LAX04FA301B
LAX04FA301B

1.1 HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On August 22, 2004, about 1729 Pacific daylight time, a Bellanca Citabria 7ECA, N53879, collided in mid-air with a Pollard & Huntley Thorp T-18, N7618T, at El Matador State Beach near Malibu, California. CP Aviation Inc., was operating the Citabria under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The private pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. The owner/pilot was operating the Thorp under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The private pilot and passenger were fatally injured. Both airplanes were destroyed. The Citabria departed on a personal local flight from Santa Paula Airport (SZP), Santa Paula, California, at an undetermined time. The Thorp departed on a personal local flight from Torrance Airport (TOA), Torrance, California, about 1700. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for either aircraft. The primary wreckage of the Citabria was at 34 degrees 02.267 minutes north latitude and 118 degrees 52.506 minutes west longitude. The primary wreckage of the Thorp was at 34 degrees 02.000 minutes north latitude and 118 degrees 52.000 minutes west longitude.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) reviewed recorded radar data for both aircraft.

The first identified radar target for the Citabria was about 15 nautical miles (nm) north of the collision point. The Citabria radar target was a primary radar return. No altitude information was available from the radar data. The Citabria target's radar track showed it flying south on the west side of Highway 23 until it intersected with the Pacific Coast Highway. At the shoreline, the Citabria's target passed in front of the Thorp's radar target and continued southbound until it was about 0.75 nm offshore. The Citabria's radar target then turned left 180 degrees, heading back toward the north.

The Thorp departed Torrance about 1700, and review of recorded radar data showed a secondary 1200 (VFR) beacon code at a mode C reported altitude of 400 feet mean sea level (msl). The target flew along the coastline until about 8 nm northwest of the accident site. The target made a right 180-degree turn, and started to track back along the coastline. About 2 nm northwest of the collision point, the target's mode C reported an altitude of 2,400 feet msl. The target's mode C altitude radar return continued to increase in altitude until the radar track stopped. The last radar return on the target was at 1729:37, at an altitude of 2,900 feet msl.

At this time, the separation between the two targets was about 0.5 nm. The radar track shows the Thorp's target continued eastbound along the coast in a slight climb, and the Citabria's target continued northbound until radar contact with the Thorp was lost at 1729:37 at an altitude of 2,900 feet msl. The radar target on the Citabria was lost at 1730:10.

The collision occurred in uncontrolled class 'G' airspace.

None of the identified witnesses saw the collision of the two airplanes. They did report seeing the Citabria, with one wing detached (or missing), spiral down until impacting the water. Another witness saw the Thorpe, also with one wing missing, spiral in a nose down attitude until impacting the water.

A professional photographer, on the beach at the time of the collision photographing a wedding party, heard "something," turned and saw the Citabria. Just before it impacted the water, he took a photograph. The Safety Board IIC obtained a copy of the high-resolution digital photograph.

1.2 PERSONNEL INFORMATION

1.2.1 Renter Pilot of the Citabria

A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed that the pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land.

The pilot held a third-class medical certificate issued on April 15, 2003. It had no limitations or waivers.

A review of the pilot's logbook indicated an estimated total flight time of 264 hours. He logged 2 hours in the last 90 days and 2 hours in the last 30 days. He had an estimated 113 hours in the accident make and model. He completed a biennial flight review on October 19, 2002.

1.2.2 Owner/Pilot of the Thorp

A review of FAA airman records revealed that the pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land.

The pilot held a third-class medical certificate issued on October 8, 2002. It had no limitations or waivers.

No personal flight records were located for the owner/pilot. The IIC obtained the aeronautical experience listed in this report from a review of the airmen FAA records on file in the Airman and Medical Records Center located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. These records indicated a total time of 5,000 hours.

1.2.3 Passenger/Pilot of the Thorp

A review FAA airman records revealed that the passenger/pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land.

The passenger/pilot held a second-class medical certificate issued on July 8, 2002. It had no limitations or waivers.

