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On December 13, 2005, at 1828 mountain standard time, a Cessna 172S, N1257Z, owned and operated by Great Southwest Aviation Inc., and piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed when it impacted terrain 11.5 miles east of Pinon, New Mexico. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was being conducted under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 without a flight plan. The private pilot was fatally injured. The flight departed El Paso International Airport (ELP), El Paso, Texas, at 1750 and was en route to Roswell International Air Center (ROW), Roswell, New Mexico.
According to Albuquerque (ABQ) Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC), the pilot was receiving radar flight following for the cross-country flight from ELP to ROW. The pilot reported in with ABQ ARTCC at 1818 at an altitude of 11,500 feet mean sea level (msl). No further communications were made and radar contact was lost after 1828:30 on the 053 degree radial at 6 nautical miles from the Pinon VOR. An alert notification (ALNOT) was issued and the airplane was located by military aircraft approximately 0130 on December 14, 2005.
National Track Analysis Program radar data depicted the airplane on a course consistent with a direct flight from ELP to ROW. The altitude varied between 11,400 feet msl and 11,600 feet msl. The last radar return with altitude information was recorded at a location of 32 degrees 34 minutes 16 seconds north latitude and 105 degrees 12 minutes 09 seconds west longitude, at 1828:30. The encoded altitude was 11,600 feet msl. The last radar return data was recorded at a location of 32 degrees 35 minutes 9 seconds north latitude and 105 degrees 13 minutes 10 seconds west longitude, at 1828:55. The radar track was consistent with a left turn.
The pilot, age 44, held a private pilot certificate issued on March 26, 2004, with an airplane single engine land rating. The pilot was issued a third class airman medical certificate on December 11, 2003. The certificate contained the limitation, "Must wear corrective lenses."
The pilot's logbook was located in the wreckage and a review of the logbook indicated that the pilot had logged 197 hours total time. The pilot had logged 23 hours of night flight experience, 2 hours of which were logged as pilot-in-command where the pilot was not under the direction of a flight instructor. Prior to the accident flight, the last night flight experience was logged on July 4, 2005, in a Piper PA-28-161.
The accident airplane, a Cessna 172S (serial number 172S9858), was manufactured in 2005. It was registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on a standard airworthiness certificate for normal/utility category operations. The airplane was equipped with a Lycoming IO-360-L2A engine rated for 180 horsepower at 2,700 rpm. The engine was equipped with a McCauley two bladed, fixed pitch propeller.
The airplane was registered to Great Southwest Aviation Inc., and maintained under a 100-hour inspection program. The maintenance records indicated that the airplane underwent a 100-hour inspection on September 30, 2005, at a tachometer reading of 99.6. Portions of the tachometer were recovered in the wreckage with a reading of 187.6. The Hobbs meter was destroyed.
The closest official weather observation station was Alamogordo-White Sands Regional Airport (ALM), Alamogordo, New Mexico, which was located 49 nautical miles west of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 4,200 feet msl. The routine aviation weather report (METAR) for ALM, issued at 1831, reported, wind, 200 degrees at 3 knots; visibility, 10 statute miles; sky condition, clear; temperature 12 degrees Celsius (C); dewpoint, minus 02 degrees C; altimeter 29.97 inches.
According to the Unites States Naval Observatory, Astronomical Applications Department Sun and Moon Data, the sunset was recorded at 1658 and the end of civil twilight was 1726. The moon rose on the day of the accident at 1519 and was waxing gibbous with 96 percent of the moons visible disk illuminated.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Two FAA inspectors arrived on scene approximately 1450 on December 14, 2005. The accident site was located on a private ranch, in hilly, sparsely vegetated terrain, at an elevation of 5,230 feet msl. A GPS receiver reported the location as 32 degrees, 35.267 minutes north latitude, and 105 degrees, 11.938 minutes west longitude. The airplane impacted on a magnetic heading of 185 degrees.
The first identified point of contact (FIPC), was located to the north of the debris path. This ground scar was followed by a large ground crater. Soil within the crater had been displaced in the direction of impact. Approximately 160 feet from the FIPC was a large burn area, 20 feet in diameter. To the right of the burn area a coniferous tree 20 feet in height, was broken three feet from its base, in the direction of impact. A debris field followed the ground crater and extended 800 feet and the airplane was fragmented and scattered within this field. The wreckage was recovered and relocated to a facility in Phoenix, Arizona, for further examination.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed by The University of New Mexico, Health Sciences Center, Office of the Medical Investigator, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on December 15, 2005, as authorized by the Chaves County Coroner's Office. The autopsy revealed the cause of death as "massive bodily trauma sustained in an airplane crash."
