LAX04FA223
LAX04FA223

!! THIS CASE WAS MODIFIED JANUARY 18, 2006!!

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On May 31, 2004, about 0905 mountain standard time, a Boeing B75N1 (Stearman), N48579, impacted the ground while maneuvering about 8 miles north of Falcon Field, Mesa, Arizona. The commercial pilot and one passenger sustained fatal injuries; the airplane was destroyed. The pilot, also the registered owner, was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed. The flight departed Falcon Field at 0854 for the local area personal flight.

According to the pilot's family, the flight was intended to be short in duration and for pleasure. When the pilot and passenger did not return, the family notified authorities.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) interviewed a witness located approximately 1/2-mile from the accident site. The witness stated that the airplane, a biplane, flew overhead and completed a loop. The airplane made an additional pass and then did a barrel roll. It was during this maneuver that the airplane disappeared behind a hill. A few moments later she witnessed a puff of smoke emanating from behind the hill.

An additional witness reported driving down the highway and watching the airplane. It appeared the airplane was in slow flight when it passed over a ridge. The nose pitched up and the airplane stalled. The airplane drifted to the left, the nose dropped, and it entered a "tight" counterclockwise spin until impacting the ground.

Another witness that was driving stated said the "blue plane [was] flying above the mountains, looking like it was just being recreational, turns, loops, etcetera." It spiraled down and then nose-dove into the ground.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed that the pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single and multiengine land, and instrument airplane ratings. He also held flight engineer (turbojet powered) and airframe and powerplant mechanic certificates.

The pilot held a second-class medical certificate issued in January 28, 2004. It had no limitations or waivers. On the pilot's last medical certificate application, he indicated a total pilot time of 800 hours. Forty of his flight hours were accrued within the past 6 months.

Copies of the pilot's logbook were forwarded to the IIC. The logbook indicated that the pilot had a total flight time of 828 hours. Thirty-four of those hours were flown in the past 90 days; 8 of those hours were in the past 30 days. Based on the logbook, the pilot accumulated a total of 41 hours in the accident airplane.

The IIC reviewed the pilot's logbook for evidence of aerobatic training. The logbook did not indicate that the pilot had participated in any training in aerobatics, nor did it indicate that the pilot had performed aerobatic maneuvers during personal flights. A logbook entry (dated March 28, 2004) indicated in the remarks section that "stalls, spins, rolls, t and g [touch and goes]" were performed under the instruction of a certified flight instructor.

The pilot was employed as a flight engineer for a local cargo company. He was to upgraded to a first officer position in August 2004.

According to the pilot's family, he did not perform aerobatic maneuvers in airplanes. The pilot's passenger was neither a rated pilot, nor did he have any experience in general aviation airplanes.

A personal friend/coworker of the pilot was interviewed by the Safety Board IIC. He met the pilot about 7 years ago through their employment, and a friendship was formed immediately due to both of them being mechanics and having a like for antique airplanes.

After the pilot purchased the airplane in Washington state, he mentioned to his friend that he would be flying it to Mesa, Arizona. His friend did not feel that the pilot should fly that extensive of a trip in an airplane with which he was unfamiliar, so he offered to accompany the pilot on the trip. About 1 month prior to the trip, the friend met the pilot in Washington, and offered him dual instruction in the airplane. The pilot had difficulty taking off and landing the airplane. He also showed difficulty in recognizing the onset of a stall. During these flights, the friend demonstrated one spin to the pilot.

The flight from Washington to Mesa took approximately 17 hours. The airplane operated normally and the friend did not recall any mechanical problems with either the airframe controls or the engine. After they arrived in Mesa, the pilot's friend told him that he should receive additional training in the airplane, prior to flying solo. The pilot was in good spirits during the flight and did not report any medical problems.

The pilot's friend felt the witness reports of the pilot doing aerobatics just prior to the accident were inaccurate. The pilot was not the type of pilot that would do something by himself without having done it first.

AIRPLANE INFORMATION

The fabric covered biplane was manufactured in 1942, serial number 75-6929. Based on FAA records, the airplane ownership was transferred to the pilot on March 23, 2004, by the previous owner. The airplane was powered by a seven-cylinder radial Continental engine, model W-670-16. The two-bladed propeller was a Hamilton Standard, serial number 7,442. The last annual inspection was completed on September 24, 2003.

METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS

The closest official weather observation station was Falcon Field, Mesa, which was located 8 miles southwest of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 1,394 feet mean sea level (msl). A routine aviation weather report (METAR) for Falcon Field was issued at 0848. It reported the following conditions: winds variable at 5 knots; visibility 50 miles; temperature 30 degrees Celsius; dew point 1 degree Celsius; altimeter setting 29.93 inHg.

