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On May 21, 2004, about 2100 Alaska daylight time, a float-equipped Piper PA-18-150 airplane, N4319Z, sustained substantial damage during a collision with terrain following an in-flight loss of control 10 miles northwest of Cold Bay, Alaska. The airplane was being operated by the pilot as a visual flight rules (VFR) business flight under Title 14, CFR Part 91, when the accident occurred. The airline transport pilot received serious injuries, and the sole passenger received fatal injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and company flight following procedures were in effect. The flight originated at an un-named float pond, about 45 miles northwest of Cold Bay.
During a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC) on May 22, a co-worker of the pilot said he had helped the pilot fuel the accident airplane at Blinn Lake, about 7 miles north of their lodge at Cold Bay. He said about 1800, the pilot took off en route to an un-named float pond near a hunting camp to retrieve a guide and equipment. The co-worker said when the airplane did not return by 2200, he reported the airplane missing. He said the wreckage of the airplane was located about 10 miles from the lodge, near Blinn Lake. He said when he got to the airplane the pilot was conscious, but not coherent. He said the pilot, the guide, and the equipment from the hunting camp were in the airplane, and the airplane was heavily damaged by impact with the ground.
The airplane was recovered, and stored in a container in a storage yard in Cold Bay.
During the recovery process, at the request of the NTSB IIC, the airplane was examined by an FAA certified aircraft mechanic. According to the mechanic's notes, the right wing fuel tank was selected, and fuel was found in both wing tanks, the header tank, and the gascolator. The throttle was in the full power position
In a statement written to the NTSB IIC by the pilot, and received February 25, 2005, the pilot wrote that initially he did not remember his actions at the float pond, but then wrote that he attempted to pump the floats in strong winds with the rudders bumping against the shore prior to departing on the return trip to Blinn Lake. He stated he was about 400 feet agl in a shallow descent toward Blinn Lake, when he had a "sudden engine failure." He reported he had no recollection of the accident after that point.
INJURY TO PERSONS
The pilot received serious injuries, and the passenger received fatal injuries.
DAMAGE TO AIRCRAFT
The airplane sustained substantial structural damage.
According to FAA documents and information provided by the pilot, the pilot held an airline transport certificate and a flight instructor's certificate. He had accumulated 4,850 total hours of flying experience, and held ratings for single-engine land, single-engine sea, multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. He also held a flight instructor certificate valid for airplane single-engine, airplane multi-engine, ground, and instrument airplane instruction.
The airplane was a model year 1968 Piper PA-18-150 on floats. Despite repeated requests, the operator was unable to locate the airplane logbooks, and no logbook information or proof of annual inspection was provided.
The closest official weather reporting station to the accident site is in Cold Bay, about 10 miles east of the accident site. The Cold Bay (PACD) 2053 METAR reported: winds, 160 degrees true at 15 knots, visibility, 10 miles, ceiling, overcast at 2,100 msl, and an altimeter setting of 30.14. The temperature and dew point were reported as 9 degrees C, and 7 degrees C, respectively. The pilot reported the ceiling was broken in the area of the accident.
AIDS TO NAVIGATION
There were no aids to navigation involved in the accident.
There were no communications with the accident airplane.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The site of the accident was visited by the IIC and a FAA inspector on July 20. The site was on a rolling, tundra-covered coastal plain, which varied in elevation from sea level, to about 100 feet msl. There were no trees, and no brush taller than 18 inches. Blinn Lake, where the accident airplane intended to land, is also surrounded by low, rolling, tundra-covered hills.
During an inspection of the wreckage by the IIC at a storage yard in Cold Bay on July 20, photographs of the wreckage taken at the accident site were provided by emergency responders who recovered the pilot and passenger.
The photographs disclosed that the wings were bent downward symmetrically from the longitudinal centerline of the fuselage until they touched the ground near their wingtips. The tail section is bent 20-30 degrees to the left, aft of the cabin. The rudder appears undamaged, and the horizontal stabilizer is parallel to the ground, and also appears to be undamaged. The floats are spread apart, and impacted the bottom of the wings. One blade of the propeller is sticking vertically out of the ground, and had chord-wise scratches the entire span of the blade. The right and left wing's leading edges were essentially straight, and the fuselage/empennage aft of the cabin had minimal damage. The floats were displaced aft about 24 inches. The photographs indicated the wings had collapsed, taking the shape of the terrain underneath. Other than the leading edge damage inflicted by impact with the floats, there was only slight damage. There were no ground scars indicating forward motion, and dirt spray forward was minimal.
During the examination of the airplane at the storage yard by the IIC and an FAA inspector, control continuity was established for all flight control surfaces. Both propeller blades exhibited chord-wise scratching, and leading edge gouging. The upper set of sparkplugs that were removed from the airplane's engine were clean and dry, and thumb compression was established on all 4 cylinders. The engine exhaust manifolds exhibited sharp creases and bending without cracking at the folds. The throttle was full forward, mixture full rich, carburetor heat cold, and the engine primer in and locked. The magneto selector was in the "both" position. The airplane's flap handle was mechanically captured in the flaps extended position, and the elevator trim was set in the forward position. The floats, forward fuselage, and nose-bowl exhibited crush-lines diverging upward 25-35 degrees from the longitudinal axis of the airplane. The inspection disclosed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical anomalies with the engine or airframe.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
No autopsy was performed on the passenger.