A toxicology was performed by the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The toxicology was negative for ethanol, and tested drugs. Tests for carbon monoxide and cyanide were not performed.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The wreckage was examined in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 10, 2006, by the NTSB Investigator-in-Charge, and respective party members.
The fuselage, to include the cabin, instrument panel, and the majority of the instruments and gauges, was destroyed. The following readings were obtained from the instruments: tachometer, 187.6; Kollsman window, 30.01; heading indicator, 170 degrees; vertical speed indicator, 1,500 feet per minute descent. The indication needle for the left fuel tank was destroyed; however, the right needle gave an indication of 15 gallons of fuel. Gimbals from two vacuum instruments illustrated rotational scoring. Light bulb filaments from the left wing position light and flashing beacon on the top of the vertical stabilizer exhibited stretching. The engine throttle was found in the full forward position, and the flap lever was bent up and to the left, and found in a zero degrees flaps position.
The empennage, to include the left and right horizontal stabilizer, elevator, vertical stabilizer, and rudder, separated from the fuselage. The left horizontal stabilizer was crushed and buckled 90 degrees inboard at midspan. The elevator separated from the empennage and was bent and torn. The right horizontal stabilizer exhibited front to back accordion crushing and was torn, and wrinkled. The vertical stabilizer and rudder were crushed aft along the leading edge and bent. Control continuity was confirmed from the control to the fuselage. Continuity at the fuselage was unverifiable.
The left wing, to include the left flap, strut, and aileron, separated from the fuselage. The outboard 55 inches of the aileron separated from the wing and was crushed and wrinkled. The skin towards the wing root was bent wrinkled and torn. The remainder of the wing exhibited slight wrinkling and was otherwise unremarkable. Control continuity was confirmed from the aileron and flap to the fuselage. Continuity at the fuselage was unverifiable.
The right wing, to include the right flap, strut, and aileron, separated from the fuselage. The entire wing assembly exhibited front to back accordion crushing, and was torn, wrinkled and fragmented. Control continuity was confirmed from the aileron and flap to the fuselage. Continuity at the fuselage was unverifiable.
The engine and propeller assembly separated entirely from the airframe. The engine exhibited extensive crushing and impact damage around the case. The top spark plugs were removed and exhibited normal wear indications. The engine was rotated through at the accessory case and valve movement was noted at all locations. Compression was tactually noted at each sparkplug hole. The propeller separated from the engine at the propeller flange and exhibited twisting from the blade tip to the hub. One blade exhibited 90 degree and longitudinal chordwise scratches and leading edge knicks. The other appeared to be twisted, torn, and fragmented.
The accident airplane was equipped with an AmSafe Aviation Inflatable Restraint (AAIR) system that included an inertia reel mounted shoulder harness and lap belt, in addition to an inflatable restraint. The AAIR did not deploy and examination of the unit revealed the sensor element was functional. The webbing and bag of the lap portion of the assembly exhibited lateral loading to the right. According to the AmSafe engineer, "the AAIR did not deploy due to insufficient longitudinal deceleration prior to being rendered inoperable due to destruction of the aircraft."
A Garmin Global Positioning System (GPS) 296 (serial number 67011650) was recovered from the accident scene and shipped to Garmin for data extraction. The unit began recording the accident flight at 1738:32, at GPS coordinates consistent with the location of ELP. The flight appeared to depart ELP approximately 1749 and climb to an altitude of 11,500 feet msl. The altitude varied between 11,700 feet msl and 11,400 feet msl on a course consistent with a direct flight to ROW. According to the GPS data, the flight began a descent at 1828:30 from an altitude of 11,556 feet msl. The last line of data was recorded at 1828:51 at an altitude of 8,708 feet msl, approximately 1,154 feet west, southwest of where the airplane wreckage was located.
Parties to the investigation include Federal Aviation Administration as represented by an inspector from the Albuquerque Flight Standards District office, Cessna Aircraft Company, Lycoming Engines, and AmSafe Aviation. The wreckage was released to a representative of the insurance company on March 27, 2006.