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On March 25, 2004, at 0728 mountain standard time, a Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-17, N508M, piloted by an airline transport certificated pilot, was destroyed when it departed controlled flight and subsequently impacted terrain 18 miles north-northwest of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was being conducted under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91. An instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was on file and activated. The pilot was fatally injured. The cross-country flight originated at Roswell Industrial Airport (ROW), Roswell, New Mexico, at 0659, and was en route to the Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (DVT), Phoenix, Arizona.
At 0645, the pilot contacted the ROW Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) by telephone. He was issued an IFR clearance to DVT. At 0653, the pilot contacted the ROW ground controller and was issued taxi instructions to runway 21. At 0658, the pilot contacted the local controller and was issued takeoff clearance and departure instructions. At 0703, the pilot was handed off to Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZAB).
The pilot checked in with ZAB and reported passing 11,000 feet for 17,000 feet. The ZAB controller advised the pilot to expect a higher altitude when he is clear of traffic at flight level (FL) 180. The pilot acknowledged and then asked if he was cleared direct to the Truth or Consequences VORTAC (TCS). The controller instructed the pilot to join Jet Route 85 (J85).
At 0704:13, the pilot requested a vector and informed the controller that he was not receiving TCS or the Chisum VORTAC. The controller instructed the pilot to fly his present heading. The controller then informed the pilot that he was not receiving his altitude readout and asks if he is at 17,000 feet. The pilot responded that he was climbing though 14,000 feet.
At 0705:40, the ZAB controller told the pilot to turn two degrees to the right and to proceed direct TCS when able. The controller also instructed the pilot to climb and maintain FL310.
At 0711:57, the ZAB controller instructed the pilot to climb and maintain FL350 and to change radio frequencies. The pilot acknowledged and read back the clearance and frequency change.
At 0713:05, the pilot checked in with the new ZAB sector controller and reported he was climbing through FL280. The controller advised the pilot that he was not receiving the airplane's altitude readout. The controller instructed the pilot to report reaching FL350. The pilot acknowledged.
At 0716:29, ZAB radar showed the airplane passing through 30,000 feet mean sea level (msl). At the same time, the airplane's transponder Mode C altitude reporting showed the airplane begin a gradual descent.
At 0720:35, the pilot reported he was level at FL350.
At 0720:53, ZAB radar showed the airplane level at approximately 37,000 feet msl. The airplane's Mode C altitude reporting showed the airplane level at 26,200 feet msl.
At 0724:56, the controller told the pilot to expect an amendment to his routing. The controller then told the pilot to fly direct to the San Simone VORTAC and then the SUNSS FIVE arrival into DVT.
At 0726:01, the pilot stated, "An uh - - - five zero mike uh I'm probably gonna need to declare an emergency at this time. I've got a uh right drop tank that appears not to be transferring." The controller asked the pilot where he wanted to proceed. The pilot responded, "Truth or Consequences uh direct Deer Valley." The controller then told the pilot that he was cleared as requested and asked, "... and you say you are declaring an emergency?" The pilot responded, "Affirmative."
At 0726:27, the controller said, "Okay and uh you came through a little broken, say again the nature of the emergency." The pilot responded, "Fuel transfer."
At 0727:22, the controller said, "Five zero eight mike contact Albuquerque center one three three point zero or two eight one point five." The pilot responded, "One three three point zero, five zero eight mike."
At 0727:35, the airplane's Mode C altitude reporting was 26, 800 feet msl and an airspeed of 391 knots.
At 0728:04, ZAB radar contact with the airplane was lost. At the time contact was lost, the airplane was at 33 degrees, 21.30 minutes north latitude, 107 degrees, 16.86 minutes west longitude at an altitude of 27,600 feet msl and an airspeed of 317 knots. Just before contact was lost, the airplane showed an approximate gain in altitude of 800 feet. Following the loss of radar contact with the airplane, ZAB radar began tracking several secondary targets that fanned out to the northwest and east of the airplane's last recorded position.
At 0729:24, the controller asked another sector controller, "... reference that five zero eight mike, uh did we have an intermittent transponder?" The other controller said he did not.
At 0729:28, the ZAB controller stated that he lost the airplane's transponder.
At 0730:15 on, ZAB controllers tried to raise the pilot on several different radio frequencies. They received no response.
Search and rescue was initiated by ZAB. An alert notification was issued for the missing airplane.
New Mexico State Police Search and Rescue teams located the airplane's impact crater and wreckage on March 27, 2004, at approximately 0930. The accident site was located approximately 3.5 nautical miles northwest of the last radar return.
The pilot, age 50, held an airline transport pilot certificate with single-engine, multi-engine, and instrument airplane ratings. The pilot also held a flight engineer certificate.
The pilot had a first class medical, dated September 27, 2003. The medical certificate cited the limitation that the pilot must wear corrective lenses. According to the pilot's aeromedical records, at the time of his most recent flight physical examination, the pilot reported having 5,950 hours total civilian flying time and 400 hours of flying time within the previous 6 months.
In a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Louisville, Kentucky, Flight Standards District Office, dated October 16, 2000, requesting a Letter of Authorization in the MiG-17, the pilot reported having 2,649 additional flying hours, from his service with the United States Marine Corps. In the letter he cited having 8,569 hours total flying hours.
The pilot was issued a Letter of Authorization (LOA) to act as pilot-in-command (PIC) in the MiG-17 on October 19, 2000.
FAA airman records showed that the pilot applied for renewal of his LOA on November 26, 2003. The pilot reported having 13,000 total flying hours. A letter from the Kentucky, Flight Standards District Office, dated December 1, 2003 renewed the pilot's authorization to act as PIC in the MiG-17 through December 31, 2005.
