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On February 22, 2005, about 1424 Eastern standard time, a wheel-equipped Cessna 172 airplane, N739NK, was destroyed when the airplane collided with shallow, tidal bay waters, about 1.1 miles northeast of the George T. Lewis Airport, Cedar Key, Florida. The airplane was operated by Ocala Aviation Services, Inc., Ocala, Florida, and was rented by the pilot. The non-instrument rated private pilot, the sole occupant, received fatal injuries. The airplane was being operated as a visual flight rules (VFR) personal flight under Title 14, CFR Part 91, when the accident occurred. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the point of departure, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated at the Ocala Regional Airport, Ocala, about 1215, and the flight-planned route was to Punta Gorda, Florida, and return to Ocala.
During a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC) on February 22, the president of Ocala Aviation Services reported that the pilot rented the airplane with an anticipated return time of 1600. He noted that prior to his departure, the accident pilot reported that he was planning to fly to Punta Gorda, and return. The president stated that the pilot failed to report that he was planning to stop in Cedar Key. He said that the George T. Lewis Airport, located in Cedar Key, was not one of the airports approved for use by Ocala Aviation Services rental customers, primarily due to poor weather conditions commonly encountered in that area. The community of Cedar Key is located along the western shores of Florida, adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico.
During interviews with the NTSB IIC on February 23, residents of Cedar Key reported hearing a low flying airplane about 1420. All consistently stated that at the time of the accident, low clouds and fog substantially reduced visibility.
A witness, a private pilot, stated that while standing in his driveway, about 1,000 feet from the accident site, he heard what sounded like a low flying airplane headed towards him. He said that he was really surprised to hear an airplane flying since the weather was so bad. He said that the engine noise increased as the airplane approached, and he eventually saw the airplane fly out of a fog bank, about 20 feet above the water, over the tidal bay waters next to his home. He said that as soon as the airplane came out of the fog bank, it was headed towards a set of power lines that stretched across the bay. He said that just before the airplane struck the power lines, the nose of the airplane pitched up abruptly, and the airplane climbed over the power lines. After it had cleared the power lines, the nose of the airplane dropped abruptly, and it descended nose down. The airplane subsequently collided with shallow tidal water adjacent to a dock. The airplane's left wing struck the dock. The witness stated, in part: "When the nose of the airplane came up, the airplane just stalled." The witness noted that the engine appeared to have been producing full power prior to impact.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. He did not hold an instrument rating.
The most recent medical certificate issued to the pilot was a third-class medical certificate issued on November 3, 2004, and contained the limitation the he must wear corrective lenses.
No personal flight records were located for the pilot, and the aeronautical experience listed on page 3 of this report was obtained from a review of FAA records. On the pilot's application for medical certificate, dated November 3, 2004, the pilot indicated that his total aeronautical experience consisted of 310 hours, of which 75 hours was accrued in the previous 6 months.
The airplane was manufactured in 1978. According to the operator, the airplane had accumulated a total time in service of 3,159.0 flight hours. The most recent 100-hour inspection of the airframe and engine was accomplished on February 8, 2005, about 80 hours before the accident.
The engine had accrued a total time of 8431.9 hours. The maintenance records note that a major overhaul was accomplished in June of 2004, about 180 hours before the accident.
The accident airport did not have weather reporting capability. According to several residents that heard the accident airplane just before the accident, all consistently characterized the weather conditions as very low visibility with drizzle, fog, and very low ceilings. One witness, a private pilot, said that visibility at the time of the accident was as low as one tenth of a mile.
The closest official weather observation station is located at the Cross City Airport, which is about 24 miles north of the accident site. At 1453, an Aviation Routine Weather Report (METAR) was reporting, in part: wind, 300 degrees (true) at 9 knots; visibility and sky conditions were missing; temperature, 77 degrees F; dew point, 61 degrees F; altimeter, 30.11 inHg.
An NTSB senior meteorologist conducted a weather study. The weather study included archived weather satellite imagery, both visible and infrared, at the time of the accident. The infrared imagery detected a large area of low stratiform clouds or fog over the Gulf of Mexico, hugging the northwest Florida coastline and extending over the accident site.
A complete copy of the NTSB weather study is included in the public docket for this accident.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) examined the wreckage at the accident site on February 23, 2005. The wreckage came to rest in an area of muddy, shallow tidal water, adjacent to a dock. The airplane's left wing struck the dock during the collision, severing about 4 feet of the wing and aileron.
The airplane wreckage had extensive ground impact damage. The fuselage of the airplane was observed in a 45-degree, nose down attitude. The longitudinal axis of the fuselage was oriented on a magnetic heading of about 210 degrees. (All heading/bearings noted in this report are oriented toward magnetic north.)
All of the airplane's major components were found at the main wreckage site. The right wing had extensive spanwise leading edge aft crushing, and was oriented with the leading edge down, on about a 45-degree angle. The right wing lift struts remained attached to the wing and lower fuselage attach points. The left wing and left aileron were severed about 4 feet inboard from the wing tip. The severed portion of the left wing and aileron were found adjacent to the accident site. The left wing lift struts remained attached to the wing and fuselage attach points. The wing carry-through was broken, and crushed in an aft direction. The fuselage was buckled just aft of the rear window.
Except for the missing left aileron, the flight control surfaces remained connected to their respective attach points. The remaining flight controls were moved by their respective control mechanisms, and continuity of the flight control cables were established to the cabin/cockpit area.
The propeller remained attached to the engine crankshaft. One propeller blade exhibited slight torsional twisting, and significant aft bending about 4 inches inboard from the tip. The second blade had about 70 degree aft bending, about 8 inches outboard from the hub, and slight torsional twisting.
The engine cowling, fuselage firewall, and the instrument panel were crushed and displaced aft. The engine was partially buried in the tidal mud at about a 45-degree angle. It sustained impact damage to the underside, and lower front portion of the engine. The engine oil sump was crushed upward against the case. The exhaust tubes were crushed and folded, producing sharp creases that were not cracked or broken along the crease.
During the on-scene portion of the investigation no preaccident mechanical anomalies were noted.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
A postmortem examination of the pilot was conducted by the State of Florida, eighth district, medical examiner on February 23, 2005, which revealed that the cause of death was attributed to multiple blunt traumatic injuries.
A toxicological examination of the pilot was conducted by the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) on March 14, 2005, and was negative for drugs or alcohol.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) recovered a Lowrance Avionics, hand held GPS unit from the accident site.
The GPS unit was shipped to Lowrance Avionics, Inc., to recover the accident pilot's preaccident route of flight information. A Lowrance Avionics technician was able to reconstruct portions of the route of flight for the accident airplane. The recovered GPS information depicts the accident airplane's departure for the Ocala Regional Airport at which point the track initially proceeds westbound towards Cedar Key. The track then makes a series of circular turns about a point, and then proceeds northeast for about 25 miles, before again turning to a southwesterly heading, towards Cedar Key. The track terminates in the area of the Cedar Key. The track is not observed to head southward, towards the pilot's reported destination of Punta Gorda. The community of Punta Gorda is located about 135 miles south of the Ocala Regional Airport. A copy of the track overlays is included in the public docket for this accident.
The National Transportation Safety Board released the wreckage to the airplane's operator on February 23. The retained hand held GPS unit was released to a family member of the pilot on March 21, 2005.