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On July 17, 2009, about 0910 eastern standard time, a Cessna R182, N778RK, operated by Houston Air Inc., was destroyed when it impacted trees and mountainous terrain near Hayesville, North Carolina. The certificated airline transport pilot was fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which departed Mountain Airpark (0GE5), Cleveland, Georgia about 0850 and was destined for Andrews-Murphy Airport (RHP), Andrews, North Carolina. The business flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
Review of radar data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that a visual flight rules (transponder code 1200) target identified as the accident airplane was acquired just north of 0GE5 about 0851. The target tracked generally northbound, until about 0858, when it turned about 30 degrees left, directly toward RHP. The target gradually descended from 5,600 feet to 4,700 feet, where the last radar target was observed about 27 nautical miles southeast of RHP.
According to information provided by the FAA and local first responders, the pilot was also the owner of the company that operated the airplane. The purpose of the accident flight was to reposition the airplane from the pilot’s home to the primary operations base, located at RHP, for routine maintenance that was scheduled to occur the next day.
The pilot was scheduled to arrive at RHP around 1045. When the airplane did not arrive as planned, a search was initiated, and an alert notice (ALNOT) was issued at 1925. On July 19, 2009, at 1130, the accident airplane was located near the peak of Shinbone Ridge, within the confines of the Fires Creek Wildlife Management Area. The accident site was located about 6 nautical miles east of RHP, at an elevation of 4,667 feet.
According to FAA records, the pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with numerous ratings including airplane single engine land, as well as a flight instructor certificate with numerous ratings including airplane single engine, and instrument airplane. The pilot possessed 20,000 total hours of flight experience, and his most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued on February 19, 2009.
Review of maintenance records provided by the operator revealed that the airplane's most recent annual inspection was completed February 23, 2009, at 4,807 total hours of operation. The airplane's most recent altimeter system check was completed on October 22, 2008. The operator also stated that the airplane was being returned to their operations base for a propeller governor overhaul that was due on July 31.
The Area Forecast encompassing the route of flight and accident site, which was issued at 0741, called for scattered clouds at 2,000 feet, and broken high cirrus clouds at 18,000 feet, with isolated thunderstorm and rain showers and cloud tops to 42,000 feet. From 1200, broken ceilings at 5,000 feet with tops to 10,000 feet, with broken cirrus clouds above, and scattered thunderstorms and rain showers with tops to 42,000 feet.
The accident site was located within the boundaries of an AIRMET that was issued at 0719 for mountain obscuration conditions due to low clouds, precipitation, and mist. The conditions were expected to continue beyond 1100, and ending by 1400.
Review of visible satellite imagery for the period between 0902 and 0932 depicted clear skies over 0GE5, and scattered to broken low clouds over the Georgia border and into western North Carolina. A layer of low clouds also extended over the accident site.
A review of archived automated surface weather observations at RHP revealed that prior to 0700, the weather was consistent with instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), due to low ceilings and mist. The weather gradually improved over the next 1.5 hours. At 0924 the reported weather conditions included 10 miles visibility, calm winds, a broken ceiling at 3,500 feet, a broken ceiling at 6,500 feet, temperature 23 degrees Celsius (C), dewpoint 21 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.96 inches of mercury.
A review of Flight Service Station and Direct Users Access Terminal records revealed no evidence that the pilot had contacted either service prior to the accident flight to obtain a weather briefing.
Andrews-Murphy Airport was located about 6 nautical miles west of the accident site, on the opposite side of Shinbone Ridge, at an elevation of 1,697 feet. The runway was oriented in a 08/26 configuration, and the airport was served by a single area navigation/global positioning system instrument approach to runway 08. The minimum descent altitude for the approach was 4,020 feet above mean sea level (2,329 feet above ground level).
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located about 6 nautical miles east of RHP, at an elevation of 4,667 feet. The initial impact was in trees, and the treetops were cut off at an angle that was parallel to the horizon. The horizontal distance from the first tree strikes to where the main wreckage came to rest was about 50 feet. Significant portions of the wreckage were consumed by a post-impact fire.
The outboard 4 feet of the left wing was lodged in a tree, near the first tree strikes along the wreckage path. The inboard portion of the left wing was located at the base of a tree about 20 feet beyond the outboard portion. The wing exhibited a concave depression oriented roughly perpendicular to the leading edge, and was consistent with the size and shape of the tree where the wing was found. The fuselage was located about 10 feet beyond, and to the right of, the inboard portion of the left wing. The right wing remained attached to the fuselage and was wrapped around a tree about 8 inches in diameter. The fuselage was heavily fire-damaged aft of the firewall.
The empennage was separated from the fuselage, and came to rest about 5 feet prior to it along the wreckage path, and exhibited fire damage. Measurement of the elevator trim actuator jack-screw revealed that it correlated to a 12-degree tab up (nose down) position.
Control cable continuity was traced through separations consistent with overload separation, from the cockpit area to all flight control surfaces. Examination of the flap actuator revealed a measurement consistent with the up position. The nose landing gear actuator was fully extended, consistent with the up position, and the main landing gear remained attached to the fuselage, and exhibited minimal impact damage to their front facing surfaces.
Most of the cockpit instrument gauge faces were burned and unrecognizable, with the exception of the altimeter. The hundred-foot increment needle was missing, however the thousand-foot increment needle was positioned to roughly 4,700 feet. The ten-thousand-foot needle was rotated to roughly 25,000 feet. The altimeter setting window displayed about 29.98. Hand rotation of the vacuum pump input shaft produced suction at the inlet and pressure at the outlet.
The engine was undamaged by fire, and remained largely intact. The right portion of the crankcase inboard of cylinder number 2 was fractured consistent with impact. Continuity of the engine crankshaft was confirmed from the propeller flange to the rear accessory gears. Valvetrain continuity was confirmed, and rotation of the crankshaft produced compression on all cylinders. Examination of the top six spark plugs revealed light gray deposits and normal wear. The dual magneto was rotated by hand, and all towers of the left magneto produced spark. The right magneto could not be operated due to impact damage. The oil screen and oil filter were examined, and found absent of debris.
The fuel sump contained a trace amount of fuel, and its screen contained a trace amount of debris. The fuel pump was removed from the engine and actuated by hand, with no anomalies noted. The electric boost pump screen contained a trace amount of debris. The carburetor float bowl contained a small amount of fuel, and trace debris.
The propeller separated from the engine at the propeller flange. Both propeller blades exhibited aft bending at about one quarter of their span, and forward bending near the outboard quarter of their span. The tip of one of the blades was curled aft, and slight leading edge gouging was observed on the opposite blade.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The autopsy report noted the cause of death as "blunt force injuries."
The FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing on the pilot. No traces of carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, or drugs were detected.