NYC07LA032
NYC07LA032

On November 17, 2006, about 1600 eastern standard time, a Columbia Aircraft LC41-550FG, N1442E, was substantially damaged during a landing when it impacted another airplane being towed across the runway at Somerset Airport (SMQ), Somerville, New Jersey. The certificated commercial pilot, the certificated student pilot, and two passengers onboard the Columbia were not injured, nor was the tug driver. The local sales demonstration flight was being conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, the commercial pilot reported that during the 30-minute demonstration flight, the student pilot, as the prospective customer, was in the left seat, and the commercial pilot was in the right seat. The commercial pilot also stated that he made all the necessary radio calls, "such as base and final approach," for a runway 30 landing, and that the student pilot was on the controls with him. During the final approach segment, the airplane's airspeed was 80 knots, and the commercial pilot was focusing on the point of intended touchdown. He kept the point of intended touchdown on the windscreen until "level off," did not look down the runway until the main wheels touched down, and did not notice the airplane in tow until the nose wheel touched down. At that point, both he and the student pilot were on the brakes. He tried to steer behind the towed airplane, but was unsuccessful.

A review of airman records revealed that the commercial pilot was also a certificated flight instructor.

When interviewed, the student pilot confirmed that the flight was a sales demonstration flight. The airplane departed Somerset, and headed west, toward Allentown where, among other things, he practiced turns and stalls. When the airplane returned to Somerset, the student pilot, with the instructor assisting, flew a normal, left pattern approach. On final approach, the student pilot did not see anything on the runway, and just prior to the flare, he still did not see anything on the runway. As soon as the airplane's nose wheel touched down for the landing, the student pilot saw the nose of the towed airplane on the right side of the runway, and the tail on the left side of the runway. The tug driver jumped off the vehicle, and the Columbia impacted the tail of the airplane in tow.

According to the tug driver's written statement, when he was [about to] cross the runway with an airplane in tow, he "did not see any aircraft." However, as he was crossing the runway, he saw "a small plane landing out of nowhere." He tried to go forward and clear the runway quickly, but did not clear it in time. The landing airplane's pilot "hit his brakes but began to skid into the aircraft I was towing," and the landing airplane struck the towed airplane's tail.

The student pilot reported that the tug driver was wearing hearing protection over his ears when the collision occurred, and the commercial pilot noted that he was not carrying a radio.

A witness in another airplane, in a left crosswind of the landing pattern, heard the accident airplane's pilot transmit an "initial call." He did not see the airplane at first, but as he turned downwind, he located the accident airplane on short final. The witness then completed his downwind turn, and noticed two airplanes stopped on the runway, about midfield. He then realized that the runway was closed.

The witness subsequently reiterated that he "only recalled hearing the initial position report from the landing aircraft, [and] the airport was relatively quiet, with little traffic."

Runway 30 was 2,733 long and 65 feet wide.

According to "Airport Ground Vehicles Operations, An FAA Guide," when a ground vehicle nears a runway, the driver is to "Slow down! Look both ways, and then look UP for aircraft that are landing or taking off....If an aircraft is about to land on a runway that you need to cross, stop and yield to the aircraft until it has landed and taxied clear of the runway. Then proceed." The guide also noted that "extra vigilance is key at nontowered airports. Aircraft do not have to communicate or announce their position in the pattern or on the surface...You can be lulled into complacency at nontowered airports because they usually aren't very busy, hence they don't justify a control tower."

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