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On June 17, 2008, approximately 1205 Hawaiian standard time, a Cessna 172M, N13713, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain near Pahala, Hawaii. The commercial pilot and his two passengers were killed. Above It All, Inc., d.b.a. Island Hoppers, was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight's departure from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, at approximately 1020. A visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan had been filed and opened for the island circumnavigation air tour flight. The flight plan was for 2:30 hours, at 2,000 feet.
The airplane departed on a nonscheduled sightseeing flight counterclockwise around the island of Hawaii. The pilot opened his flight plan with Air Traffic Control (ATC) at 1020. The flight plan indicated the route was north to Upolu Point, to Hilo, to South Point, and to Kona via the shoreline. Approach radar to Hilo International Airport first detected the airplane approximately 15 nautical miles (nm) north of Hilo at 1101; the airplane was recorded leaving Hilo radar coverage approximately 17 nm south of Hilo at 1117. The airplane was observed by another Island Hopper airplane in the area of Kalapana (where lava was entering the ocean), approximately 1130.
When the airplane did not return to Kailua-Kona at its scheduled time, a search was commenced. By the following day, the search became an island wide multi-agency search. On June 22, approximately 0600, the airplane was found in a rain forest, on the southeastern side of the volcano, Mauna Loa.
The 40-year-old pilot's most recent second-class Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) medical certificate was issued on June 20, 2007. He had reported on his application for this medical certificate that he was taking medication for high blood pressure. He held a commercial pilot certificate with single and multi-engine land airplane ratings, and an instrument airplane rating. He was a flight instructor in single and multi-engine land airplanes, and in instrument airplane. He was an advanced ground instructor and a ground instructor in instrument flight.
The airplane was a single-engine, propeller-driven, four seat airplane, with dual flight controls, which was manufactured by Cessna Aircraft Company in 1974. Its maximum takeoff gross weight was 2,300 pounds. Maintenance records indicate that the airplane's empty weight was 1,434 pounds. The operator estimated that the airplane weighed 2,012 pounds at the time of the accident. It was powered by a Lycoming O-320-E2D reciprocating, direct drive, aircooled, normally aspirated engine, which had a maximum takeoff rating of 150 horsepower at sea level. Maintenance records indicate that the last annual inspection was performed on August 24, 2007; the last 100-hour inspection was performed on May 23, 2008. The airframe had 12,921 hours on it at the time of the last 100-hour inspection.
At 1153, the weather conditions at Hilo International Airport (ITO; elevation 38 feet), Hilo, Hawaii, located 030 degrees and 44 nm from the accident site, were as follows: wind from 110 degrees at 13 knots; visibility 10 statute miles; clear of clouds; temperature 82 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 66 degrees Fahrenheit; altimeter setting 30.07 inches of Mercury.
A weather study performed by a National Transportation Safety Board meteorologist indicated that the island of Hawaii was exposed to light southeasterly trade winds. The flight around the island would have been under visual flight rules with two low-level cloud layers on the windward side with bases at about 3,500 and 7,000 feet. Cloud tops were generally about 7,500 feet during the morning, and developing to greater than 14,000 feet by early afternoon. The accident site was near the western edge of the cloud layer at 1130. During the succeeding hour, the edge of the cloud mass expanded several miles to the west. Patchy rain or drizzle was likely in the accident area around the accident time.
A witness on the ground heard the airplane at about noon. He said it sounded like a deep rumble and then it suddenly stopped. He said it was not that far away from him; later it was determined to be just over a mile away. The witness reported that the weather was very foggy, misting, and rainy. A helicopter pilot had lowered the witness into the forest about an hour earlier. The pilot then made two trips with building material and supplies. He terminated his last planned trip because of deteriorating weather, which included clouds, mist, and volcanic haze.
On the morning of the accident, the pilot received a standard weather briefing at 0944. He was told in the briefing that "there are no airmets, no sigmets, we do have a temporary flight restriction and ah volcanic advisory for the volcano. Do you have that information?" The pilot responded "yes." Regarding weather in the area of the accident site, the briefer stated "from Upolu Point all the way to ah Apua Point to the west southwest portion of the island, you can expect three thousand scattered, five thousand broken to overcast, tops niner thousand, isolated three thousand broken. Visibility five with ah moderate rain showers, and also that includes the lower slopes and for the coast and adjacent waters."
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane was found on the side of Mauna Loa volcano at an elevation of 4,500 feet approximately 9 nautical miles inland from the coast. The terrain was moderately sloped, rugged volcanic rock. It was covered with exceptionally thick 15- to 25-foot-high ferns, with uniformly spaced 40- to 75-foot-tall trees. The swath of downed vegetation leading to the airplane was on a 300-degree track. The fuselage was inverted and the right wing, from the beginning of the aileron outboard, was in a tree about 100 feet from the main wreckage.
When the wreckage was recovered, all of the airplane's major components were accounted for.
The left wing remained attached to the fuselage; its leading edge was compressed aft in an accordion like fashion. A tree impact signature, approximately 4 feet from the fuselage, deformed the wing to the spar. The right wing tip, from the beginning of the aileron outboard, was separated from the wing and found 20 feet up in a tree. It had two significant tree impact signatures. The inboard section of the wing was bucketed and opened to expose the fuel tank. The empennage was bent and remained partially connected to the fuselage. The right horizontal stabilizer was bent, crushed, and nearly separated from the empennage. During the post recovery examination of the airplane, flight control cable continuity was confirmed.
The engine's crankshaft was free and easy to rotate in both directions. "Thumb" compression was observed in proper order on all four cylinders. The complete valve train was observed to operate in proper order, and appeared to be free of any pre-mishap mechanical malfunction. Mechanical continuity was established throughout the rotating group, valve train, and accessory section during hand rotation of the crankshaft. The gas path and combustion signatures observed at the spark plugs, combustion chambers, and exhaust system components displayed coloration consistent with normal operation. The propeller blades displayed leading edge gouging, torsional twisting, chordwise striations across the cambered surface, and trailing edge "S" bending.
No evidence of any pre-impact mechanical discrepancies was found with the airplane's airframe or engine that would have prevented normal operation. There was no postimpact fire.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Hawaii County Police Department, Hilo, ordered an autopsy on the pilot and it was performed on June 24, 2008, by the Department of Pathology, Hilo Medical Center. They determined that the cause of death was craniocerebral trauma.
The FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology tests on the pilot. According to CAMI's report, the pilot's blood was tested for carbon monoxide and cyanide with negative results, and his urine was tested for volatiles with negative results. His blood and urine were tested for drugs; the tests were positive for Losartan and Metoprolol (non-quantified), which are used in the treatment of high blood pressure.