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On March 18, 2003, about 1755 eastern standard time, a Champion Aeronca 7BCM, N2517E, registered to an individual, impacted with the terrain while maneuvering near Pahokee, Florida. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time. No flight plan was filed. The other work use flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. The airplane was destroyed. The airline transport pilot was fatally injured. The flight had originated from the Belle Glade Airport, Florida, at 1700.
According to two witnesses to the accident, the airplane was flying over a sugar cane field for the purpose of chasing birds. The witnesses said the airplane had made a low pass over the field to the west then started a steep climbing turn to the northwest (right). According to one witness, "...as he was about to turn back into the field it was obvious he was in trouble (did not have enough room to recover) not sure if engine quit or he killed the power to recover." The witness said he saw the airplane "stall" and impact the ground. The other witness reported that the airplane was turning, "did not pull up" and hit the ground "at about 30 degrees from vertical." The witnesses indicated that the wind was from the west, and the airplane was turning from upwind to downwind when the accident occurred.
In a written statement, the owner of the airplane reported that the airplane was doing "agricultural work" about 10 miles north-northwest of the Belle Glade Airport. The owner wrote that "two eye-witnesses at the crash site said the aircraft had been working for about 45 min. The eye-witnesses reported that the aircraft was making a max performance turn when they both noticed an audible loss of engine power, and the aircraft appeared to stall from an altitude of about 150 feet."
The pilot held an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate with a multiengine land rating and commercial privileges in single engine land airplanes. He was type rated at the ATP level in the Convair 240, Convair 340, Convair 440, and at the commercial level in the North America Sabreliner (N-265). His most recent medical certificate was a third class medical issued on November 21, 1997, with no limitations. This medical certificate expired on November 30, 1999.
According to the owner of the airplane, the pilot had accumulated a total flight time of 8,000 hours, of which 500 hours were in the accident airplane make and model. The pilot's flight logbook was not located during the investigation.
The owner of the airplane provided copies of the last two completed pages in both the airframe and engine logbooks. The two airframe logbook pages contained three entries. The first entry indicated that the airplane's most recent annual inspection was completed on August 5, 2001. The entry for the annual inspection did not list a tach time or total time. The second entry, dated Nov. 2001, stated that at tach time 2575.0, the engine was removed "due to cyl[inder] failure and metal contamination." The third entry in the airframe logbook, dated Feb. 9, 2002, stated that a Continental A-65-8 engine, S/N 024795, was installed "after IRAN and top end major."
The two engine logbook pages contained two entries. The first entry indicated that the engine received an "annual" inspection on August 5, 2001. The next entry was dated March 25, 2003, (7 days after the accident). This entry stated the following: "Changed all eight spark plugs. Installed 8 new Unison UREM40E plugs. Removed old unshielded ignition harness and installed new shielded harness P/N C1-8AS-SFV. Removed rt. mag, S/N 156966 and installed serviceable mag S/N 83419, Bendix SF4RN8. Engine ground checked OK. Flight check satisfactory."
The FAA inspector who participated in this accident investigation conducted a telephone interview of the mechanic who signed the last entry in the engine logbook. Additionally, a written statement was obtained from the mechanic. During the phone interview and in the written statement, the mechanic reported that he replaced the spark plugs and ignition wires at the pilot's request in order to repair a "significant [rpm] drop on the right magneto." Replacing the plugs and wires did not solve the problem. The mechanic then replaced the right magneto with a serviceable magneto and performed a ground run-up with satisfactory results. This work was done on March 15, 2003. The mechanic called the pilot and informed him of the results and asked him to perform a flight check. According to the mechanic, the pilot called him later that evening and "said everything was operating normal after a 30 min flight. An agreement was made to do a log entry the next weekend due to conflicting schedules."
At 1753, the reported weather conditions at West Palm Beach, Florida, located approximately 30 nautical miles east of the accident site, were wind from 310 at 12 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, sky conditions: few clouds at 600 feet agl, broken clouds at 3,500 feet, broken clouds at 10,000 feet, temperature 23 degrees C, dewpoint 22 degrees C, and altimeter 29.69 inches.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane came to rest in the sugar cane field upright in a nose down attitude. Both main landing gear were bent aft, and the engine and forward section of the fuselage were resting on the ground. The left wing was separated from the fuselage at the wing root and swept forward; the left lift strut remained attached to the fuselage and the wing. The right wing remained attached to the fuselage at the wing root, and the right lift strut remained attached to the fuselage and the wing. The outboard 2 to 3 feet of the right wing leading edge were crushed aft. The empennage was intact and displayed no evidence of impact damage. All control surfaces remained attached to their respective attach points.
The engine remained attached to the airframe, and the propeller remained attached to the crankshaft. One propeller blade was partially buried in the ground. The other propeller blade was bowed slightly aft and displayed minor leading edge scuffing and scratching. During salvage operations, the spark plugs and valve covers were removed and piston and valve movement were verified by hand rotation of the propeller. The fuel tank was found to be approximately 1/2 full.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The pilot was transported to St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach where he passed away approximately 4 hours after the accident. An autopsy was performed at the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office on March 19, 2003. Toxicology testing by the FAA's Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory detected no carbon monoxide, cyanide or ethanol in blood. The tests detected ephedrine in blood and liver, and lidocaine in kidney and blood (6.51 ug/ml).
The wreckage was released to a representative of the owner on March 19, 2003.