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On October 24, 2006, at 1958 mountain daylight time, a Cessna 172M, N9179D, was destroyed when it impacted terrain near Escalante, Utah. The instrument rated commercial pilot, the sole occupant on board, was fatally injured. Desert Wind Air Service LLC, in Mesa, Arizona, was operating the airplane under Title 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the beginning of the flight. The last hour of the flight was flown over very sparsely populated terrain, most of which was the 1.98 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The flight was a dark night positioning cross-country flight, which had originated 2 hours, 51 minutes before the accident. The pilot was flying with an opened visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan.
The pilot filed a VFR flight plan and got a weather update at 1216 on the day of the accident. He was planning to fly from Falcon Field Airport (FFZ), Mesa, Arizona, to Provo Municipal Airport (PVU), Provo, Utah, with a departure at 1600. The great circle distance was 406 nautical miles (nm). The pilot said that the flight would be 4 hours and 45 minutes in length, and he had 6 hours and 44 minutes of fuel on board. He was planning to fly at 9,500 feet, with a fuel stop at Page, Arizona.
The operator reported that maintenance was being performed on the airplane until late afternoon on the day of the accident. Air Traffic Control records for Falcon Field Airport tower indicated that the pilot was cleared for takeoff at 1706. Prescott Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) records indicated that the pilot opened his flight plan at 1711. The pilot also stated that he was canceling his fuel stop at Page, Arizona, and was planning to fly directly to Provo, Utah. No further contact was documented with the pilot.
When the pilot did not arrive at his destination, at his scheduled time, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commenced a search 30 minutes after that time. On the morning of October 25, a helicopter was sent to the location of the last recorded radar return, and found the downed aircraft.
The pilot's most recent FAA flight medical exam (second class) was taken on October 9, 2006. The pilot's flight logbook indicates that his last flight review was on October 2, 2006 and an instrument proficiency check was completed on October 11, 2006. His flight logbook further indicated that he had not flown between September 30, 2005, and September 21, 2006; he had approximately 480 hours of flight experience before the accident flight.
The pilot began his flight training in September 2000, and he passed his private pilot check ride on August 8, 2002, with 123 hours of training. He passed his instrument rating check ride on July 24, 2003, with 78 hours of simulated (hood) instrument training. The pilot's flight logbook indicated that he had 1.8 hours actual instrument flight time (flown approximately 3.5 years before the accident); it also indicated he had approximately 15 hours of night flying, most of which was flown in August and September of 2003.
The airplane was a single engine, propeller-driven, fixed landing gear, four seat airplane, which was manufactured by Cessna Aircraft Company in 1976. The airplane had a maximum takeoff gross weight of 2,300 pounds. It was powered by a Lycoming O-320-E2D, four cylinder, reciprocating, carbureted engine, which had a maximum takeoff rating of 150 horsepower at sea level. Maintenance records indicated that an overhauled engine was installed on the aircraft on October 21, 2006, and the last annual inspection was completed on October 24, 2006. The airplane's engine tachometer read 4,682.8 hours at the time of the annual inspection.
The airplane was equipped with two 26-gallon fuel tanks; its total usable fuel was 48 gallons. Multiple alterations had been performed on the aircraft for aerial photographic surveying and had been documented per FAA Form 337s. The pilot had a handheld Garmin GPS 196 with him.
At 1953, the weather conditions at Bryce Canyon, Utah (elevation 7,590 feet), located 270 degrees for 46 nautical miles (nm) from the accident site, were as follows: wind calm; visibility 10 statue miles; scattered clouds at 3,000 feet, broken clouds at 3,600 feet, overcast at 4,900 feet; temperature 39 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 37 degrees Fahrenheit; altimeter setting 30.06 inches of Hg; light rain.
Nexrad weather data and satellite weather imagery indicated that a frontal storm system was moving into the accident area from the northwest. Weather reports at Page, Arizona, indicated that at 1856, overcast was reported at 8,000 feet. At 1956 overcast was reported at 7,000 feet. The aircraft over flew Page at 1927. Light rain was reported from Page, Arizona, to Bryce Canyon, Utah, to Escalante, Utah. National Park rangers from Bryce Canyon, Utah, and Escalante, Utah, reported strong winds with occasional heavy rain on the evening of the accident. On October 24, 2006, the sunset at 1837 and the moon set at 1948.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane was found at N37 degrees, 32.059' latitude and W111 degrees, 11.345' longitude, at an elevation of 5,350 feet. The terrain was mountainous desert with sparse vegetation. Three parallel grooves, with imbedded rubber, were found in the sandstone, and airplane debris and wreckage extended from them on a 60 degree magnetic heading. The debris field terminated 1,200 feet later with the airplane's engine. All of the airplane's major components and flight controls were accounted for at the accident site.
The main fuselage, cockpit area, and empennage were crushed and fragmented; the main wreckage was located at approximately 305 feet from the initial impact scars. The seats had separated from the seat tracks and the seat tracks were fragmented. The aircraft was equipped with seat belts and shoulder harnesses. The majority of the cockpit instrumentation was fragmented.
Both wings separated from the fuselage. The left fuel tank remained with the left wing and was breached. The right fuel tank separated from the wing and exhibited signatures of hydraulic fluid rupturing. The flap actuator measurement indicated that the flaps were retracted. The rudder remained attached to the vertical fin. The outboard portion of the right elevator was separated and the inboard portion of the elevator tab remained attached. The left elevator was intact and had impact damage to the outboard section.
The engine had separated from the aircraft and was stripped of all its accessories, the accessory case, oil sump, intake and exhaust tubes, baffling and number 2 cylinder head. Borescope inspection of the remaining cylinders revealed no anomalies. Due to a bent propeller flange and cracked case, the crankshaft was not rotatable. All of the accessories were destroyed and only small pieces were identifiable. The propeller was bent, twisted, exhibited cord wise striations, and was mechanically abraded.
The post accident examination of the airframe and engine revealed no preimpact anomalies, which might have affected the airplane's flight performance before the accident.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The State of Utah's Department of Health, Office of the Medical Examiner, Salt Lake City, Utah, performed an autopsy on the pilot on October 27, 2006. The medical examiner determined that the pilot died from blunt trauma injuries.
The FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology tests on the pilot. According to CAMI's report (#200600259001), carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles, and drugs were tested, and had negative results.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The pilot's handheld Garmin GPS 196 was downloaded and provided data for his entire flight from takeoff to impact. This data indicated that the airplane's altitude, during the cruise portion of the flight, varied from 7,100 feet to 10,900 feet. From 1944:28 to 1951:59 the altitude was between 10,661 feet and 10,733 feet, with headings from 026 degrees to 060 degrees. From 1951:59 to 1956:08 the altitude was between 10,733 feet and 10,588 feet, and the heading changed from 060 degrees to 319 degrees. In the last 1 minute and 51 seconds of flight, the airplane's altitude decreased from 10,588 feet to 5,927 feet, and the aircraft turned from 319 degrees to 162 degrees. During the last 26 seconds of the flight, the airplane's rate of descent was approximately 6,245 feet per minute with the airplane's groundspeed increasing from 110 knots to 202 knots.
The airplane, including all components and logbooks, was released to the owner, on May 29, 2007.