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On June 12, 2004, approximately 1400 Pacific daylight time, a Champion 7AC (Aeronca Champ) airplane, N81471, impacted trees and mountainous terrain while maneuvering near La Porte, California. The student pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries; the airplane was substantially damaged. The pilot and a partner owned the airplane. The pilot was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 as a personal flight. The airplane departed from Quincy, California, at an unknown time, and was destined for Susanville, California.
According to acquaintances of the pilot, he departed his home base in Auburn, Washington, on June 11, 2004, and flew to Redding, California. The pilot fueled the accident airplane in Redding with 8.0 gallons of 100 LL aviation gasoline on the morning of the 12th. The pilot then flew the airplane to the Gansner Field Airport in Quincy, where he added 10.6 gallons of 100 LL aviation gasoline at 1016. Personnel located at Gansner Field observed the pilot around 1200, attaching some type of photographing equipment to the right wing of the airplane. According to the pilot's spouse, the pilot was planning to maneuver the airplane over their mine in an effort to document it with photographs.
Local law enforcement personnel received word of an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal at 1936, on the 12th. The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and local law enforcement personnel initiated search efforts, and at 0942 on the 13th, they located the accident site at 39 degrees 47.481 minutes north latitude and 120 degrees 48.213 west longitude.
The student pilot held a third-class medical certificate/student pilot certificate issued on September 3, 2003. The medical certificate had a limitation placed on the pilot mandating that he wear corrective lenses. Review of the pilot's student pilot certificate revealed that he obtained a solo endorsement for the Aeronca 7AC on January 10, 2004. There was no endorsement on the pilot's student certificate for cross-country flights; however, review of the pilot's logbook revealed that the pilot obtained numerous solo cross-country endorsements, none of which were outside the state of Washington.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge spoke with the pilot's instructor, and learned that the cross-country flight was not endorsed by the instructor. He was aware that the pilot wanted to fly to the accident area to examine his mine, but the instructor discouraged it until the student received some mountain flight training, which he intended to provide after the pilot obtained his private pilot certificate. He also advised the pilot not to fly the accident airplane to the mine area since it only had a 65-horsepower engine, and the mine was located in mountainous terrain. The instructor was not familiar with the camera setup or the pilot's plan to utilize the camera.
Review of the pilot's logbook revealed that he accumulated 158 flight hours, half of which were accumulated in the accident airplane.
The 1945-model airplane was powered by a 65-horsepower Continental A-65-8 engine and a two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller. Review of the airplane's maintenance records revealed that it underwent its last annual inspection on September 9, 2003, at an airplane total time of 7,567.3 hours, and a tachometer time of 2,496.6 hours. The tachometer reading at the accident site was 2,635.3 hours. According to the airplane's co-owner, he was not aware of any problems with the airframe or its engine, and indicated that the accident pilot flew it as often as possible since December 2003, and had not mentioned any discrepancies.
There were no Major Repair & Alteration forms (FAA Form 337) on file for the camera installation.
Around the time of the accident, the weather observation facility located at the Chico Airport (43 miles west of the accident site) reported the wind as calm; visibility 40 statute miles; and a few clouds at 20,000 feet. The altimeter setting was 29.96 inches of mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was in a pine forest at the 4,900-foot level of a ravine that paralleled a small creek. The ravine was bordered to the south by a 7,200-foot mountain.
According to the local law enforcement personnel, the right wing tip and aileron separated from the remainder of the airplane. The right wing tip and aileron came to rest at the base of a tree and displayed a semicircular indentation about the size of the tree top. The airplane came to rest 50 yards east of the right wing tip in a nose down pitch attitude, with its tail section jutting up into the air. Surrounding trees propped up the airplane.
The first responders reported finding the camera equipment mounted in a pod on the right wing strut. A camcorder was in a foam pod along with another 120mm camera. They found the viewfinder monitor for the camcorder inside the cockpit. The camcorder was wired to the viewfinder in the cockpit, and the 120mm camera was wired to a remote control camera button that was velcroed to the control yoke. According to acquaintances of the pilot, he intended on viewing the mine with the camcorder monitor in the cockpit, and when he overflew an area of interest and it was centered in the monitor, he would take a photo with the 120mm camera. The camcorder did not have any film installed. The film from the 120mm camera was removed and provided to the Safety Board.
The Federal Aviation Administration inspector, who responded to the accident site, examined the flight controls and noted no anomalies that would have prevented their normal operation. The inspector was unable to examine the engine at the accident site due to its positioning; however, first responders found a number of limbs that had been freshly cut on a diagonal plane as if it had been "cut…by the propeller as the plane impacted the tree."
A Garmin global positioning system (GPS) 196 unit was in the cockpit. The GPS was sent to Garmin's facility in Olathe, Kansas, for data extraction.
The Plumas County Coroner's Office performed an autopsy on the pilot. According to the autopsy report, the pilot died as a result from multiple blunt force injuries. It should be noted that the pilot was found with his upper torso lying outside the right door with his back facing the nose of the airplane. First responders found the lap belt and shoulder harnesses unlatched at the accident site. The pilot's flight instructor reported that the pilot always wore his restraining system, and could not surmise why they were not secured.
A toxicology test for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and drugs was negative.
The 120mm film was taken to a photo development facility in Los Angeles, California. The film contained no exposures.
The Garmin GPS data extraction revealed that the unit was not on during the accident flight, and the most recent track log in the unit was from May 11, 2004.