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On September 30, 2009, about 1415 central daylight time, a McKenna Avid-Catalina experimental amphibious airplane, N1945J, impacted water shortly after takeoff from Inks Lake, Burnet, Texas. The private pilot was fatally injured. The personal flight was departing for Burnet Municipal Airport-Kate Craddock Field (BMQ), Burnet, Texas, and was being conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 without a flight plan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident.
According to news reports, the pilot departed BMQ about 1030. Witnesses observed the airplane taxiing back and forth on the lake in the morning, but it never took off. One witness, a Texas Parks and Wildlife ranger, reported prior to the accident he helped the pilot remove the airplane from the water so the pilot could drain water from the airplane because he could not get the airplane to take off. The pilot was complaining because he had just paid someone to fix the leaks. The pilot worked on the airplane for about 15 minutes before the airplane was returned to the water and he attempted to take off. The pilot commented to a witness that to take the wings off and trailer the airplane would take another three hours so he would try another takeoff.
Witnesses observed the airplane climbing off the water at a steep angle to about 50 feet in the air, when it started a left hand turn. The left bank increased and the airplane descended until the left wing impacted the water and the airplane cart wheeled to a stop. The airplane came to rest inverted and submerged. All witnesses reported the engine running normally until impact.
The pilot, age 61, held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. His last Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third-class medical certificate was issued November 18, 2008, with no limitations.
The pilot’s logbooks were not recovered during the investigation. The pilot reported 296 total hours on his last application for a medical certificate, dated November 18, 2008.
The 2003-model McKenna Avid-Catalina homebuilt experimental airplane, serial number 170AB, was a high wing amphibious airplane, with retractable main landing gear, and was configured for three occupants. The airplane was powered by a Rotax R912 engine driving a three bladed wooden propeller.
The airplane and engine maintenance log books were not recovered during the investigation.
Weather at Burnet (BMQ), Texas, at 1353 was reported as 82 degrees Fahrenheit, ten miles visibility, few clouds at 2,300 feet, and winds 180 degrees at knots, gusting to 16 knots. Density altitude was 3,317 feet.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Examination of the airplane revealed the cockpit mostly separated from the fuselage. Both wings had damage to their spars and portions of the left wing were missing. Two of the three wooden propeller blades were broken. Due to impact damage, inspectors on scene could not determine any pre-existing conditions which would have caused the water to leak into the airplane.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The pilot’s body was recovered from the water on October 3, 2009. The Travis County Office of the Medical Examiner, located in Austin, Texas, performed an autopsy on the pilot on October 4, 2009. The cause of death was attributed to drowning.
The FAA, Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, conducted toxicological testing on the pilot. Testing for carbon monoxide and cyanide were negative. No drugs were detected. Ethanol, N-Butanol, and N-Propanol were detected in all samples taken from the brain, vitreous, muscle, and blood. Putrefaction was noted.
Email messages between the pilot and the previous owner of the airplane indicate the airplane had developed leaks in the airplane frame/hull after the pilot purchased the airplane. The leaks were from the area of the main axle. In an email dated August 10, 2009, the pilot stated “[following the first water landing] I…decided to do some practice taxiing on the water for about 10-15 minutes. When I tried to take off the second time she would go up on step but would never lift off the water. Then I noticed water pouring in to the side glove boxes on both sides of the plane and on-step, water was spraying into the plane with a pressurized three inch stream of water at the top side of the right glove box.” “The main axle is about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inches while the holes around the main axle on both sides are around 4-5 inches without any fiberglass, just remnants of foam.”