No personal flight records were located for the passenger/pilot. The IIC obtained the aeronautical experience listed in this report from a review of the airmen FAA records on file in the Airman and Medical Records Center located in Oklahoma City. These records indicated a total time of 1,300 hours.

1.3 AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

1.3.1 Bellanca Citabria

The airplane was a Bellanca Citabria 7ECA, serial number 1136-76. A review of the airplane's logbooks revealed a total airframe time of 1,748.5 hours at the last 100-hour inspection. The logbooks had an entry for an annual inspection dated August 28, 2003. The tachometer read 1,748.5 at the last inspection. The tachometer read 1,751.3 at the beginning of the accident flight.

The Citabria is a two-place tandem seating high wing production airplane constructed of steel tube and fabric, and is capable of operating at cruise speeds about 105 mph. The accident airplane was painted light blue and white.

The engine was a Textron Lycoming O-235-C1 engine, serial number L-15299-1S. Total time on the engine at the last 100-hour annual inspection was 1,536.5 hours.

The Citabria was owned by CP Aviation, Inc., Santa Paula, California, and operated as a rental airplane.

Examination of the maintenance and flight department records revealed no unresolved maintenance discrepancies against the airplane prior to departure.

1.3.2 THORP T-18

The second airplane was a Pollard & Huntley experimental Thorp T-18, serial number HPV-1. The engine was a Textron Lycoming O-360-A2D engine, serial number L-15610-36A.

The Thorp is a two-place side-by-side low wing all metal homebuilt experimental airplane capable of a cruise speed of 180 mph.

No aircraft records were located for the Thorp. The Safety Board IIC contacted the previous owner of the Thorp. He reported that he sold the airplane to the accident owner/pilot in August 2001. At the time of the sale, the airplane had about 1,250 hours.

On December 18, 2001, the FAA sent a Triennial Aircraft Registration Report to the registered owner of the Thorp. He responded on December 27, 2001, and reported that he had sold the airplane to the accident owner/pilot. On February 5, 2002, the FAA sent the accident owner/pilot a request to submit the documentation to properly register the Thorp. The FAA never received a response to that request.

The operating limitations for the airplane were issued to the previous owner on August 20, 1987. A search of FAA records revealed that there were no new operating limitations issued for the accident airplane since the owner/pilot bought the airplane.

1.4 METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS

The closest official weather observation station was Point Mugu Naval Air Station, Point Mugu, California (NTD), which was located 13 nm northwest of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 12 feet msl. An aviation routine weather report (METAR) for NTD was issued at 1755. It stated: winds from 250 degrees at 9 knots; visibility 7 miles; skies 20,000 feet broken; temperature 70 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 68 degrees Fahrenheit; altimeter 29.88 inHg.

1.5 WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

Investigators from the Safety Board and the FAA examined the wreckage at the accident scene.

Both aircraft impacted the water after the midair collision. The Citabria washed ashore at El Matador State Beach. The Thorp impacted the water about 150 yards east of the Citabria and sank in about 20 feet of water.

Both airplanes were destroyed during the collision and impact sequence with the water, and tidal action prior to the recovery process. Both airplanes were recovered and secured for further investigation.

1.6 MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

1.6.1 Renter Pilot of the Citabria

The Los Angeles County Coroner completed an autopsy. The FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory performed toxicological testing of specimens of the pilot. The results of analysis of the specimens were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles, and tested drugs.

1.6.2 Owner/Pilot of the Thorp

The Los Angeles County Coroner completed an autopsy. The FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory performed toxicological testing of specimens of the owner/pilot. The results of analysis of the specimens were negative for carbon monoxide and cyanide.

The report contained the following positive results: pseudoephedrine was detected in the kidney and liver.

The report contained the following positive results: 49 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ethanol detected in muscle; 55 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ethanol detected in liver; 17 (mg/dL,mg/hg) acetaldehyde detected in muscle; 134 (mg/dL,mg/hg) acetaldehyde detected in kidney.

1.6.3 Passenger/Pilot of the Thorp

The Los Angeles County Coroner completed an autopsy. The FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory performed toxicological testing of specimens of the passenger/pilot. The results of analysis of the specimens were negative for carbon monoxide and cyanide.

