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On July 5, 2008, at 1422 central daylight time, a Cessna 152, N5372B, operated by Air Venture Flight Center, was destroyed following a steep descent and collision with terrain after departing cruise flight near Rossville, Tennessee. The certificated airline transport pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight that originated at Olive Branch Airport (OLV), Olive Branch, Mississippi, at 1339. No flight plan was filed for the local flight that was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
A canvas of the rural neighborhood that surrounded the accident site, conducted by law enforcement personnel, did not reveal any witnesses to the crash. Radar data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for the last minute of flight, revealed a target that was identified as the accident airplane in cruise flight about 2,400 feet, on an approximate heading of 020 degrees magnetic. The last three radar returns depicted the airplane in a descending left turn as follows: at 1422:19, 2,400 feet, at 1422:28, 2,200 feet, and at 1422:33, at 1,700 feet. The air traffic controller stated that he heard a "mayday" call on the radio, but could not associate it with any particular airplane. He queried N5372B over the radio, but received no reply. A review of voice recordings revealed that the pilot transmitted the airplane's registration number and then a "mayday" three times before voice communication was lost.
A review of FAA and pilot records revealed that the pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane single engine land and multiengine land. He held type ratings in the Boeing 727, Mitsubishi Diamond Jet, and the Beech 400. His most recent FAA first-class medical certificate was issued on November 9, 2007. Prior to renting the airplane, the pilot reported to the operator that he did not have his logbook, but he itemized his flight experience on an Air Venture Flight Center membership application. Examination of the application revealed that he reported 4,850 total hours of flight experience, 85 hours of which were in single engine airplanes.
The pilot completed both a written examination and a practical examination prior to the accident flight. According to the owner/operator who supervised the examinations, the pilot performed a normal takeoff, flew to the practice area, and performed slow flight, steep turns, and stalls. He then returned to the airport for 5 practice landings. The pilot performed well and was comfortable with the maneuvers.
According to the FAA and maintenance records, the airplane was manufactured in 1979, and had accrued 9,746 total aircraft hours. The most recent annual inspection was completed January 3, 2008, at 9,658 aircraft hours.
At 1350, the weather reported at OLV, about 12 miles southwest of the site, included scattered clouds at 5,000 feet, and winds from 180 degrees at 4 knots. The visibility was 10 miles. The temperature was 28 degrees Celsius and the dew point was 23 degrees Celsius.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane was examined at the site on July 6, 2008. There was evidence of fuel present, and all major components were accounted for at the scene. The airplane came to rest upright in a flat, grassy meadow. The wreckage path was oriented along a line of 230 degrees magnetic, and was approximately 250 feet long (all references to debris path measurements are approximations).
The initial ground scars were three concave parallel impressions that were equidistant from each other, and perpendicular to the wreckage path. The left and right scars were 7.5 feet apart, which was consistent with the dimensions of the main landing gear. Two feet beyond that was an elliptical crater, about 5 feet long and 4 feet wide, which contained the propeller. Both propeller blades displayed twisting, bending, and chordwise scratching, but one blade was more deformed than the other. A large percentage of the spinner remained attached, and was flattened against the hub with rotational deformation and scarring.
A linear ground scar 33.5 feet long, bisected the crater, and was perpendicular to the wreckage path. This dimension was consistent with the wing span. The pitot tube was embedded in the ground scar 5 feet left of the center of the scar. Both the left and right plastic wing tips were found on their respective ends of the scar. A 9-foot section of the leading edge of the main wing was 13 feet forward of the scar.
The engine oil cooler and nose landing gear strut were on the wreckage path centerline, 17 feet from the initial impact. The engine was 46 feet from the initial impact. The propeller and all engine accessories were separated from the engine case. The propeller flange was bent aft.
The cabin floor, seats, cockpit controls, instrument panel, empennage, and tail section were completely destroyed by impact, and located 63 feet down the wreckage path. The rudder and elevators were destroyed by impact, but remained connected to the main wreckage by cables. The only recognizable instrument from the panel was the tachometer, and the needle was pressed against the instrument face bezel at the 3,100-rpm marking; 550 rpm above the manufacturer's maximum of 2,550 rpm.
The main cabin roof, with both wings and wing struts attached, was located 130 feet down the wreckage path. The wings were uniformly crushed and bowed upward from their roots. The control cables in the wings were visible. Control cable continuity was established from the ailerons to the root of each wing, where the cables showed breaks that were consistent with overload. Aileron cable continuity resumed from the point of the cable breaks at the cabin, to their respective control quadrant. Control cable continuity was established from the rudder and elevators to their respective control quadrants in the cockpit area. The flaps appeared retracted, and examination of the flap actuator revealed a position consistent with retracted flaps.
Small fragments and airplane components, which included a magneto, the vacuum pump, and wheel fragments, were found as far away as 250 feet from the initial impact point.
The engine was removed from the site, and examined at OLV on July 7, 2008. The crankshaft was rotated by the propeller flange, and continuity was established through the powertrain and valvetrain to the accessory section. Compression was confirmed at all cylinders using the thumb method.
The magnetos were separated from the engine, and could not be immediately identified as left or right. One was fractured in half, and the portion with the drive, condenser, and points exposed was recovered. The drive was rotated by hand, and spark was produced at the condenser and the points. The second magneto was intact, with the terminal leads separated at the towers. The drive was rotated by hand, and spark was produced at all terminal towers.
The vacuum pump was examined, and the drive coupling was attached, but displaced by the damaged case. The pump would not rotate by hand. The cover was removed, which revealed that the rotor was fragmented, but that the vanes were intact.
A vacuum-driven gyroscopic instrument that could not be immediately identified due to impact damage was disassembled. The cover was removed from the gyro, and the rotor and case displayed rotational scoring.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Shelby County Medical Examiner, Memphis, Tennessee, conducted a postmortem examination of the pilot on July 6, 2008. The reported cause of death was "multiple blunt force injuries.”
The FAA Bioaeronautical Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing for the pilot.
Through a series of interviews, written statements, and telephone conversations, it was learned that on July 4, 2008, about 2200, "federal investigators" interviewed the pilot after he returned to Memphis on a commercial cargo flight he completed from Winnipeg, Canada. Upon conclusion of the interview, the pilot, a resident of Boise, Idaho departed the cargo facility and drove to a Germantown, Tennessee residence where he rented a room for use while flying in and out of Memphis.
On July 5, 2008, some time after midnight, and after a long conversation with his landlord, the pilot asked where he could rent a small airplane and was advised that Olive Branch Airport, Olive Branch, Mississippi was a convenient, popular place among his fellow cargo pilots, and a short drive away.
Between 1000 and 1200, the pilot was "checked out" in the accident airplane at the Olive Branch airport. The checkout included a written exam, and a practical exam in the airplane. During this time, the landlord at the Germantown residence became concerned about the pilot's emotional status, due to the interview with investigators, and traveled to the Olive Branch airport and met with the pilot, who had completed the checkout, but could not continue to fly on his own due to weather conditions.
The pilot and the landlord returned to the Germantown address and discussed his interview by investigators. The landlord stated that he was concerned about the pilot, told him so, then invited him to lunch, but the pilot declined.
After his roommates had departed for lunch, the pilot returned to Olive Branch Airport, around 1300, and rented the accident airplane which later crashed in Rossville, Tennessee.