The airplane, serial number 1J0508, was registered as a 1963 Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-17. The airplane was manufactured in Poland in 1963 as a PZL-WSK LiM-6 BIS for the Polish Air Force as an air-to-air fighter and interceptor airplane.
The airplane, at the time of the accident, was registered to G Max, Incorporated, Louisville, Kentucky. The airplane was owned and operated by the pilot for use as a flying exhibition airplane for airshows.
The airplane was purchased by Phoenix Warbirds, Incorporated, from a company in Poland in July 1993, and shipped to the United States the same year, where it was reassembled. The airplane was stored at Coolidge, Arizona, until it was purchased by a private owner in November 1996. The airplane was registered in the "Experimental" category as N508M on February 1, 2001.
According to an airframe and powerplants (A&P) mechanic who had previously worked on the airplane, the airplane underwent an annual condition inspection in March 2003.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located in desert terrain at 33 degrees, 19.22 minutes north latitude, and 107 degrees, 23.51 minutes west longitude.
The majority of the airplane's main wreckage was located in an impact crater, which was approximately 30 feet in diameter and approximately 8 feet in depth.
A debris field preceded the crater for approximately 1,800 feet. The debris field was oriented along an approximate magnetic heading of 280 degrees. Within the debris field were fragmented pieces of airplane structure and numerous airplane components to include the engine axial compressor, the engine burner section, pieces of the nose wheel strut and tire, and pieces of the main landing gear struts and tires. Additional items found within the debris field were cockpit instruments, and pieces of the pilot's parachute harness, pack, and parachute canopy. The components located that were associated with the cockpit area showed melting, charring, and consumption. A second debris field extended beyond the crater for approximately 300 feet. Within this debris field were small pieces of metal, body fuel tank pieces, and engine components.
Preceding the accident site by approximately 1/2 mile were the two underwing drop tanks. The tanks rested approximately 50 feet apart and on a line perpendicular to the 280-degree heading on which the debris field was oriented. The front portions of the tanks were crushed aft and fragmented. The aft portions of the tanks to include the fins were intact. All of the tank fragments rested within an area 100 feet wide and 300 feet long. An examination of the remaining tank pylons showed fractures consistent with aft tearing due to overload. An examination of the aft portion of one tank showed a 14-inch long, 2-inch wide fracture, forward of the fins and above and inboard of the fuel tank centerline. A fuel line beneath the fracture showed a 1-inch wide inward dent.
According to state police officers at the scene, the impact crater and surrounding area showed little evidence of a sustained post-impact fire. A few sage bushes showed some charring. The smell of jet fuel was still prevalent on their arrival. Several airplane components recovered from the crater and the surrounding area showed little evidence of being exposed to fire. These components included parts of the nose landing gear and tire, parts of the two main landing gear and respective tires, parts from the engine to include the axial compressor, turbine disc, and burner can, and a portion of the number 2 main tank fuel bladder.
Other components recovered showed severe fire damage. These components included red-painted metal skin pieces from the airplane's fuselage, pieces of the seat, and several pieces of the pilot's parachute pack and harness. The seat and parachute were shredded, charred and fuel soaked. An 18-inch wide by 22 inch long piece of parachute pack showed charred and melted nylon from the parachute canopy and lines, and melted nylon globules. Small rocks and debris from the ground were embedded in the plastic. These particles showed no evidence of exposure to fire. Metal pieces from the fuselage showed blistering in the paint and soot across the surfaces. Pieces of the parachute pack, parachute canopy, seat, and fuselage were retained for further examination.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An examination of the pilot's remains was conducted at Albuquerque, New Mexico, on March 29, 2004, by the Office of the Medical Investigator. According to the report, the pilot sustained multiple blunt force injuries. No specimens were available for FAA toxicology testing.
A forensic anthropologist for the Office of the Medical Investigator stated it was possible that the pilot's remains sustained thermal damage in addition to the blunt force trauma.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The airport manager at ROW said that the pilot and a friend flew into ROW, where the airplane was hangered, the day before the accident. Shortly after their arrival, the pilot, his friend, and one of the airport's line service men put the two underwing fuel tanks on. Later that day, the pilot had the airplane's fuel tanks topped off. The pilot approached the airport manager and asked him if he had any IFR charts, that he wanted to fly across a restricted area. When asked why, the pilot said because he barely had enough fuel to make the trip to DVT. Because it was nearly dark, the airport manager convinced the pilot to stay overnight and fly out the next morning. Neither the pilot, his friend, nor the airport line service man were mechanics.
The airport manager said the airplane had been based at ROW since October 2003. He said that the pilot did not fly the airplane often, "maybe 2 or 3 times." The airport manager said that when the pilot flew the airplane, he stayed close to the airport.
An A&P mechanic who worked on the airplane said about a year prior, they changed the hot section of the engine. The airplane's turbine section had sustained "stone damage" prompting the hot section change out. The mechanic said that after they did the work, they ran the engine with the canopy closed. The engine ran fine. He said that he had not seen the airplane since; however, it was scheduled for work at his facility beginning March 29, 2004.
On September 2, 2004, the retained fire damaged pieces were examined at the NTSB Central Mountain Region, Denver, Colorado. Present for the examination were investigators from the City and County of Denver, Department of Fire, Fire Investigation Division. On conclusion of the examination, it was determined that the parts in question were subject to a fire of very short duration and low temperature, most consistent with a flash fire like that which could occur at impact with the ground.
A party to the investigation was the FAA Flight Standards District Office, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The airplane wreckage was released to the New Mexico State Police.