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On March 14, 2003, about 1250 eastern standard time, a Cessna 177, N3275T, registered to and operated by the private pilot, collided into mountainous terrain in Old Fort, North Carolina. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 with no flight plan filed. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed. The pilot and two passengers received fatal injuries, and the airplane was destroyed. The flight departed Asheville Regional Airport, Asheville, North Carolina, at 1233 on March 14, 2003.
The flight was en route to Rowan County Airport, Salisbury, North Carolina. A review of audio air traffic control records revealed the pilot contacted an Asheville ground controller about 1224 and stated he intended to fly at 4,500 feet [mean sea level] and he received Alpha, the current Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) report. The pilot told the ground controller his approximate on-course heading would be due east, "but I want to be sure that I don't get into the clouds going over the mountains." The controller stated, "if you need to deviate around weather or something, just let me or departure know." The pilot acknowledged, and the controller stated, "[ATIS] Alpha is showing that the cloud layer is two-thousand-five-hundred overcast now. It's been lowering a little bit all day." The pilot replied, "Yeah, I was aware of that." At 1233, the flight was cleared for takeoff.
Once airborne, the pilot contacted the radar east controller, and the flight was cleared to turn left on course. The pilot stated, "if the clouds come down a bit, I may want to do some scud-running ... I may want to go up along the expressway to Asheville and over by interstate forty." The controller cleared the flight to maneuver as necessary, and the pilot replied, "I'm gonna try and climb out and see what it's like up here."
About 1241, the controller advised the pilot, "you're eight miles northeast of the Asheville airport, radar contact is lost. You can squawk VFR, frequency change approved." The pilot stated, "thank you very much. We're following interstate forty ... ." The controller provided the frequency for Atlanta Center, and no further radio or radar contact was made with the flight. After the airplane was reported overdue, an air and ground search was initiated. On March 15, 2003, about 0800, an air search party located the wreckage in a heavily wooded area near the top of Kitsuma Peak in the Pisgah National Forest, 18 nautical miles east of Asheville Regional Airport.
The pilot held a private certificate for airplane single-engine land issued on December 29, 2000. He held a third class medical certificate dated February 18, 2002, with the restriction, "must wear lenses for distant - possess glasses for near vision." A review of the pilot's logbook revealed he completed a biennial flight review on January 25, 2003. The pilot logged 534 hours total time with 294 hours in the Cessna 177. The pilot logged 2.7 hours actual instrument time during one flight with an instructor on October 4, 2002, and he logged a total of 44.3 hours simulated instrument time.
The Cessna 177 was manufactured in 1967 and was powered by a Lycoming O-360-A1A, 180 hp engine. The airplane's maintenance logbooks were not recovered for examination. A review of records on file at a maintenance facility revealed an annual inspection was completed on March 15, 2002, at an airframe total time of 3111.4 hours, an engine total time of 460.9 hours, and a tachometer time of 88.9. A maintenance record for a wing skin repair dated February 11, 2003, recorded a tachometer time of 246.16.
The airplane was fueled with 14.7 gallons avgas 100LL on March 13, 2003.
At 1154, the Asheville Regional Airport Automated Surface Observation System, reported winds from 130 degrees at 7 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, ceilings overcast 2,500 feet above ground level, temperature 11 degrees centigrade, dew point 7 degrees centigrade, altimeter setting 30.21 inches. At 1245, the station reported winds from 110 degrees at 5 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, ceilings overcast 1,700 feet above ground level, temperature 11 degrees centigrade, dew point 7 degrees centigrade, altimeter setting 30.20 inches.
A local firefighter who was traveling on Interstate 40 near the accident site about the time of the accident reported the mountain tops were obscured by low clouds.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage was found at an elevation of 2,860 feet. It was located 850 feet north of Interstate 40, which had an elevation of approximately 2,600 feet. Wreckage debris was scattered approximately 50 feet along a 340 degree magnetic heading. The fuselage was found on the north side of a fresh ground crater approximately 12 feet long, eight feet wide, and three feet deep.
Examination of the airframe revealed the forward fuselage displayed crush deformation, and the cabin and empennage were buckled near the aft window. The outboard portion of the left wing was separated and crushed aft. The outboard four feet of the right wing and aileron were found separated and lodged in a tree 25 feet above the ground. The stabilator, vertical stabilizer, and rudder were attached. Examination revealed no evidence of airframe malfunction.
Examination of the engine revealed the engine mounts and firewall displayed crush deformation, and the engine was partially separated. The No. 2 cylinder was separated, and the No. 4 cylinder was partially separated from the case. The carburetor was separated, and the intake air box was crushed. The left magneto was damaged and separated, and the right magneto was damaged. Both magnetos produced ignition sparks from all leads at the cap when the drive coupling was rotated by hand. Examination revealed no evidence of engine or component malfunction.
The propeller was found separated with the engine crankshaft flange separated and attached to the propeller hub. Both propeller blades displayed twist deformation and chordwise scratches. The propeller blade tips were separated. A tree approximately 10 inches in diameter displayed a fresh diagonal slash approximately four inches deep. The tree was severed and broken completely at the slash area.
Examination of the vacuum pump revealed scoring around the circumference of the vanes. The attitude indicator and the directional gyro were crush damaged, and disassembly revealed scoring around the circumference of the rotor of each instrument. The altimeter was found damaged with the glass broken, and the Kollsman window was set to 30.20 inches.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Department of Pathology, North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The report listed the cause of death as, "blunt force injuries."
Forensic toxicology was performed on specimens from the pilot by the Federal Aviation Administration, Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The report stated no carbon monoxide nor cyanide were detected in the blood, no drugs were detected in the liver, and no ethanol was detected in the heart. According to the report, 21 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ethanol was detected in the muscle, and "the ethanol found in this case is from postmortem ethanol formation and not from the ingestion of ethanol."
According to a certified flight instructor who facilitated a Cessna Cardinal ground and flight training program at Rowan County Airport, the pilot was scheduled to participate in a program at 1300 on the day of the accident. The flight instructor stated he received a voice mail message from the pilot around 1200 in which the pilot stated he was running late, and, at 1222, the flight instructor received a voice mail message from the pilot stating he was on the taxiway [at Asheville Regional Airport] preparing to depart.
One passenger was the pilot's daughter, an author, whom the pilot had been flying to the locations on a book tour to promote her new novel. On March 13, 2003, the passenger made a scheduled appearance at 1900 in Asheville, North Carolina. According to a published tour schedule, the next scheduled appearance was for March 15, 2003, at 1100 in Pittsboro, North Carolina.
The weight of the baggage recovered from the airplane was 268 pounds. The weight of the pilot was reported by the medical examiner as 216 pounds, and the weights of the two passengers was not determined. The fueling of the airplane on March 13, 2003, was a top-off. The weight and balance record for the airplane was not recovered for examination.
The wreckage was released to Atlanta Air Recovery, Griffin, Georgia, on March 1, 2004.