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On February 22, 2006, about 2335 eastern standard time, a Lancair Company LC41-550FG (Columbia 400), N400WX, was destroyed when it impacted trees and terrain at Stafford Regional Airport (RMN), Stafford, Virginia. The certificated private pilot, a pilot-rated passenger, and two additional passengers were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and the airplane had been operating on an instrument flight plan between Smith Reynolds Airport (INT), Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Shannon Airport (EZF), Fredericksburg, Virginia. The personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
According to a friend of the pilot, the group had left Fredericksburg that afternoon for a college basketball game in Winston-Salem, and was returning from the game when the accident occurred.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) voice communication transcript, at 2258, the pilot contacted Potomac Approach Control and requested the GPS RWY 24 approach to Shannon Airport. The approach controller subsequently provided various headings and descent altitudes, and at 2309, cleared the pilot for the approach, which the pilot acknowledged.
The GPS RWY 24 approach minimum descent altitude was 580 feet msl (495 feet above the ground), and the missed approach procedure called for a climbing left turn to 2,000 feet, direct to DURWO waypoint, and hold.
At 2321, the pilot contacted the approach controller, and reported, "heading back to DURWO, we need to change our destination to Stafford."
The controller then advised the pilot that radar contact was established, and the pilot subsequently stated that he wanted the ILS RWY 33 approach into Stafford. The controller then told him to maintain 3,000 feet and turn right to heading 180, which the pilot acknowledged.
The ILS RWY 33 approach at Stafford included a final approach course of 329 degrees magnetic, and a decision height of 396 feet msl (200 feet above the ground). The airport's touchdown zone elevation was 196 feet. CODAC intersection was located 5.5 nautical miles from the runway, on the final approach course. The missed approach procedure was to climb to 600 feet, then make a climbing left turn to 2,000 feet, direct to the Brooke VORTAC and hold.
At 2326, the controller advised the pilot to turn right, heading 310, and intercept the "three three localizer," which the pilot acknowledged.
As the airplane approached the final approach course, the controller advised the pilot that the airplane was 6 miles from CODAC, instructed him to maintain 3,000 feet until established on the approach, and cleared him for the ILS RWY 33 approach to Stafford, which the pilot acknowledged.
At 2329, the controller requested that the pilot report "canceling IFR" after landing, by telephone, which the pilot acknowledged.
At 2331, the controller advised the pilot that radar services were terminated, a change to the UNICOM frequency was approved, and "cancel once on the ground," which the pilot acknowledged.
There were no further communications from the airplane.
A review of FAA radar data revealed that after receiving the 180-degree vector, the airplane proceeded southbound at 3,100 feet. It then turned to the northwest, intercepted the extended localizer course for runway 33, and proceeded inbound toward Stafford Airport. It subsequently descended along the localizer course until its last contact at 2334:15, at 400 feet msl, approximately over U.S. Route 1.
No one witnessed the accident. However, the wife of one of the passengers reported that he had called her from the air at 2333, to tell her to pick them up at Stafford. She then took about 5 minutes to get dressed and "about 10 minutes tops" to get to the airport. When the wife approached the airport via a new access road, the runway lights were on and she could see the airport beacon on a hill. She pulled into the parking area near the passenger terminal, turned off the car's engine and rolled down the window, but didn't hear or see the airplane. She noted that she could not see the runway lights at that time, but may not have been able to due to her position in the parking area.
The accident occurred during the hours of darkness, in the vicinity of 38 degrees, 24.02 minutes north latitude, 77 degrees, 27.77 minutes west longitude.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate, with airplane single engine land, and instrument-airplane ratings. The pilot's logbooks were not located. According to a flight instructor, the pilot normally kept his logbook and the airplane's logbooks in the airplane's baggage compartment, which was consumed by a post-accident fire. On his latest FAA second class medical certificate application, dated December 15, 2005, the pilot reported 395 hours of flight time. The pilot obtained his instrument rating on September 24, 2004.
