added that there were no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane.
A review of FAA airman records revealed that the pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplane. The pilot held a third-class medical certificate issued on July 25, 2002, with a restriction that he must wear corrective lenses. At the time of the medical examination, the pilot reported a total flight time of 4, 890 hours.
A review of the pilot's most recent personal flight record books covering the period from July 8, 1999, to March 2, 2003, disclosed that he had 33.2 hours in an Aero Commander 690A, all of which were accumulated in the accident airplane during the 10-day period prior to the accident. One of the pilot's logbooks indicated that he had accumulated over 2,300 hours total time in multiengine airplanes.
The check pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine and multiengine land. Additionally, he held a certified flight instructor certificate for airplane single engine land. In a form submitted to the FAA, he indicated that he had a total flight time of 2,600 hours, of which 400 were in the same make and model as the accident airplane, and 1,500 were accumulated in a multiengine airplane.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Mechanics replaced the airplane's right engine and ferried the airplane to a maintenance facility in Oregon. The maintenance manager at that facility reported to a Safety Board investigator that the right engine had incurred severe damage from the sudden stoppage of the propeller and was unable to be tested. Mechanics bench tested the fuel control unit, and found no defects or anomalies.
According to the Commander 690A flight manual systems description, the nose wheel steering is hydraulically actuated by light toe pressure on the brake pedals in the desired direction of turn, and heavier pressure will apply the brake on that side as well as turn the nose wheel.