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On May 23, 2007, about 1850 eastern daylight time, a Boeing Stearman A75N1, N55718, was substantially damaged when it impacted water in Charleston Harbor, Charleston, South Carolina. The certificated private pilot and a passenger were killed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the flight that departed Charleston Executive Airport (JZI). The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91.
The airplane was based at JZI and owned by the accident pilot, and another co-owner. The co-owner reported that the pilot and passenger planned to conduct a local sightseeing flight. The pilot was seated in the rear seat and the passenger was seated in the front seat.
A witness, located on a deck over-looking Charleston Harbor, observed the airplane flying in a level attitude about 500 feet above the water. The airplane "banked hard" to the right until it reached 20 to 30 feet above the water. It then continued to turn and climbed to an altitude of about 100 to 150 feet. It then started to fly out toward the ocean (southeast). He further stated, "...it banked and began to dive again in a 45-degree angle, but within seconds the wings became vertical and the right wing struck the water...." He did not report hearing any unusual engine noises, and other witnesses reported hearing the engine operating continuously until the impact with the water.
The airplane was recovered from the water on May 25, 2007. According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, the airplane's wings, which were of internally braced wooden construction and the fuselage, which consisted of welded tubular construction, were severely fragmented. Examination of the wreckage by the FAA inspector did not reveal any preimpact mechanical malfunctions. The wreckage was then transported to a storage facility located in Griffin, Georgia.
The wreckage was subsequently viewed on November 9, 2007, by other personnel, which included the co-owner and an insurance company representative. They reported that they observed the forward cockpit control surface lock handle in the down and locked position. The purpose of the handle when down and locked was to secure the rudder, ailerons and elevator. The control surface lock could be actuated via handles located in the forward and aft cockpit, which were attached to a common torque tube. The locking mechanism was located in the forward cockpit.
The wreckage was further examined by an FAA inspector on November 30, 2007, and by a National Transportation Safety Board investigator on February 21, 2008. The control lock handle located in the forward cockpit was observed in the down (locked) position and continuity of the torque tube was observed to the aft cockpit control lock handle. The Safety Board investigator positioned the handle upward, toward the unlocked position and noted that the handle was in a midrange position when it contacted a displaced section of the engine mixture control tube, which contained an area of missing paint. He also noted fractured structural tubing below the handle, which displayed witness marks that corresponded with the handle. Examination of the control lock pin holes did not reveal any deformation, and they were similar to lock pin holes that were observed on an exemplar Stearman. In addition, when the control lock was engaged on an exemplar Stearman, it was noted that the rudder locked in the faired position, and if the stick was not fully forward when the control lock was engaged, the ailerons and elevator could still be controlled; however, aileron control became limited as the stick moved close to full-forward travel.
The private pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. He also held a mechanic certificate with an airframe and powerplant rating and an inspection authorization (IA). Review of the pilot's logbook revealed that he received a tailwheel endorsement in the airplane on May 6, 2005. He had logged approximately 870 hours of total flight experience; which included about 60 hours in the accident airplane, with about 5 hours and 13 hours, all in the accident airplane during the 30 and 90 days preceding the accident, respectively. He also flew the airplane for 1.3 hours the day prior to the accident.
The private pilot, who had former military flight experience, reported 2,125 hours of total flight experience on his most recent application for an FAA second-class medical certificate, which was issued on May 11, 2007.
The airplane's maintenance logbooks were not recovered. According to the co-owner, the airplane's most recent annual inspection was performed about 3 weeks prior to the accident, by the private pilot, who maintained the airplane. The airplane was completely refurbished in 2005 and had been operated about 150 hours since the restoration. The engine had been operated for about 800 total hours.
The co-owner stated that he believed the maintenance records were located in the airplane at the time of the accident. He further reported that the airplane was flown to an airshow in Florida, about 1 month prior to the accident. It was then flown to Lumberton, North Carolina, the weekend prior to the accident. He was not aware of any current outstanding maintenance discrepancies.
The airplane was a two-place open-cockpit biplane, manufactured in 1942 as a military trainer. At the time of the accident it was equipped with a Lycoming R680 series engine. According to paperwork obtained from the FAA, the airplane was transferred under the provisions of the Surplus Property Act of 1944 from military to civilian use, and issued an airworthiness certificate by the Civil Aeronautics Administration on April 8, 1946.
Autopsies were performed on the pilot and passenger by the Medical University of South Carolina Department of Pathology and Lab Medicine, Charleston, South Carolina, on May 24, 2007.
According to the autopsy reports, the pilot died as a result of "blunt forces head trauma and drowning" and the passenger died of injuries that were sustained during an airplane crash into the water. The manner of death listed for both occupants was "accident." The autopsy report on the pilot noted "A coarsely granular, tan calculus/stone, 1.6 x 1 x 0.6 cm, is in the left renal pelvis." The autopsy report on the passenger noted that "Two (pharmaceutical) capsules" were identified in the passenger's alimentary tract.
On December 5, 2008, the Charleston County Coroner's Office conducted an inquest into the accident to determine if the fatalities were brought about in an unlawful manner. The inquest verdict was "undetermined."
Toxicological testing was conducted on the 61-year-old pilot, and 76-year-old passenger, by the FAA Forensic Toxicology Research Team, Civil Aerospace Medical Institute. The pilot's toxicology was negative for alcohol and drugs. The passenger's toxicology was positive for "Cetirizine detected in Blood" and "Cetirizine present in Urine" and also noted:
"126 (mg/dl) Glucose detected in Urine
40 (mg/dl) Glucose detected in Vitreous
7.6 (%) Hemoglobin A1C detected in Blood"
The passenger's stepson reported that the passenger was a diabetic, which was controlled with insulin use. He also reported that the passenger had prostate and knee "problems."
The weather reported at an airport located about 13 miles northwest of the accident site, at 1856, was: wind from 080 degrees at 17 knots, gusting to 22 knots; visibility 10 statute miles, few clouds at 5,000 feet; temperature 24 degrees Celsius (C); dew point 13 degrees C, altimeter 30.31 inches of mercury.