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On November 9, 2007, about 1200 Pacific standard time, a Piper Aerostar PA-60-602P, N6895Z, collided with terrain in a citrus grove during an attempted emergency landing near McFarland, California. The owner/pilot was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal (CFR) Part 91. The private pilot and two passengers were killed; the airplane was destroyed. The cross-country personal flight departed Roseburg Regional Airport (RBG), Roseburg, Oregon, about 0915 with a planned destination of Mc Clellan-Palomar Airport (CRQ), Carlsbad, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan had been filed.
After departing from RBG, the flight climbed to flight level 210. About two hours into the flight, the pilot contacted Air Traffic Control (ATC) and requested to divert to Meadows Field Airport (BFL), Bakersfield, California to make a fuel stop. ATC approved the diversion. Twenty minutes elapsed before the pilot requested to start his descent which was about 20 nm north of Fresno, California. Twenty-eight minutes later the pilot reported to ATC that he had a fuel problem and one of the engines was “sputtering.” Two minutes later the pilot declared an emergency and advised ATC that both engines were sputtering. During the last transmission from the pilot, he advised ATC he was at 1,000 feet, with a speed of 110 knots and slowing.
Witnesses near the accident site observed the airplane flying southbound with the wings rocking side-to-side. The airplane then rolled to the right before crashing into the citrus grove.
A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed that the 60 year old pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multi-engine land, and instrument airplane.
The pilot held a third-class medical certificate issued in March 2006. It had no limitations or waivers.
The available personal flight records for the pilot did not report the pilot's total flight time. The pilot reported to his insurance company that, as of October 2007, he had a total flight time of 1,210 hours. He logged 475 hours in multi-engine airplanes and 15 hours in the accident airplane make and model.
A close friend of the pilot reported that the pilot had begun flying about 12 years ago. He stated that the pilot most recently owned a Beechcraft King-Air, which he sold in October 2005. The accident pilot had not been flying until he purchased the accident airplane in August 2007. The friend also stated that the pilot was new to the Aerostar, with no prior experience in the accident make and model airplane.
The pilot's records, along with statements from other pilots who had flown with him, revealed that the accident flight was his first flight in the Aerostar at an altitude greater than 13,000 feet. In addition, the 700 nm flight was the pilot's longest distance traveled in the accident airplane.
The twin engine, mid-wing, retractable gear, airplane serial number 62P09188165043 was manufactured in 1981. A review of the airplane's logbooks revealed the airplane had a total airframe time of 3,760.2 flight hours at the last annual inspection. The logbooks contained an entry for an annual inspection dated June 1, 2007. The Hobbs hour meter read 3740.2 at the last inspection. The Hobbs hour meter read 3760.1 at the accident site.
The left engine was a Textron Lycoming IO-540-S1A5, serial number L-19159-48A. Total time recorded on the engine at the last annual inspection was 3,337.9 hours, and time since major overhaul was 404.3 hours. Total time on the engine at the time of the accident was 3,357.9 hours, and time since major overhaul was 424.3 hours.
The right engine was a Textron Lycoming IO-540-AA1A5, serial number L-21221-48A. Total time recorded on the engine at the last annual inspection was 2,506.1 hours, and time since major overhaul was 125.9 hours. Total time on the engine at the time of the accident was 2,526.0 hours, and time since major overhaul was 145.8 hours.
Fueling records at Ocean Air Aviation located at Roseburg Regional Airport established that the airplane was last fueled on November 9, 2007, with the addition of 35.8 gallons of 100-octane aviation fuel.
The FAA coordinator contacted Ocean Air Aviation and interviewed the employee who refueled the airplane. The employee stated that when he arrived at the airplane hangar, the pilot had already pulled the airplane out of the hangar. The airplane was parked on a slope. He estimated that the left wing tip was 12 to 14 inches lower than the right wing tip. He said that the pilot was very concerned about getting as much fuel in the airplane as possible because of his up-coming flight to San Diego.
The closest official weather observation station was (BFL), which was located 12.5 nautical miles (nm) south of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 507 feet msl. An aviation routine weather report (METAR) for BFL was issued at 1154 PST. It reported: winds from 320 degrees at 10 knots gusting to 15 knots; visibility 10 miles; skies clear; temperature 66 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 46 degrees Fahrenheit; altimeter 30.00 inHg.
