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On March 16, 2003, at 1601 central standard time, a Cessna 172N, N5315D, piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed when it impacted the ground near Foley, Minnesota. The 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight was on a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan. The pilot and his two passengers were fatally injured. The airplane departed from the Richard I. Bong Airport, Superior, Wisconsin, and was en route to the St. Cloud Regional Airport (STC), St. Cloud, Minnesota. The exact departure time has not been determined. The pilot activated the VFR flight plan in-flight at 1459.
A witness reported seeing the airplane flying in the area prior to the accident. He said that his attention was drawn to the airplane because the engine was "loud." He stated that the airplane was trailing white smoke. He stated that he did not see the airplane for about 1 to 2 minutes and then saw the airplane impact the terrain. He also reported that the weather was cloudy.
Another person who was at the scene when the accident happened reported that the weather condition was cloudy and drizzly. She reported that she did not actually witness the impact.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for single-engine land airplanes. The certificate was issued on December 27, 2002.
A review of pilot's application for his second-class medical certificate and student pilot certificate was conducted. That application, dated September 10, 2001, listed no previously existing medical conditions in the medical history section of the application. The pilot was issued a second-class medical certificate and student pilot certificate on September 10, 2001. The medical certificate listed a limitation that the pilot possess glasses for near/intermediate vision. The pilot listed zero flight time on the application for his medical certificate.
A review of the pilot's airman certification records was conducted. On the application for his private pilot certificate, dated December 26, 2002, the pilot listed 72.0 hours total flight experience, 55.6 hours instruction received, 15.2 hours solo, 10.8 hours cross country instruction received, 5.1 hours solo cross country, 3.4 hours of instrument time, and 3.0 hours of night instruction received. The pilot's application was approved and a temporary airman certificate was issued on December 27, 2002.
Federal Aviation Administration records show that the pilot did not possess an instrument rating. No pilot logbook records were recovered.
The airplane was a 1979 Cessna model 172N, serial number 17272512. The airplane was of all aluminum construction with strut braced wings and seating for four occupants. The airplane had fixed tricycle landing gear.
According to the airframe maintenance records, the most recent annual inspection was performed on September 20, 2002. The airplane had accumulated 8,309.09 hours total time in service at the time of the annual inspection. The records further indicate that a 100-hour inspection was performed on February 19, 2003, at an airframe total time of 8,602.7 hours.
A 160 horsepower Lycoming O-320-H2AD engine, serial number L-3165-76T, powered the airplane. According to the engine maintenance records, the engine was last overhauled on September 19, 2002. At the time of the overhaul the engine had accumulated 5,290.8 total hours time in service. The most recent 100-hour inspection entry indicates that the engine had accumulated 5,584.7 total hours and 293.9 hours since overhaul as of February 19, 2003.
The weather reporting station at STC, located 8 nautical miles and 235 degrees from the accident site, recorded the weather at 1603 as: Wind 200 degrees at 7 knots; Visibility 6 statute miles with mist; Sky condition overcast at 900 feet above ground level (AGL); Temperature 8 degrees Celsius; Dew point 7 degrees Celsius; Altimeter setting 29.59 inches of mercury.
The weather reporting station at the Princeton Municipal Airport, located 13 nautical miles and 107 degrees from the accident site, recorded the weather at 1558 as: Wind 190 degrees at 6 knots; Visibility 7 statute miles; Sky condition clear; Temperature 15 degrees Celsius; Dew point 8 degrees Celsius; Altimeter setting 29.58 inches of mercury.
The weather reporting station at Maple Lake Municipal Airport, located 23 nautical miles and 188 degrees from the accident site, recorded the weather at 1554 as: Wind 240 degrees at 6 knots; Visibility 1 1/4 statute miles with mist; Sky condition overcast at 300 feet AGL; Temperature 7 degrees Celsius; Dew point 6 degrees Celsius; Altimeter setting 29.60 inches of mercury.
About 1430 on the day of the accident, the pilot contacted the Green Bay Automated Flight Service Station and filed a flight plan and received a standard weather briefing. During the conversation, the pilot informed the briefer that he was having a hard time talking and that he was just getting over the flu. The briefer informed the pilot of several locations near the destination with visibilities below 3 miles with mist and fog and broken to overcast ceilings at 100 to 500 feet AGL. The briefer informed the pilot that Maple Lake, Minnesota; Litchfield, Minnesota; and Hutchinson, Minnesota were all experiencing instrument flight rules weather conditions. The briefer also informed the pilot that the terminal area forecast for Saint Cloud called for southwest winds at 7 knots, 4 miles visibility with mist, ceilings 500 feet broken, occasionally one mile visibility with mist, ceilings 500 feet scattered, and 1,200 feet broken. The briefer informed the pilot that, based on the terminal area forecast, VFR flight was not recommended.