A Safety Board meteorologist reviewed satellite weather data during the accident time. The skies were clear for the duration of the accident date.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office responded to the accident scene. The wreckage site was located in hilly desert terrain at the following approximate global positioning satellite coordinates: 33 degrees 34 minutes 4 seconds north latitude by 111 degrees 39 minutes 11 seconds west longitude. The elevation was about 1,580 feet msl. The airplane came to rest in a south-southwesterly direction on terrain that sloped downward approximately 20 degrees. There was no evidence of a ground scar in any location other then below and within a few yards of the wreckage. Soil and vegetation circumferentially located around the wreckage appeared undisturbed. The airplane was consumed in a post impact fire.

Aerial views of the wreckage showed a skeletal outline of the wing structures, fuselage structure, and empennage section. The outline of the wings on the left side appeared to be forward of the outline of the right wings. The empennage was marginally offset to the right. The wooden spar and rib structure was evident through portions of wood and ash. The engine appeared inline with the framework of the fuselage.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office completed autopsies on the pilot and passenger. The causes of death were determined to have resulted from injuries sustained in the airplane accident. The autopsy for the pilot indicated that no soot was identified in the trachea or bronchi, and that there was an 80 to 90 percent occlusion of the lumen of the proximal left anterior descending coronary artery. No soot was identified in the trachea or bronchi of the passenger.

The FAA Toxicology and Research Laboratory performed toxicological testing of specimens of the pilot and passenger. The results of the analysis for the passenger were negative for all tested drugs. The results of analysis of the specimens for the pilot were positive for the following:

30 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ACETONE detected in Urine
4 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ACETONE detected in Muscle
3 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ACETONE detected in Brain

The Safety Board medical officer prepared a factual report consisting of extracted information from the pilot's autopsy report, airman medical records, and private medical records. The records indicated that, approximately 3 years prior to the accident, the pilot had complained to his personal physicians of symptoms of tingling and numbness in his feet, dizziness, and low energy, and had been diagnosed with type II diabetes. He had been treated with diet modification and oral medication, though his blood glucose was well above reference values while under treatment. There were no indications that he had visited a physician more recently than 18 months prior to the accident, at which time he was given a one-month supply of medication with 6 refills. The pilot had indicated no medical conditions or medications on his most recent application for 2nd class airman medical certificate, performed approximately 4 months prior to the accident; no glucose or albumin was noted in the urine on the examination performed in conjunction with that application.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

On June 4, 2004, the IIC examined the wreckage at Air Transport, Phoenix, Arizona. The entire airplane was consumed in a post impact fire. The majority of the wreckage was made up of the steel tubular framework of the fuselage. The remainder, which included the wing sections, was fragmented. The fuselage frame was intact and the forward portion was bent upward approximately 30 degrees and to the left.

The fabric covering on the empennage was entirely burned away. All that remained was the steel framework of the vertical and horizontal stabilizers. The empennage did not sustain noticeable impact damage.

The elevator is operated through a control tube that runs through an intermediate sector arm, then to the rear and forward control sticks. An 8-inch section of the control tube, 5 inches aft of the intermediate sector arm, was missing. The ends of the remaining fore and aft portions, aft of the intermediate sector arm, appeared melted. A control stick attachment was also identified.

The rudder was connected to the left rudder cable, which ran from the rudder to the area of the left rudder pedal. The right rudder cable ran from the rudder control surface to the area of the right rudder pedal.

The wings were destroyed in the post impact fire and were identifiable by portions of the ailerons and wing-strut assemblies. By design, the ailerons are located on the lower wings and controlled through a series of tubes and bellcranks. A bellcrank, the outermost aileron attachment, followed by the idler assembly, and an intermediate aileron attachment were located on a portion of the right aileron. A section of the left aileron was recovered.

The landing lights, which were installed on the lower wings, were found unbroken within the wreckage. A wooden wing tip with a green light was found burned, but intact.

Three fuel screens were located within the wreckage. Two finger screens which had been installed within the fuel tank and one in the fuel sump. None contained debris.

The heading indicator indicated a heading of 225 degrees.

The engine sustained impact and fire damage. The forward exterior of the engine was sooty. The left side was crushed and one of the cylinder valves was exposed. The engine accessories sustained thermal damage. The oil filter was removed; the screen was sooty, but did not contain debris. The exhaust stack was free of debris and obstructions. The forward spark plugs were removed. They were sooty and the electrodes had an elliptical shape. The gaps were all similar.

The two propeller blades remained attached to the propeller hub. Blade A was bent forward at its tip and the leading edge had a wavelike appearance. Blade B displayed leading edge gouging and had chordwise striations on its concave side. Compression buckling was present along the trailing edge with S-bending.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The IIC released the wreckage to the owner's representative on June 17, 2004.

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