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On August 28, 2005 at 0212 eastern daylight time, a Samson Seawind 3000 experimental airplane, N88PS, registered to Samson Flying Service and operated by the private pilot, collided into the Atlantic Ocean about 2 miles off the coast of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 with no flight plan filed. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed. The private pilot and the passenger received fatal injuries, and the airplane was destroyed. The flight departed Wilmington International Airport (ILM), Wilmington, North Carolina, about 0208.
A review of radar data revealed a target with a transponder code of 1200 was detected by radar about 0208 in the vicinity of ILM at an altitude of 400 feet. The data showed the flight headed eastbound to the coast and climbed to approximately 1,200 feet. The flight then crossed over the coastline and continued eastbound toward open ocean. Immediately after the flight crossed over the coastline, its ground track entered a 360-degree turn to the right, and it descended rapidly into the ocean. According to an ILM Public Safety operations report, about 0220 the 911 center advised that a Bald Head Island resident reported that a small airplane may have gone down off the south end of the island. By about 0245, additional reports were received, and a search and rescue effort was initiated. Wreckage debris was found floating in the water off Wrightsville Beach about 1140.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and single-engine sea. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third-class airman medical certificate was issued April 28, 2005, with no waivers or limitations. On his application for the medical certificate, the pilot reported 5,000 total civilian flight hours.
The Samson Seawind 3000 experimental airplane, serial number 15, was an amateur-built, experimental airplane powered by a Lycoming IO-540-K1A5 engine. The airplane was configured with 4 seats and was capable of landing on water or on land.
A review of recorded weather data from Wilmington International Airport revealed at 0153 conditions were winds from 020 at 5 knots, visibility 8 statute miles, cloud conditions broken at 300 feet, temperature 23 degrees centigrade, dew point 22 degrees centigrade, altimeter setting 29.89 inches.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Small pieces of composite debris from the airplane's fuselage and tail section and a section of the engine mount were recovered. The remainder of the airplane was not recovered. Flight control and engine control continuity could not be determined from the available wreckage. The recovered pieces showed no evidence of soot or fire damage.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The pilot's body was recovered from the ocean on August 30, 2005, and an autopsy was performed the same day by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The report stated the cause of death was "multiple blunt force injuries."
The medical examiner's report stated that "a glass pipe containing a brown substance" accompanied the pilot's body. The report further stated, "toxicological analysis of postmortem tissues is not performed. Toxicological analysis of the brown substance found within the glass pipe is positive for THC."
Toxicological testing of muscle specimens from the pilot was performed on September 2, 2005, by the FAA Forensic Toxicology Research Team, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The report stated the following were detected in the muscle: 115 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ethanol, 1 (mg/dL, mg/hg) n-butanol, 11 (mg/dL, mg/hg) n-propanol, and 1.207 (ug/ml, ug/g) butalbital.
According to witness statements obtained by a New Hanover County Sheriff's Department detective, Wilmington, North Carolina, a bartender at a local bar recalled the pilot ordered a "kamikaze shot" and paid for it at 0028. The bartender stated she later made another drink for him and later saw him dancing with a woman whom other witnesses identified as the passenger. Another employee of the bar stated the pilot was "drinking kamikazes, not as shots but as drinks. He bought one, that I saw, and I served a few more that night to a group of people that I figured were going to him."
Title 14 CFR 91.17, "Alcohol or drugs," states: "No person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft -- (1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage; (2) While under the influence of alcohol; (3) While using any drug that affects the person's faculties in any way contrary to safety."
According to statements obtained by ILM Public Safety and the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office, the owner of a repair station at the airport stated the pilot had contacted him about a week before the accident and stated that he had landed the seaplane in the waterway, and it was "swamped" by a passing yacht. The repair station owner reported that the pilot told him that saltwater entered the cockpit, and the airplane "limped" back to the airport.
The FAA Airplane Flying Handbook, FAA-H-8083-3, chapter 10, states the following about night flying: "Night flying requires that pilots be aware of, and operate within, their abilities and limitations....Night flying is very different from day flying and demands more attention of the pilot. The most noticeable difference is the limited availability of outside visual references. Therefore, flight instruments should be used to a greater degree."
According to FAA advisory circular 60-4A "Pilot's Spatial Disorientation:" "Lack of natural horizon or surface reference is common on over-water flights, at night, and especially at night in extremely sparsely populated areas or in low visibility conditions. A sloping cloud formation, an obscured horizon, a dark scene spread with ground lights and stars, and certain geometric patterns of ground lights can provide inaccurate visual information for aligning the aircraft correctly with the actual horizon. The disoriented pilot may place the aircraft in a dangerous attitude."