According to the airplane manufacturer's records, the pilot had previously owned a Lancair LC42-550FG (Columbia 350). He attended upgrade training for the Columbia 400 on October 11 and 12, 2005, when he took delivery of the airplane.
The other pilot onboard also held a private pilot certificate, with airplane single engine land, and instrument airplane ratings. However, a representative of the medical examiner's office reported that neither the pilot-rated passenger's, nor the other passengers' seat positions could be determined.
The airplane was manufactured in 2005, and was powered by a 310-horsepower Teledyne Continental TSIO-550 engine. The airplane's most recent listing of operational time, on a work order dated January 10, 2006, was 57.1 hours.
Although the airplane was registered as a Lancair Company LC41-550FG, it was more commonly known as a Columbia 400. According to a company representative, there had been confusion between Lancair International kit-built airplanes and Lancair Company certified airplanes, so in 2005, the entity that produced the certified airplanes, such as the accident airplane, became Columbia Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation.
Runway 33 was 5,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, and the touchdown zone elevation was 196 feet.
According to the airport manager, the runway lights were pilot-operated (by radio clicks) and were programmed to remain on for 15 minutes.
The state-owned ILS was evaluated for accuracy after the accident, Localizer/DME and glide slope, "verification parameters were within established standards and tolerances."
Weather, reported at the airport at 2340, included calm winds, 1 1/4 statue miles visibility, light drizzle, an overcast ceiling at 500 feet above the ground, temperature 41 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 37 degrees Fahrenheit, barometric pressure 29.95 inches Hg.
According to an Automatic Weather Observation System (AWOS) technician, the reported weather would have been summary of parameters from the preceding 20 minutes, but weather transmitted to pilots would have been more accurate. Ceilings would have been updated every 20 minutes, visibility every 8-10 minutes, temperature and dew point every 4-5 minutes, and the altimeter setting and winds every 30 seconds. The sensor was located near the glide slope antenna, with the visibility referenced to the north, and taken between two arms that were 6 feet apart. Ceiling height was measured vertically from the unit.
The passenger's wife, who went to the airport that evening, noted that it was a "misty, nasty night." There were also spots with fog, and a fog layer above her. When a police officer arrived, and went out on the tarmac with a flashlight, she could see the flashlight, but through the fog. When a police cruiser with flashing lights went out on the tarmac, she could initially see it, but as it drove off to her right, she lost it in the fog.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage, which was located in a wooded area on the following morning after the weather cleared, was an estimated 300 yards left of runway 33, about 3/4 along its length. The wreckage path began in a tree on a knoll, about 60 feet up the tree. Broken tree branches continued along a heading of approximately 260 degrees magnetic, for about 250 feet, at an estimated decent angle of about 20 degrees. The swath cut through the trees was angled, consistent with the airplane being in a left bank of about 30 degrees.
The descent angle increased sharply near the end of the wreckage flight path, and ended at an approximately 3- by 6-foot crater. Just beyond the crater, lay the main wreckage with the remnants of the cabin area upside down.
The main wreckage was almost entirely consumed by fire. All cockpit instruments were destroyed, and there was no recoverable non-volatile memory from the flight displays. The airplane was not equipped with any recording devices.
Parts of the aileron and elevator control system were identified, with no evidence of pre-impact failure noted. The rudder control cable exhibited separations consistent with overload.
The forward portion of the propeller hub, containing three propeller blade remnants, was separated from the aft portion of the hub and the engine. The propeller blade remnants ranged in length from 6 to 12 inches, and exhibited melting and fire damage at the ends. A blade tip, about 15 inches long, was also found, and exhibited s-bending. Melting was observed at the end opposite to the blade tip.
The engine exhibited severe impact and fire damage, and could not be rotated.
MEDICAL AND TOXICOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Due to the extent of the post-accident fire, pilot autopsy and toxicological testing could not be performed.
On March 9, 2006, a wreckage release was provided to a representative of the recovery company.