The report contained the following positive results: triprolidine detected in liver and kidney; ephedrine detected in the liver; pseudoephedrine detected in liver.

The report contained the following positive results: 99 (mg/dL,mg/hg) ehtanol detected in muscle, 10 (mg/dL,mg/hg) ehtanol detected in liver; 31 (mg/dL,mg/hg) acetaldehyde detected in muscle; 39 (mg/dL,mg/hg) acetaldehyde detected in liver.

The FAA forensic toxicology report for the passenger/pilot noted that the ethanol results were most likely from sources other than ingestion.

1.7 TESTS AND RESEARCH

Investigators examined the wreckage at Aircraft Recovery Service, Littlerock, California, on August 25, 2004.

1.7.1 Bellanca Citabria

The Lycoming engine O-235-C1, serial number L-15299-15, sustained impact damage and the case revealed cracks in several locations. The energy damage signatures were observed at the forward bottom section of the engine, encompassing the exhaust system, carburetor and number 2 cylinder. The two-bladed fixed pitch propeller remained attached to the crankshaft flange and the propeller spinner was crushed aft.

Investigators removed and examined all top and bottom spark plugs, which exhibited signatures consistent with having been subject to the corrosive effect of the salt-water environment. The spark plug electrodes were undamaged, and, according to the Champion Spark Plugs Check-A-Plug chart AV-27, were consistent with normal operation. Investigators established continuity of the valve and gear train by rotating the crankshaft via the crankshaft flange. Compression was detected in all cylinders, with the exception of the number 2 cylinder, which was impact damaged. Investigators removed the number 2 cylinder and established piston movement and valve action during the rotation of the crankshaft.

The magnetos were securely attached to their respective mounting flanges. Investigators disassembled the magnetos, which revealed internal contamination of salt water; no evidence of internal damage was noted. The carburetor was destroy be impact forces.

There was no evidence of premishap mechanical malfunctions observed during the examination of the engine.

All flight control components and control surfaces were accounted for in the recovered wreckage.

The left wing strut, which was white in color, was missing and not recovered from the water. Divers for the Los Angeles County Fire Department attempted to locate the missing strut by searching the area where the Citabria impacted the water, but the search was unsuccessful.

An examination of the Citabria wreckage for paint transfer marks from the Thorp met with negative results.

1.7.2 Thorp

The Lycoming engine O-360-A2D (serial number L-15610-36A) sustained impact damage, and the crankshaft flange was separated from the crankshaft.

Investigators removed and examined all of the spark plugs, which exhibited signatures consistent with having been subject to the corrosive effect of the salt-water environment. All of the spark plug electrodes were undamaged, with the exception of the upper number 2 and 3 cylinder spark plugs, which the electrodes were bent. Those spark plugs were bent throughout the whole shaft of the spark plug. According to the Champion Spark Plugs Check-A-Plug chart AV-27, the other spark plugs were consistent with normal operation.

Investigators established continuity of the valve and gear train by rotating the crankshaft via the accessory gear drive. Investigators were unable to detect compression in the number 1, 2, and 6 cylinders due to sand being compacted in the cylinder housing. In the aforementioned cylinders, piston movement was observed and the valve train was observed to operate in proper order.

The magnetos were securely attached to their respective mounting flanges. Investigators disassembled the magnetos, which revealed internal contamination of salt water; no evidence of internal damage was noted.

There was no evidence of premishap mechanical malfunctions observed during the examination of the engine.

Examination of the Thorp was inhibited due to the damage to the airplane wreckage by the post accident impact with the ocean and the subsequent tidal action prior to and during the recovery process.

The examination of the propeller revealed white in color paint transfers marks beginning close to the hub and extending outward toward the tip. At the tip of one of the blades there was a large gouge on the leading edge.

An examination of the Thorp wreckage for paint transfer marks revealed a series of light blue paint transfers on the underside of the right horizontal stabilizer cap. The light blue paint was similar to the coloration of the Citabria.

1.8 ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The IIC released the wreckage to the owner's representative on January 4, 2005.

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