NYC07LA095
NYC07LA095

On April 16, 2007, at 0846 eastern daylight time, a Rolladen-Schneider LS8-18 glider, C-GFPQ, was substantially damaged when it impacted mountainous terrain near Circleville, West Virginia. The certificated private pilot was seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for the flight, which originated at Williamsport Regional Airport (IPT), Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The competition flight was conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to the pilot, the flight, if successful, would have resulted in six 15-meter/standard class world glider records. Two weeks earlier, he completed a similar flight utilizing the same Appalachian ridge lift conditions.

The pilot also stated that he had prepared "extensively" for the flight, and had monitored weather conditions consistently during the previous 2 weeks. He utilized North American Mesoscale (NAM), Global Forecast System (GFS), and Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) modeling. Leading up the flight, the RUC predicted an area of precipitation; however, the conditions improved prior to the flight.

The pilot further noted that he was very familiar with the ridge, having flown more than 500 hours over it, including a first place finish at the previous year's Sport Class Nationals.

The pilot characterized the flight, until the accident, as "uneventful," with "good" visibility and winds "favorable for ridge lift," and he did not have to make any 360-degree turns during the flight. He was "cruising on course" when he encountered "extreme mechanical turbulence" near the "spine" of a mountain, which "drove the glider down and into the side of a ridge."

The pilot and glider were located on April 17, 2007, about 0830. The pilot reported that the activation of his Emergency Locator Transmitter aided in his location.

The flight loggers were recovered, and sent to the National Transportation Safety Board Recorders Laboratory for download. A Special Study of the data indicated that the glider departed Williamsport at 0627, and was released from tow at 0630. The "task" began at 0633, with glider heading toward a ridge, and turning southwest. The glider flew past Lockhaven, Pennsylvania, Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Frostburg, Virginia. The recorder indicated that the glider dropped below flying speed about 0846, and the recorder stopped recording about 2 1/2 minutes later.

The Special Study also indicated that the glider never circled during the flight. "The pilot appeared to employing a method called 'porpoise flying' whereby the pilot slows down in lift and speeds up when encountering sink in order to maintain best L/D [lift/drag] over the ground. This method is employed to maximize distance traveled over the ground while minimizing time in flight." In addition, "The pilot often maintained an indicated altitude of less than 200 feet over the terrain, in order to climb back up to ridge top level when crossing gaps or other areas containing sink." The Study further noted that it was "not possible with any degree of accuracy from the data to determine winds aloft due to the absence of any thermal activity on the part of the glider."

The accident occurred during daylight hours, in the vicinity of 38 degrees, 37.2 minutes north latitude, 79 degrees, 29.2 minutes west longitude. The elevation for that plotted location was about 4,100 feet, in mountainous terrain.

The pilot held both Canadian and U.S. private pilot certificates, with airplane single engine land, and glider ratings. He was the current Canadian National Champion in standard class gliders, and previously represented Canada in the World Championships.

Neither the pilot nor the Federal Aviation Administration inspector who examined the wreckage reported any preexisting mechanical anomalies.

Weather, reported at the airport in Elkins, West Virginia, about 20 nautical miles (nm) to the northwest, at 0851, included winds from 320 degrees true at 19, gusting to 31 knots, 1 statute mile (sm) visibility, light snow, a broken cloud layer at 1,300 feet above the ground (agl), a broken cloud layer at 2,200 feet, an overcast cloud layer at 2,700 feet, temperature -1 degree Celsius (C), dew point -4 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.58 inches of mercury (Hg). Airport elevation was 1,987 feet.

Weather, reported at the airport in Petersburg, West Virginia, about 25 nm to the north, at 0900, included winds from 300 degrees true at 19, gusting to 34 knots, 7 sm visibility, light snow, a broken cloud layer at 3,600 feet agl, an overcast cloud layer at 4,500 feet, temperature 4 degrees C, dew point -6 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.48 inches Hg. Airport elevation was 963 feet.

Weather, reported at the airport in Staunton, Virginia, about 35 nm to the southeast, at 0843, included winds from 280 degrees true at 10, gusting to 24 knots, 10 sm visibility, scattered clouds at 5,000 feet agl, temperature 4 degrees C, dew point -3 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.456 inches Hg. Airport elevation was 1,201 feet.

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