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On October 6, 2006, about 1415 Pacific daylight time, an Ulfeldt Kitfox IV-1200, N134U, experienced a loss of engine power during initial climb from an open field about 10 nautical miles west-southwest (254 degrees, magnetic) of Gridley, California. Thereafter, the pilot(s) flying the experimental, home-built airplane reversed course. During the turn the airplane descended in a steep nose down and wing low attitude until impacting near the open field where the airplane had taken off about 1 minute earlier. A post-impact fire immediately erupted that destroyed the airplane. Both pilots were fatally injured. There were no passengers on board the dual control airplane. The commercial certificated pilot was the airplane's registered owner. The second pilot held a private pilot certificate and was reportedly a personal friend of the owner. The flight was performed under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for the personal flight.
According to an officer from the Colusa County Sheriff's Department who responded to the accident site, the airplane owner's wife reported to him that her husband had experienced a fuel-related problem with his airplane during the week preceding the accident flight. The pilot reportedly fixed the problem, and the pilot's friend (second pilot) may have assisted in performing the repair.
The pilot-owner's wife reported to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator that her husband might have assembled the airplane using components from other airplanes. The airplane bore a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) registration number, but she did not know what it was, and she did not know the model of the accident airplane.
An eyewitness reported to the Safety Board investigator that he had spoken with the accident pilot (airplane owner/first pilot) minutes prior to his takeoff from a crop duster airstrip, which was located next to a farmer's field that he was tending. In pertinent part, the witness stated that the accident pilot was standing by his airplane. The accident pilot informed the witness that he and his friend had departed from the Willows-Glenn County Airport with an intended destination of the Yuba County Airport, Marysville, California. However, while cruising en route they had experienced an engine problem, and they landed at the dirt airstrip as a precaution. They were looking at the airplane to see if they could ascertain the nature of the problem and fix it.
The witness also stated to the Safety Board investigator that he observed the engine's cowling had been removed. The witness reported that he offered the first pilot use of a wrench. His offer was accepted, and the pilot proceeded to loosen one or two fittings in the engine area. The witness observed fuel "spurting" from the area after the fuel pump had been turned on. It was obvious to the witness that the airplane had fuel. Thereafter, the pilot and his friend replaced the engine cowling. The first pilot indicated to the witness that he believed his problem was fixed, and he planned to takeoff. The witness observed the airplane taxi to the south end of the north-south oriented airstrip.
The witness estimated that the airplane became airborne after rolling between 1,200 and 1,500 feet. Initially, the airplane climbed over the airstrip, but then it veered slightly right of centerline. The wind was light and variable. The airplane gained between 200 and 250 feet above ground level and then turned "sharply right." The witness estimated that the bank angle was nearly 40 degrees, and the airplane appeared to be reversing course. No smoke was noted trailing from the airplane. During the turn, no engine sound was heard. The airplane appeared to stall, and then it spiraled down while "quickly descending in a steep dive." It appeared to impact the field in a wing low and nose low attitude, with the engine and a wing hitting the ground at the same time. The airplane "exploded" upon impacting the ground. The fuselage, empennage, and the engine were all located together, at the site of ground impact. The main landing gear was found about 15 feet southeast of the main wreckage. The airplane came to rest less than 1/8-mile north-northeast of the airstrip.
The witness further stated to the Safety Board investigator that he was also a pilot. He stated that crop duster airplanes typically use the airstrip from which the accident airplane departed. The airstrip has a dirt runway oriented in a north-to-south direction, and he estimated that it is between 2,000 and 2,500 feet long.
The Colusa County Sheriff's department recovered the wreckage and placed it into temporary secured storage for its subsequent examination by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) personnel from the Sacramento, California, Flight Standards District Office (FSDO).
The first pilot was the registered owner of the airplane. He held a commercial pilot certificate with the following ratings: single and multiengine land airplane, and instrument airplane. The pilot-owner did not hold a FAA mechanic certificate. According to the FAA, the pilot reported having an estimated 800 hours of flight time.
The second pilot held a private pilot certificate, with the following rating: single engine land airplane. The second pilot did not hold a FAA mechanic certificate. According to the FAA, he had an estimated 935 hours of flight time.
No flight logbooks were provided to the Safety Board investigator for either pilot.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located in an open, near a level, plowed rice field at the following approximate global positioning system coordinates: 39 degrees 21.61 minutes north latitude, by 121 degrees 55.54 minutes west longitude. The estimated elevation is 60 feet mean sea level.
On October 18, 2006, an FAA inspector from Sacramento FSDO reported having completed the on scene examination of the accident site and the follow-up structural examination of the airframe. In pertinent part, the FAA reported that the airplane's structure was found in one principal location at the site of the ground impact. Several portions of the airframe structure separated from the main wreckage and were located adjacent to the main impact site. In particular, the landing gear was found separated from the fuselage, and the wings were displaced/separated from their respective attachment points. Based upon the ground scar signature, the airplane came to rest immediately after touchdown. No ground scar swath leading to the main wreckage was observed. The soil around the main wreckage area was undisturbed by the impact. According to the FAA, the wreckage exhibited signatures consistent with "severe G forces during ground impact."
Regarding the structural examination of the airframe, the FAA was unable to confirm continuity of the flight control system. The airframe exhibited impact-related signatures and was destroyed by the post-impact ground fire. The FAA noted that the airplane was manufactured with fabric covered wings with wooden ribs, and with a wooden propeller, all of which were destroyed by the post impact fire. No airplane maintenance or logbooks were provided to the Safety Board for examination.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The first and second pilots held FAA aviation medical certificates that were issued in the third-class. The certificates were issued in October 2006 and August 2005, respectively.
An autopsy was performed on each pilot by the Colusa County Coroner's Office, 929 Bridge Street, Colusa, California 95932.
Results of toxicology tests performed by the FAA's Forensic Toxicology Research Laboratory on the first pilot revealed 0.4 ug of cyanide in his blood. No drugs or ethanol was detected.
Results of toxicology tests on the second pilot revealed ibuprofen in his urine. No other drugs or ethanol was detected.
The airplane wreckage was released to the pilot's wife on October 19, 2006. No parts were retained.