About 1455 on the day of the accident, the pilot contacted the Princeton Automated Flight Service Station via his aircraft radio to activate his VFR flight plan. During the communication with the briefer, the pilot was informed of a new AIRMET (Airman's Meteorological Information) for instrument meteorological conditions, that had been issued for the area from Brainerd, Minnesota to 20 nautical miles east-northeast of Minneapolis, Minnesota to 40 nautical miles southeast of Redwood Falls, Minnesota and back to Brainerd. The AIRMET included the destination airport as well as the location of the accident. The briefer informed the pilot that VFR flight was not recommended.
The full transcripts of the communications between the pilot and the Green Bay and Princeton Flight Service Stations are included in the public docket associated with this investigation.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
An on-site examination of the wreckage was begun on March 17, 2003. The airplane impacted into a farm field about 3 miles south of Foley, Minnesota. The coordinates of the accident site were determined to be 45 degrees, 37.364 minutes north latitude, and 93 degrees, 54.455 minutes west longitude. The debris field extended from the initial impact point in a 072-degree magnetic direction for about 250 feet.
All of the airplane flying surfaces and control surfaces were accounted for within the debris field. The wings, upper cabin section, firewall, and engine were separated from the lower cabin and aft fuselage. The lower cabin and aft fuselage remained attached and were located near the initial impact point. The fuselage skins were crushed aft with the right main landing gear resting beneath the right horizontal stabilizer.
The tail surfaces remained attached to the aft fuselage. The tail surfaces were crushed and deformed. The elevator remained attached to the horizontal stabilizer, and the rudder remained attached to the vertical stabilizer. The elevator trim tab actuating rod extension corresponded to a trim tab deflection of about 10 degrees tab up.
The wings remained attached to the upper cabin section of the fuselage. Both wing panels were complete except for their wing tip fairings and ailerons. The ailerons were located within the debris field. Both flaps remained attached to the wings. The flap jackscrew was examined and no threads were exposed. This corresponds to a retracted flap position.
Complete control system continuity could not be verified due to the extent of the damage to the airplane. However, continuity was established from the tail surfaces forward to the cabin area of the airplane. All of the observed control system cable breaks exhibited signatures consistent with overload failure.
Both fuel tanks were ruptured. No fuel was observed on-site. There was no evidence of fire damage noted.
The airplane's engine was examined on-site in a barn adjacent to the field where the accident occurred. The propeller flange remained attached to the crankshaft and was bent aft. The crankshaft was pushed aft. Portions of the crankshaft flange were cut off so that an attempt could be made to rotate the engine. The engine could not be rotated. The valve covers were removed and the valve train examined. No defects were noted. The crankcase was broken in several places. The crankshaft was examined through the breaks in the crankcase and no defects were noted. The top set of spark plugs was examined and no anomalies were detected.
The airplane's propeller exhibited rotational scoring and scuffing on both blades. One blade was gouged on the cambered face. The gouge was about 2 1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide. The blade containing the gouge was bent aft from about 1/2 it's span to the tip with the tip twisted toward low pitch. The opposite blade was bent forward from about 1/2 it's span to the tip.
The gyroscope core from the vacuum operated artificial horizon was examined. The gyroscope core and housing exhibited evidence of rotational scoring.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Benton County Coroner examined the bodies of the occupants subsequent to the accident.
A Final Forensic Toxicology Fatal Accident Report prepared by the Federal Aviation Administration's Toxicology and Accident research Laboratory listed DOXYLAMINE and PSEUDOEPHEDRINE as drugs detected in muscle tissue.
Doxylamine is a sedating over-the-counter antihistamine used in sleep aids and found in some multi-symptom cold preparations.
Pseudoephedrine is an over-the-counter decongestant with a trade name Sudafed found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy preparations.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Two Cessna Product Safety Investigators conducted an informal test flight in an exemplar aircraft to determnine elevator control forces with the elevator trim tab deflected approximately 10 degrees upward. The test was conducted with the engine at approximately 2,400 RPM and at airspeeds from 60 to 110 knots. The following results were found.
Airspeed Control force
60 knots 27 pounds
70 knots 23 pounds
90 knots 19 pounds
110 knots 17 pounds
Additionally, when the engine was set to idle and the control wheel released, the airplane would dive toward the ground and recovery to level flight accomplished at about 140 knots.
The FAA, Cessna Aircraft, and Textron Lycoming were parties to the investigation.
The wreckage was released to a representative of the recovery service on March 20, 2003.