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On July 5, 2008, about 1850 eastern daylight time, an amateur-built Vans RV-7, N916R, was destroyed when it impacted the water in the Shark River Inlet, Neptune, New Jersey. The certificated private pilot, who was also the builder and owner, was fatally injured. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, and no flight plan was filed.
According to witnesses and airport records, the airplane was based at Monmouth Executive Airport (BLM), Farmingdale, New Jersey. One witness stated that the pilot indicated that he was planning to fly sometime in the afternoon on the day of the accident, and remain in the airport traffic pattern. Another witness reported that the pilot completed an engine oil change earlier that day, and was performing other maintenance about 1500, but they did not discuss whether the pilot would attempt to fly after completing that maintenance. No other details regarding the pilot’s intentions or the accident flight were discovered.
Most witnesses to the accident indicated that the airplane came from the northwest, and that it was in a near-vertical trajectory when it struck the water. One witness mentioned that the airplane was "spiraling." Several witnesses stated that the engine sounded very loud, and one witness reported pieces separating from the airplane while it descended. A surveillance camera at a nearby marina captured the accident airplane’s final trajectory.
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the pilot, age 45, held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single engine land rating. He was not instrument-rated. The pilot reported 250 total hours of flight experience on his most recent FAA third-class medical certificate, which was issued in October 2007.
The accident airplane was an all-metal, low-wing monoplane with a conventional landing gear arrangement. It was configured with a two-place, side-by-side cockpit, with canopy entry, and was powered by a Superior IO-360 piston engine. The airplane was equipped with conventional flight controls actuated via control rods.
According to FAA and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) records, the airplane was built by the accident pilot, and was previously involved in an accident in October 2006. That previous accident occurred during the first flight of the airplane. For that flight, the airplane was piloted by an individual who was not the builder/owner. The NTSB cited the probable cause of that accident as a "loss of engine power due to a disconnected throttle/power lever linkage. A contributing factor was the builder/owner's improper installation of the throttle linkage."
The airplane was repaired by the builder/owner, and next flew on May 1, 2008. In May and June 2008, another pilot flew six test flights in the airplane, for a total of approximately 7 hours. The test pilot noted a "left wing heaviness" which was corrected by the builder. The accident pilot/owner flew the repaired airplane for the first time on June 17, 2008.
Postings by the accident pilot on an internet forum for builders/owners/pilots of this model airplane indicated that the rebuilt airplane initially exhibited a left-rolling tendency at speeds above 120 mph, and that based on advice he obtained from the forum and from the kit manufacturer, he was able to correct the problem. The airplane build records and logbooks were not recovered.
The 1815 BLM observation reported visibility 9 miles, few clouds at 1,000 feet, and scattered clouds at 8,500 feet. The 1835 BLM observation reported visibility 6 miles, few clouds at 800 feet, scattered clouds at 5,500 feet, and broken ceiling at 8,500 feet. The 1855 BLM surface weather observation reported winds from 060 degrees at 3 knots, visibility 5 miles, scattered clouds at 600 feet, broken cloud layers at 5,500 and 9,500 feet, temperature 21 degrees C, dew point 19 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.86 inches of mercury.
The investigation was unable to locate any records of communications between the accident pilot and any ground facility.
Monmouth Executive Airport was a non-towered airport with two paved runways, 3/21 and 14/32. Left-hand traffic at a pattern altitude of 1,000 feet was designated for all runways
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage was located about 4 miles east of BLM, 750 feet east of the Shark River Municipal Marina, in water about 5 feet deep. Airplane components that remained afloat were retrieved by pleasure boaters responding to the scene, but the majority of the wreckage was subsequently recovered from the soft mud bottom of the inlet.
On July 29 and 30, 2008, NTSB investigators examined the recovered wreckage at a storage facility. The recovered components exhibited significant fragmentation, and some crushing damage. Missing components included the engine, engine mount, propeller, left flap, vertical stabilizer, most of the right elevator, right main landing gear, upper segments of the control sticks, a portion of the instrument panel, the majority of the canopy transparency, and one metal seat back.
The aft fuselage/left horizontal stabilizer was the largest remaining component. The center section of the wing spar assembly included approximately 3 feet of the each wing spar outboard of the approximate fuselage mold line location. The right wing spar segment was bent aft approximately 90 degrees, while the left wing spar segment was bent aft approximately 75 degrees. The five-point harness from the left seat was recovered in the fully-buckled condition, with several of the belts exhibiting tearing consistent with overload. No indications of pre-impact failures were found.
All recovered flight control system components were examined to determine whether any components and their respective connections, including hinges and rod ends, had separated prior to impact. Examination of the flight controls did not reveal any evidence of pre-impact separations.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Autopsy results provided by the Office of the Medical Examiner of the County of Monmouth stated that cause of death was “extensive blunt force trauma.” According to FAA records, the pilot’s remains were not recovered until approximately 48 hours after the accident. Screening results from the State of New Jersey State Toxicological Laboratory were negative. FAA Civil Aero Medical Institute toxicology test results indicated that putrefaction was present, that ethanol was detected in muscle and liver tissue, and that quinine was detected in the liver tissue.
No information was obtained regarding the pilot's possible use of quinine.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Imagery from the surveillance camera at the Shark River Municipal Marina was examined. The marina was on the west shore of the inlet, and the camera view was to the east. The low resolution of the images precluded determination of the airplane attitude, configuration or condition. The airplane entered the top center of the viewing frame and descended at angle of approximately 80 degrees. Four images captured the airplane while it was airborne, and spanned a time period of 0.547 seconds. The second image depicted the airplane, and possibly a much smaller unidentified object accompanying it. Additional subsequent images depicted the impact splash in the estuary.
Image photogrammetry indicated that the airplane descended with a vertical velocity component of approximately 240 feet per second.