CHI06LA163
CHI06LA163

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On June 25, 2006, at 0952 central daylight time, a Varga 2150A, N8267J, piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed during an in-flight collision with trees and terrain, and a post-impact fire near Columbus, Wisconsin. The flight was being conducted under 14 CFR Part 91 without a flight plan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The pilot sustained fatal injuries. The flight departed a private airstrip in Fall River, Wisconsin, about 0940. The intended destination was Capitol Airport (02C), Brookfield, Wisconsin.

The pilot attended a fly-in breakfast at Gilbert Field Airport (94C), Rio, Wisconsin; arriving there about 0800, according to a volunteer providing radio advisories. The volunteer reported that after breakfast the accident pilot could not get the engine started due to a low battery. The pilot told the volunteer that the engine had started without problems earlier and he didn't know what the problem was. The volunteer hand propped the airplane. The engine subsequently started and the airplane departed. When asked to describe how the engine sounded after start-up and during takeoff, he stated "beautiful."

A second witness at the fly-in reported that he saw the accident airplane take off. He stated that the airplane got airborne, "but didn't start a normal climb like the other aircraft which had taken off. Instead, it stayed low, 10 - 20 [feet] above the ground until near the east end of the runway . . . where it pitched up in a step climb to about 400 [feet] where it nosed over and accelerated." He noted that the airplane subsequently departed the area.

An acquaintance of the pilot who owned a private airstrip in Fall River reported that the accident pilot stopped there after the fly-in breakfast. The acquaintance stated that the accident pilot arrived about 0910. He noted that during their conversations the pilot discussed an electrical problem with the airplane. He reported that when the pilot attempted to start the engine there was no electrical power so he hand propped the airplane. He stated that the engine was "running perfect" during taxi out, run-up, and takeoff. He noted that the airplane took off about 0940. After takeoff, the pilot came around and made a pass at between 200 and 400 feet above ground level (agl) and then departed the area.

A witness driving eastbound on State Highway 16/60 at the time of the accident reported seeing an airplane flying the "terrain of the land about 50 feet above ground level." He stated that the airplane proceeded "down the river really low" before he lost sight of it. He noted that he did not see the airplane pull up and subsequently noticed a small fire in the direction of the airplane's travel.

A second witness, an off-duty police officer, stated that he was driving eastbound on State Highway 60, east of Highway TT, when he observed a white and blue airplane flying east about 20 - 30 feet above the river. He noted that it banked as if attempting to follow a bend in the river when it appeared to strike the top of a tree. He reported losing sight of it for a few seconds before his son pointed out the smoke from the accident site.

A third witness reported that he was working on his property located directly across the highway from Astico Park and the accident site. He stated that he looked over at the river and observed what he initially thought was a high-speed boat, but ultimately realized that it was an airplane. He noted that the airplane was in level flight about 10 -15 feet above the river. He reported that it subsequently pulled up and struck an overhanging tree, at which point something appeared to separate from the aircraft. He lost sight of it and thought the pilot had recovered, however, he observed smoke a short time later.

A fourth witness reported that he was at a campsite within Astico Park when he heard a loud engine sound. He stated that he observed an airplane flying below the tree line that appeared to be attempting to follow the river. He noted that it apparently tried to gain altitude when it clipped a tree and then began to lose altitude. The airplane subsequently struck another tree before impacting the opposite side of the riverbank.

The aircraft came to rest in a field on the east side of the tree line bordering the Crawfish River. A section of the right wing separated from the airframe and was recovered from the river.


PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a single-engine land airplane rating. He held a third-class airman medical certificate issued on June 2, 2005. The pilot's most recent flight review was completed on June 4, 2005.

The pilot's logbook was reviewed. His most recent logbook entry was dated January 1, 2006. According to the log, he had accumulated 504.5 hours total flight time as of the January 1st entry. Of that time, 462.8 hours were logged as pilot-in-command. The logbook included 294.9 hours in the same make and model as the accident airplane. Of those, 293.9 were entered as pilot-in-command.


AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The accident aircraft was a 1978 Varga 2150A airplane, serial number VAC-113-78. The airplane was a low wing, single-engine configuration. It incorporated two-place, tandem seating and a fixed tricycle landing gear arrangement. The airplane was powered by a Lycoming O-320-A2C reciprocating engine, serial number L48191-27A. The airplane was white with blue trim.

Federal Aviation Administration records revealed that the accident pilot purchased the airplane in June 2003.

Aircraft records indicated that the most recent annual inspection was completed on May 30, 2006. The entry noted the aircraft recording tachometer indicated 2,206.5 hours at the time of the inspection.


METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS

Conditions recorded at Dodge County Airport (UNU) at 0956 were: Wind from 130 degrees at 8 knots, visibility 10 statute miles (sm), scattered clouds at 2,300 feet above ground level (agl), overcast clouds at 3,200 feet agl, temperature 17 degrees Celsius, dew point 14 degrees Celsius, and altimeter 30.09 inches of mercury. UNU was located approximately 12 nautical miles (nm) northeast of the accident site.

Conditions recorded at Dane County Regional Airport (MSN) at 0953 were: Wind from 070 degrees at 6 knots, visibility 6 sm in haze, broken clouds at 1,500 feet agl, broken clouds at 2,800 feet agl, temperature 20 degrees Celsius, dew point 17 degrees Celsius, and altimeter 30.05 inches of mercury. MSN was located approximately 20 nm southwest of the accident site.


WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The accident site was located in a field adjacent to a tree line along the east bank of the Crawfish River at Astico Park in Dodge County, Wisconsin. The coordinates of the accident site were determined to be 43 degrees, 19.5 minutes north latitude; 088 degrees, 57 minutes west longitude. The airplane came to rest inverted. The outboard section of the right wing was separated from the airframe and was located in the river near an oak tree.

The oak tree was located along the south bank of the river at a point where the river begins to bend from the northeast to the east, and eventually bends more sharply until it runs in a south-southwesterly direction. The tree extended out over the river about 15 - 20 feet. Fresh breaks were observed in the limbs of the oak tree approximately 30 feet above ground level. Broken tree limbs with fresh breaks were also observed in the river below the tree.

The main wreckage consisted of the fuselage, engine, wings with the exception of the right outboard wing section, and empennage. Fire had consumed the forward fuselage and inboard portion of both wings.

All wing sections exhibited leading edge crushing damage. The left outboard wing section was dislocated from the inboard wing assembly. The left and right ailerons remained attached to their respective wing sections. Both flap assemblies remained attached to the wings.

The horizontal stabilizer, with the elevator intact, remained attached to the empennage. The vertical stabilizer, with the rudder assembly, was separated from the airframe. The vertical stabilizer/rudder assembly was lying near the main wreckage.

The fixed pitch propeller was intact and securely attached to the crankshaft. One blade was bent aft about 10 degrees near the tip. The second blade was bent forward approximately 20 degrees near a point about mid span of the blade. Chordwise scratches were observed on the second blade.

The engine was examined. Internal engine continuity was confirmed via crankshaft rotation. Compression was observed at all cylinders. Appearance of the spark plugs was consistent with normal wear. The engine-driven fuel pump had been damaged by the post-impact fire; however, the operating mechanism was intact and free to move. The left and right fuel shutoff valves were intact, although both were discolored consistent with involvement with a fire. One valve appeared to be completely open and unobstructed. The second valve was approximately 50-percent closed but otherwise appeared unobstructed.

Both magnetos were disassembled and inspected. No defects attributable to a pre-impact failure were observed. Fire damage precluded operational testing of either unit.


MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

An autopsy of the pilot was performed by the Fond du Lac County medical examiner on June 26, 2006. The report listed "Multiple traumatic injuries" as the cause of death. However, the report also noted the presence of "multiple sclerotic plaques" in the pilot's brain and cervical spinal cord, which are consistent with multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a progressive neurologic disease that may be completely asymptomatic or result in significant disability.

The FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute toxicology report noted the existence of marijuana in the pilot's blood and lung tissue. Specifically, the report stated:
0.0203 (ug/ml, ug/g) TETRAHYDROCANNABINOL (MARIHUANA) detected in Blood;
1.5249 (ug/ml, ug/g) TETRAHYDROCANNABINOL (MARIHUANA) detected in Lung;
0.1786 (ug/ml, ug/g) TETRAHYDROCANNABINOL CARBOXYLIC ACID (MARIHUANA) detected in Blood;
0.1018 (ug/ml, ug/g) TETRAHYDROCANNABINOL CARBOXYLIC ACID (MARIHUANA) detected in Lung;
0.5452 (ug/ml, ug/g) TETRAHYDROCANNABINOL CARBOXYLIC ACID (MARIHUANA) detected in Urine.

A prescription pharmaceutical compound containing Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, is conditionally approved in Canada for the relief of pain in MS in adults, and is currently undergoing trials in the United States for possible approval for similar uses.

The pilot's wife stated that both she and the pilot were unaware of the existence of MS prior to the accident.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The Federal Aviation Administration was a party to the investigation.

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