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On October 10, 2004, at 0035 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172N, N2771J, was substantially damaged during a collision with trees, following a loss of control in cruise flight near Germantown, New York. The certificated private pilot and passenger were fatally injured. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight that departed Long Island MacArthur Airport (ISP), Islip, New York; destined for Fulton County Airport (NY0), Johnstown, New York. No flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
During the day prior to the accident, the pilot and passenger flew uneventfully from NY0 to ISP. The airplane was fueled before departing NY0, and again after arriving at ISP. The pilot and passenger attended a meeting, and then departed ISP about 2337, for a return trip to NY0.
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) communication and radar data, the pilot made radio contact with the Albany, New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), about 0020, and requested flight following. The air traffic controller acknowledged the transmissions, verified radar contact about 0023, and provided a current altimeter setting. The pilot then acknowledged the altimeter setting and verified his altitude. At the time, the airplane was approximately 3,100 feet msl, and 50 miles southeast of Albany, New York.
About 0034, the pilot contacted the Albany TRACON controller and stated, "could you tell me how high these clouds are [unintelligible] get out of them." No further transmissions were received from the accident airplane, and radar contact was lost. Prior to radar contact being lost, a radar target indicated the airplane was at an altitude of 1,700 feet, about 1/3-mile northwest of the accident site. Prior to that, the airplane made a left turn at an altitude of approximately 3,000 feet.
Review of data from the pilot's handheld global positioning system (GPS) receiver revealed the airplane proceeded on a northwesterly track. Prior to the end of the data, the airplane traveled in a 360-degree left turn. The last data point recorded a position of approximately 1/2-mile northeast of the accident site, at an altitude of 2,429 feet.
Three witnesses reported that about 0030, an airplane descended through a cloud layer with an increase in engine noise. The noise was continuous, with no sputtering. Two of the witnesses reported that the airplane was initially on a northwesterly heading, and then made a turn toward a southeasterly direction, before descending rapidly into terrain. The third witness reported that the airplane was heading southeast, and "took a sharp fall - nose-down."
The pilot held a private pilot certificate, with a rating for airplane single engine land. The pilot was not instrument rated.
The pilot's most recent FAA third class medical certificate was issued on January 28, 2004.
According to his logbook, the pilot had accumulated approximately 1,231 hours of total flight experience. However, the logbook did not provide a current record of total night experience, total recent experience, or total simulated instrument experience.
The airplane's most recent annual inspection was performed on July 4, 2004. At that time the airplane had accumulated 4,194 hours of operation.
Review of recordings from the Burlington, Vermont flight service station (FSS) revealed that pilot telephoned the FSS about 1200 on October 9, 2004. The pilot advised that he was planning a visual flight rules (VFR) flight from NY0 to ISP, departing within the hour, and returning that evening about 2100.
The FSS specialist provided a standard weather briefing. The specialist stated several times that marginal VFR conditions were forecast for the return flight, with thickening cloud cover and scattered showers, and he would not recommend VFR flight in those conditions at night. The specialist further stated that if the pilot waited until the following morning, the weather was forecast to improve.
The pilot again telephoned the FSS about 2100, and advised he was planning a VFR flight from ISP to NY0, departing about 2300.
The FSS specialist stated that there was only one precaution listed for the route; which was for turbulence. However, he did advise of a slow moving cool front in central New York, with most of the weather north of the planned route, but a possibility of a shower or two along the route. The specialist further stated that the current temperature - dew point spread at Schenectady, New York, was 18 degrees C, and 16 degrees C, respectively; and remarked that it was "getting a little close."
The FSS specialist stated that current conditions along the route included: Bridgeport, Connecticut reporting few clouds at 1,200 feet and visibility 10 miles; White Plains, New York reporting marginal VFR conditions with scattered clouds at 1,200 feet, a broken ceiling at 4,000 feet, a broken ceiling at 10,000 feet, and visibility 3 miles in mist; Poughkeepsie, New York reporting sky clear with visibility 9 miles; and Newburgh, New York reporting scattered clouds at 8,000 feet with visibility 7 miles.
