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On October 24, 2004, about 1235 eastern daylight time (all times in this brief are eastern daylight time based on a 24-hour clock), a Beech King Air 200, N501RH, operated by Hendrick Motorsports, Inc., crashed into mountainous terrain in Stuart, Virginia, during a missed approach to Martinsville/Blue Ridge Airport (MTV), Martinsville, Virginia. The flight was transporting Hendrick Motorsports employees and others to an automobile race in Martinsville, Virginia. The two flight crewmembers and eight passengers were killed, and the airplane was destroyed by impact forces and postcrash fire. The flight was operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan. Instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) prevailed at the time of the accident.
The flight departed from Concord Regional Airport (JQF), Concord, North Carolina, about 1156. An examination of radar data and voice communications from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that, during the en route portion of the flight, a radar target identified as the accident airplane maintained all assigned altitudes and headings.
As the airplane approached MTV, an air traffic controller advised the flight crew that the airplane was second in line for the localizer runway 30 approach. The controller instructed the pilots to hold "as published" on the localizer course at 4,000 feet mean sea level (msl) (all altitudes and elevations in this brief are expressed as msl unless otherwise noted) and to expect a 28-minute delay in the holding pattern. The flight crew requested 5-mile legs in the holding pattern, and the controller approved 5- or 10-mile legs at the crew's discretion.
The localizer runway 30 approach procedure included an inbound course with a magnetic heading of 305 degrees. The minimum descent altitude for the intermediate section of the approach and the holding pattern southeast of the BALES locator outer marker (LOM) was 2,600 feet. The BALES LOM is located at 6 distance measuring equipment (DME) (1 DME equals 1 nautical mile) on the approach course. After crossing the BALES LOM on the inbound course, the minimum descent altitude on the final segment of the approach, for an airplane equipped with DME, was 1,340 feet. The missed approach point (MAP) was at 1 DME and near the approach end of the runway. The distance from the BALES LOM to the MAP was 5 nautical miles (nm). The published missed approach procedure instructed the pilot to make a "climbing right turn to 2,600 feet and proceed direct to BALES LOM and hold."
The accident airplane approached the BALES LOM from the south, crossed BALES at 4,000 feet, and turned right toward the outbound leg of the holding pattern. About that time, the flight crewmembers of the airplane that preceded the accident airplane on the approach announced that that they were canceling their IFR clearance after breaking out of the clouds during the approach and then proceeded to land at MTV.
At 1224:19, while the accident airplane was still turning right to the outbound leg of the holding pattern, the controller asked the flight crew if the airplane was established in the holding pattern, and the crew confirmed, "we're established." At 1224:26, the controller cleared the airplane for the localizer runway 30 approach and requested that the flight crew advise him when the airplane was inbound on the approach. The airplane then completed a continuous right turn toward the inbound course and crossed the BALES LOM at an altitude of 3,900 feet.
At 1226:53, the flight crew advised the controller that the airplane was "established inbound" on the approach. At 1227:04, the controller cleared the airplane for the approach and approved a radio frequency change from the approach control frequency to the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF). (According to FAA Order 7110.65, "Air Traffic Control," paragraph 5-1-13, after a controller issues a frequency change to the CTAF, radar services are automatically terminated.) At 4 DME, or 2 nm after crossing the BALES LOM on the inbound course, the airplane started to descend from 4,000 feet. The airplane leveled off at 2,600 feet as it passed the MAP. About 1 nm past the MAP and over the runway, the airplane began a descent to 1,400 feet and continued on an approximate heading of 305 degrees.
The airplane leveled at 1,400 feet, about 4 nm beyond MTV and 5 nm beyond the MAP. The airplane maintained level flight between 1,400 and 1,500 feet for the next 1 minute 13 seconds. At 1232:13, about 8 nm beyond MTV, the airplane initiated a straight-ahead climb.
At 1233:08, the flight crew informed the controller, "we're going missed at this time." The controller asked the flight crew to repeat the radio transmission. The flight crew repeated the information, and the controller acknowledged the radio transmission. The controller received no further radio transmissions from the flight crew.
At 1233:21, the controller advised the flight crew to climb and maintain 4,400 feet. At 1233:24, the radar target was lost. The accident occurred on Bull Mountain in Stuart, Virginia, at an elevation of about 2,400 feet and near the extended centerline of the runway.
Witnesses at MTV said that they heard the airplane pass overhead but did not see it because of the cloud cover. They stated that the engine sound was smooth and continuous with no interruption. One witness said that the engines sounded as though they were at idle. Two witnesses stated that they heard no increase in engine sound at the time they perceived the airplane to be at a position that coincided with the MAP.
Two witnesses who were about 3 to 4 miles southeast of Bull Mountain saw an airplane fly past them at a low altitude. One of the witnesses said that the airplane was flying "flat and level" about 60 to 70 feet above ground level and was heading northwest. This witness also stated that, other than flying "very low," the airplane did not appear to be in distress, and the landing gear appeared to be up. The witness further stated that the speed of the airplane "wasn't extremely fast." In addition, the witness noted that the fog level was low but could not tell how much lower the airplane was from the fog.
A trooper with the Virginia State Police stated that, at the time of the accident and throughout the search and recovery efforts (which spanned throughout the day and evening), Bull Mountain was completely obscured by clouds and fog. The trooper stated that the visibility was between 0 and 0.25 mile.