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On September 24, 2009, about 1715 eastern daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Duke Challenger II, N4340D, was substantially damaged when it impacted trees and terrain near Lumberton, Mississippi. The non-certificated pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which departed from the pilot's residence about 1700, and was destined for another private residence where the accident occurred. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
A witness, who was also the grandson of the accident pilot, observed the airplane for between 5 and 15 minutes as it attempted to land in a grass field behind his home. The airplane attempted to land about two to three times, but it seemed that the pilot could not "get the plane on the ground." He observed as the airplane approached, then heard the engine power increase as the airplane circled around for another landing. During the last landing attempt, the witness did not hear the engine power up as it did the previous times. The left main landing gear then struck a tree top, and the airplane banked hard to the left. The airplane then entered a "nose dive," before the witness lost sight of it.
A search of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman database revealed that the pilot did not hold any airman or medical certificates. No logbooks or other flight records for the pilot were located; however, family members reported to the FAA that the pilot had been flying "ultralight" airplanes for several years.
The experimental amateur-built Duke Challenger II was manufactured in 1998, and was designated serial number CH2-0297-1567. It was powered by a 52-horsepower Rotax 503 engine, and was equipped with a two-blade wooden propeller. No aircraft records were recovered for the airplane. A search of the FAA aircraft registry revealed that the aircraft registration was not current.
A relative of the pilot reported to the FAA that the pilot had owned the airplane for about 1 year, and had been involved in an incident about 2 months prior to the accident. He stated that the pilot thought he had hit a bird in flight and deployed the ballistic recovery parachute, landing in a wooded area. He reported that after this occurrence, the pilot replaced the damaged three-bladed composite propeller with a two-bladed wooden propeller, and had ordered a replacement parachute, which had not yet arrived. The relative stated that the accident flight was not the first flight of the airplane after these repairs were made.
During a telephone interview, a representative from the airplane kit manufacturer reported to the FAA that there was a performance difference between the three-bladed propeller and the two-bladed wooden propeller. He stated that the three-bladed propeller was better for takeoffs and landing, while the two-bladed propeller was better for cruise. He also stated that the lack of the ballistic recovery parachute would have no effects on the airplane’s center of gravity.
The 1715 weather observation at Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport (PIB), located about 24 nautical miles north of the accident site, included winds from 070 degrees at 4 knots, 10 statute miles visibility, scattered clouds at 200 feet, temperature 31 degrees C, dew point 21 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.00 inches of mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Inspectors from the FAA responded to the accident scene and examined the wreckage. The airplane came to rest inverted in a wooded area, approximately 400 feet from two nearby grass runways. An oak tree, located adjacent to the wreckage, exhibited impact marks at the base and at a point approximately 35 feet up the trunk. Oak tree bark was later found in the aft section of the tail section tubing. The left wing was found detached from the airplane, and the propeller blades were splintered down to the hub, with pieces found 40 feet from the main wreckage. The inspectors noted evidence of a post-crash fire around the fuselage and engine. The wreckage had been partially covered with dirt by a responding neighbor to extinguish the flames. A majority of the control surfaces were intact, and no anomalies were noted, however, control continuity could not be established.
The wreckage was transported to Purvis, Mississippi, for further inspection by FAA personnel. The engine assembly exhibited fire and heat damage to the induction system, the majority of the fuel system, and both carburetors. The spark plugs appeared new and indicated normal wear. Examination of the fuel screen from one of the two carburetors revealed that it appeared clean and was absent contamination. The fuel flow divider contained approximately 1/2 teaspoon of fuel. Engine power and valvetrain continuity were established through full rotation of the crankshaft.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Mississippi State Medical Examiner’s Office in Jackson, Mississippi, performed an autopsy on the pilot. The autopsy report indicated the cause of death was “multiple blunt force injuries.” The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory Forensic Toxicology Research Team, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing of the pilot. Analysis of the specimens contained no findings for carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles, and tested drugs.