The weather briefing contained a forecast for Albany, New York, valid after 2300. The forecast included visibility greater than 6 miles and an overcast ceiling at 6,000 feet.
Columbia County Airport (1B1), Hudson, New York, was located about 10 miles northeast of the accident site. The recorded weather at 1B1, at 0021, was: wind from 350 degrees at 7 knots; visibility 10 miles; scattered clouds at 2,100 feet, ceiling broken at 2,600 feet, ceiling overcast at 3,400 feet; temperature 64 degrees F; dew point 55 degrees F; altimeter 30.05 inches Hg.
The wreckage was located in a field about 0700, and examined at the accident site on October 10 and 11, 2004. All major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene. A debris path was observed, which originated from a row of trees. The debris path extended approximately 330 feet, on a heading of 070 degrees, to the main wreckage. Discolored vegetation was noted along the debris path. A large impact crater was observed about 20 feet along the debris path. The left wingtip was located to the left of the crater. The propeller was located about 75 feet along the debris path, and the right wing was located about 110 feet along the debris path. The left main gear and engine cowling were located about 180 feet along the debris path. The carburetor and cockpit panel were located about 275 feet along the debris path. The magnetos and emergency locator transmitter were found approximately 50 feet beyond the main wreckage.
The right wing was resting inverted in bushes, and a portion of the right aileron was found in the vicinity of the wing. The right wing sustained impact damage to the leading edge, and the damage was greater near the wing root. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the right aileron and flap to the wing root. The right wing fuel tank was compromised.
The left wing was resting inverted on the main wreckage, and remained attached by control cables. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the left flap and aileron to the wing root. The flap was found in the retracted position. The leading edge of the left wing sustained greater impact damage than that of the right wing. The left wing fuel tank was compromised.
The main wreckage was oriented about a 030-degree heading, and the cockpit area was crushed and folded underneath the empennage. The nose wheel and right landing gear were found with the main wreckage. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the elevator and rudder to the forward cabin area. A measurement of the elevator trim jackscrew corresponded to an approximate neutral trim setting. The fuel selector had separated from the cockpit, and was found positioned to the right tank.
Some flight and engine instruments were recovered along the debris path. The airspeed indicator was found with the needle positioned near 150 knots. The attitude indicator was found in a left bank position. The attitude indicator was disassembled for inspection, and scoring was noted on the gyro housing. The altimeter needle had separated, and 29.99 was displayed in the Kollsman window. The directional gyro was positioned near 130 degrees, and the tachometer needle indicated approximately 1,700 rpm. The electric gyro for the turn coordinator was recovered and disassembled for inspection. Scoring was observed on the gyro housing.
The engine had separated from the airframe, and was found inverted on the left side of the main wreckage. The propeller had separated from the engine. The propeller blades exhibited chordwise scratching, s-bending, and leading edge gouging. All spark plugs were removed from the engine for inspection. Their electrodes were intact, and light gray in color. The valve covers were removed, and oil was noted in all cylinders. The vacuum pump was removed, and the drive shaft was intact. The oil filter was examined, and no contamination was observed. The oil suction screen was also absent of contamination. When the single-drive dual magneto was rotated by hand, a spark was produced at all towers.
The crankshaft was rotated through an accessory gear drive. Except for the number two intake pushrod that had separated, and the number four exhaust pushrod that was bent, valve train continuity was confirmed. Thumb compression was obtained on the number two, three, and four cylinders. Thumb compression could not be obtained on the number one cylinder, which had sustained impact damage near the exhaust valve.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Columbia County Coroner's Office, Hudson, New York.
Toxicological testing was conducted on the pilot at the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The wreckage was released to a representative of the owner's insurance company on October 11, 2004.