A review of the communications between the pilot and air traffic controllers disclosed that at 1108 PST and about 77 nm north of Fresno, California (FAT), at an altitude of 21,000 feet, the pilot requested to divert to Bakersfield, California, for a "fuel stop." At 1127 PST, radar data shows the radar track for N6895Z starting a descent from 21,000 feet about 20 nm north of FAT.
At 1155, the tower controller at BFL received a radio call from the accident pilot reporting that he was experiencing a fuel problem and that one engine was sputtering. The pilot advised that he was not declaring an emergency.
At 1157, the pilot advised ATC he was declaring an emergency. ATC personnel requested to know how many soles on board and the fuel remaining. The pilot reported to the controller that there were three occupants and 15 gallons of fuel.
The nearest airport to the accident site was Poso-Kern County Airport (L73), Famoso, California. L73 was located 1.8 nm south of the accident site. The Airport Facility Directory, Southwest United States, indicated that runway 16 was 3,000 feet long and 60 feet wide. The runway surface was asphalt, and had a displace threshold of 210 feet.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage was located in a citrus grove containing plantings of citrus trees spaced approximately 10 feet apart. The trees' heights ranged between 12 and 16 feet. The stands were oriented on a north/south heading and were spaced approximately 24 feet apart.
The wreckage was localized in an area approximately 50 feet wide by 70 feet long. The first identified point of contact (FIPC) was in hardened soil, five feet east of the base of a 15-foot tall tree. The tree displayed no signs of impact damage.
The FIPC was characterized by a five inch semi-circular impression and was surrounded by paint flakes and small red plastic fragments. A crushed fiber glass left wing tip was located six feet south of the impact point.
A second impact point, characterized by a two foot deep crater, approximately two feet by five feet in width, was oriented on a heading of about 100 degrees magnetic, relative to, and 16 feet from, the initial impact point.
Trees adjacent to this crater displayed freshly cut limbs. A third, smaller hole was located 13 feet beyond, on the same heading.
Door fragments, the outboard right wing, and the pilots' seat were located six feet south of the hole.
The right wing fuel tank sustained multiple impact related ruptures. The main wreckage came to rest 20 feet south of the right wing. The tail section aft of the rear cargo door was largely undamaged and came to rest against a tree at a 45-degree, tail-up angle, on a heading of 180 degrees. The passenger cabin area and wing center sections were folded directly upwards, on the same heading, and remained attached to the tail by control cables.
The nose, cockpit, and flight controls displayed high degrees of impact damage and came to rest at the base of the wing center section. Both engines were separated from their mounts and came to rest adjacent to each other, just to the east of the wreckage.
The outboard left wing lay perpendicular to the tail and was observed to have sustained impact damage to the leading edge, two feet inboard from the tip. The right wing fuel tank sustained multiple impact related ruptures.
Fuel caps for the center tank and both wings were accounted for and found to be securely in place on their respective fillers.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Kern County Coroner completed an autopsy of the pilot. The FAA Bio-aeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory Forensic Toxicology Research Team, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing of specimens of the pilot.
Analysis of the specimens contained no findings for carbon monoxide, cyanide, and tested drugs.
The report contained the following findings for volatiles: 16 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ethanol detected in muscle, and 30 (mg/dL, mg/hg) ethanol detected in liver.
The autopsy report stated that the ethanol found in this case may potentially be from postmortem ethanol formation, and not from the ingestion of ethanol.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Investigators examined the wreckage at Aircraft Recovery Service, Littlerock, California, on December 12, 2007.
Examination of the airframe revealed no pre-impact failure to any flight control surface or control system component. The powerplant investigation did not disclose any pre-impact mechanical failure of any rotating or reciprocating component of the engine.
According to information contained within the Pilot's Operating Handbook and FAA Approved Airplane Flight Manual (VB-1190), "The full amount of usable fuel is based on the airplane sitting on a level ramp, laterally level, and longitudinally (approximately 1 1/2 degree Nose up) with each tank fueled to 0.6 inches below filler neck. The wing tanks are extremely sensitive to attitude and if not level, they cannot be fueled to the full usable capacity. This information is also included in the FAA Type Certificate Data Sheet No. A17WE under the section Data Pertinent to All Models, Note 1.