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On December 17, 2008, about 1945 eastern standard time, a Cessna 172S, N967SP, was destroyed when it impacted water while maneuvering near Goodland, Florida. The certificated private pilot was killed. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the local flight that departed Naples Municipal Airport (APF), Naples, Florida, about 1930. The personal flight was conducted under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
The airplane was operated by Naples Air Center, a flight school, based at APF. A witness at the airport stated that the pilot told her he was going flying to work on night recurrency training.
Several witnesses near the accident site reported hearing the sound of an airplane engine, which increased in rpm, and was then followed by a loud "bang" or "explosion." Two witnesses reported hearing the engine noise increase and observing the airplane in a "nose-dive" toward the ground.
The airplane crashed into about 5 feet of water, on a tidal mud-flat, about 16 miles south-southeast of APF.
The pilot, age 74, held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. He did not possess an instrument rating. The pilot's logbook was not recovered. He reported 812 hours of total flight experience, which included 6.2 hours during the preceding 6 months, on his most recent application for a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third-class medical certificate, which was issued on April 16, 2008.
According to flight school records, the pilot had accumulated 16.5 flight hours at the flight school during the 2 years preceding the accident.
The pilot's most recent biennial flight review was completed on April 3, 2007.
The four-seat, high-wing, fixed-gear airplane, serial number 172S8169, was manufactured in 1999. It was powered by a Lycoming IO-360-L2A, 180-horsepower engine, equipped with a McCauley propeller.
Review of maintenance records revealed that the airplane had been operated for about 20 hours since its most recent 100-hour inspection, which was performed on December 12, 2008. The airplane had been operated for about 515 hours since its most recent annual inspection, which was performed on July 29, 2008, at a total airframe time of 5,313 hours.
According to fueling records, the airplane was topped-off with 20.4 gallons of 100-low-lead aviation gasoline earlier in the day. The flight school reported that the airplane was flown on two flights, for 2.9 total hours, after the refueling and prior to the accident flight.
A weather observation taken at APF at 1953, reported wind from 060 degrees at 5 knots; visibility 10 statute miles, sky clear; temperature 21 degrees Celsius (C), dew point 16 degrees C; altimeter 30.22 inches of mercury.
A Collier County Sheriff's Office helicopter pilot, who responded to the accident site shortly after the accident, reported that the lighting conditions were "very dark and on a heading of 170 degrees provided no visual reference to a horizon looking out towards the Gulf of Mexico." He further reported that the lack of visual cues with the naked eye would have required navigation via aircraft instrumentation.
According to data obtained from the U.S. Naval Observatory, sunset occurred at 1739, and the end of civil twilight was at 1804.
The accident site was also located about 5 miles from the end of runway 17, at the Marco Island Airport (MKY), Marco Island, Florida, left of the extended runway centerline.
The airplane was recovered to a hanger at APF for examination. All major portions of the airplane were accounted for. The airframe forward of the aft bulkhead was completely fragmented. Both wings were separated and the main cabin structure was compromised. The cabin seats, along with portions of the roof, sidewall, and floor structure were scattered around the accident site. The cockpit and instrument panel were destroyed.
Both wings were impact damaged and in two primary pieces, separated at the flap-aileron junction. The right wing contained leading edge aft compression damage to the forward spar. The right aileron was in three pieces. A 52-inch portion remained attached to the right wing at its middle and inboard hinge. The left wing leading edge contained some leading edge distortion; however, it contained no compression type damage. The left aileron was intact, but separated from the wing. The empennage remained intact and was canted to the left, just forward of the horizontal stabilizer. The right horizontal stabilizer was crushed aft and upward. The left horizontal stabilizer was crushed aft, consistent with impact to the left side of the empennage. The rudder and elevator control surfaces remained attached.
Flight control cable continuity was confirmed from the rudder to the rudder pedals, and from the elevator to the elevator quadrant in the forward cockpit area. Aileron control cables were intact from the aileron quadrant to the wing root, and from the forward cockpit area to the wing root, for each respective wing. The aileron carry-through cable was separated about mid-span. Measurement of the flap actuator jackscrew corresponded to a retracted flap position.
The propeller was separated from the crankshaft, which contained an approximate 45-degree shear lip at the point of separation. Both propeller blades exhibited "s" bending. One blade displayed additional twisting and the outboard 5-inches of the blade was separated.
Both magnetos and the fuel servo were separated from the engine and not recovered, except for a fragmented lower portion of the left magneto. All spark plugs were removed. Their electrodes were intact and they displayed varying degrees of wear and corrosion. The engine was rotated via an adapter inserted into an accessory drive. Valve train continuity was confirmed and thumb compression was attained on all cylinders.
The oil suction screen and oil filter did not contain any contamination.
One of the airplane's dual vacuum pumps was separated from the engine. The attached vacuum pump was removed from the engine and disassembled. The drive coupling was intact and the pump rotor and vanes were not damaged.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the District Twenty Medical Examiner, Collier County, Naples, Florida, on December 18, 2008. According to the autopsy report, the cause of death was listed as “multiple blunt force injuries."
Toxicological testing was performed on the pilot by the FAA Forensic Toxicology Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The tests were negative for carbon monoxide, and drugs. The tests were positive for ethanol which was attributed to post mortem putrefaction.
FAA Advisory Circular 60-4A
Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular 60-4A "Pilot's Spatial Disorientation" stated in part:
"The attitude of an aircraft is generally determined by reference to the natural horizon or other visual references with the surface. If neither horizon nor surface references exist, the attitude of an aircraft must be determined by artificial means from the flight instruments. Sight, supported by other senses, allows the pilot to maintain orientation….Surface references and the natural horizon may at times become obscured, although visibility may be above visual flight rule minimums. Lack of natural horizon or surface reference is common on overwater flights, at night, and especially at night in extremely sparsely populated areas, or in low visibility conditions…."