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On August 27, 2007, approximately 1610 mountain daylight time, an Elliott Cirrus VK30, N60GE, piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed when it impacted terrain near Watrous, New Mexico. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was being conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 without a flight plan. The pilot, who was also the owner and co-builder of the airplane, and a pilot-rated passenger (spouse) on board the airplane were fatally injured. The cross-country flight originated in Liberal (LBL), Kansas, at 1544 central daylight time, and was en route to Double Eagle II Airport (AEG), Albuquerque, New Mexico.
According to the New Mexico State Police report, witnesses reported seeing the airplane "flying at an odd angle" and trailing smoke. A FAA aviation safety inspector and a Teledyne Continental Motors (TCM) air safety investigator who went to the accident site described it as an open field and suitable for a forced landing. They reported finding impressions in the ground consistent with the landing gear being down. There were 3 propeller strike marks in the earth at the point of touchdown. Using a side-view scale drawing of the airplane, it was determined that the airplane had at least an 11 to 12 degree nose-up angle at the point of touchdown.
The wreckage path, from initial impact point to the final resting point, was strewn with airplane parts that had been exposed to fire. Several airplane pieces, mostly from the engine area, were scattered near and prior to the initial impact point. They had also been exposed to fire. On-scene photographs depicted a heat-blistered right intake scoop. According to the construction plans, the scoop covers the right side of the engine and the right turbocharger.
The airplane, model VK30 (s/n 121), was built by the owner and his son from a kit manufactured by Cirrus Design in 1993. It was a low-wing, cabin-class, composite-built airplane, powered by a Continental TSIO-550-E3B (converted from a TSIO-550-C6B) engine (s/n 802614), rated at 550 horsepower.
Visual meteorological conditions were reported by the Las Vegas, New Mexico, AWOS (Automatic Weather Observation Station), located approximately 14 miles southwest of the accident site. Visibility was reported as 10 statute miles (or greater), with winds varying from 210 to 240 degrees at 10 to 15 knots, with gusts to 19 knots. The sky condition varied from a few clouds at 11,000 feet, to a broken deck at 9,000 feet. Temperature was between 28 and 30 degrees Celsius (C.), and dew point was between 3 and 5 degrees C. The altimeter setting was 30.15 inches of Mercury.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the New Mexico Medical Examiner's Office. According to its report, "No soot [was found ] in the mouth, pharynx, or airways, indicating that the decedent was most likely not alive at the time of the fire. Therefore, it is most likely that death was caused by trauma (multiple blunt force injuries) before the fire." Both the State of New Mexico and FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute performed a toxicological screen, but insufficient hemoglobin in the blood precluded testing for carbon monoxide and cyanide.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
On September 27, 2007, the engine was disassembled and examined at the facilities of Beegles Aircraft Service, Greeley, Colorado. No anomalies were noted that would have prevented normal operation and production of rated power.
The left turbocharger was separated from the engine. The compressor shaft retaining nut was loose and the shaft could be rotated by hand. The right turbocharger remained attached to the engine. The wastegate was in the open position. The compressor/turbine shaft was undamaged but could not be rotated by hand.
The turbochargers were shipped to NTSB's Materials Laboratory for examination. According to the metallurgist's report, both turbochargers showed "no evidence of cracks, punctures, or holes that would allow any exhaust gas to escape, and the mechanical damage was determined to be impact related." The right turbocharger, however, exhibited "a black flame impingement pattern on the outboard side of the wastegate actuator. The rear face of the actuator mounting bracket displayed a similar impingement pattern and the forward face of the bracket displayed a deposit consistent with flame contact. The impingement pattern was consistent with a flame directed forward. To the rear of the actuator are two oil lines, one is an oil pressure line from the engine and the other is connected to the density controller (the density controller is operated by the discharge air pressure from the turbocharger and adjusts the bleed rate of the oil pressure thereby controlling the wastegate actuator). A portion of the upper oil line was still attached to the actuator and an examination revealed that only the wire braiding remained. The wire braiding was discolored, consistent with it being overheated." The airplane's co-builder supplied photographs that showed "there was no other flame source to the rear of the oil line and the actuator. It is therefore probable that a leak in the oil line sprayed oil forward onto the wastegate actuator and the oil spray was ignited by the hot turbine section of the turbocharger to which the actuator is connected, and initiated the in-flight fire."