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On October 10, 2009, approximately 1440 central daylight time, two Cessna 150Fs, N8642S and N8072F, were substantially damaged following an in-flight collision near Alexandria, Louisiana. The pilot flying N8642S, hereafter referred to as "lead", and the passenger on board were fatally injured. The pilot flying N8072F, hereafter referred to as "the wingman," sustained minor injuries and the passenger on board was seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plans were filed for the personal flights operating under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Both airplanes departed Esler Airport (KESF), Alexandria, Louisiana, approximately 1435, as a two-ship formation with the intended destination of Pineville Municipal Airport (K2L0), Alexandria, Louisiana.
According to statements provided by the wingman, the formation intended to perform a low-pass at K2L0 followed by a full stop landing. N8642S led the formation and N8072F assumed the number two position in the formation, which was aft and to the right of the lead airplane with 100 feet of separation. The formation members were communicating on Pineville Municipal Airport's UNICOM frequency to transmit formation intention and position of the wingman. The formation conducted a low pass at K2L0 approximately 200 feet above ground level and offset from the runway about 400 feet. During the climb to enter the downwind pattern, lead radioed his intention to turn right. The wingman was concerned about his relative position to lead and radioed that lead should not turn too hard to the right. The wingman observed the lead airplane bank approximately 45 degrees to the right. The wingman pitched nose up and rolled quickly to the right in an attempt to separate from lead. The wingman reported feeling the collision and seeing flashes of blue.
A local photographer captured one image prior to the collision and several images which captured the post-collision events. The first image that captured the post-collision events showed the lead airplane inverted, the right wing buckled towards the fuselage and the empennage separated from the aft baggage bulkhead. In addition, lead's separated vertical fin and various debris was suspended in air near the lead airplane. In this photo the wingman’s airplane appears to be in a right bank in excess of 90 degrees.
The pilot, age 53, held a private pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land issued June 4, 2003, and a third class airman medical certificate issued January 13, 2009, with the limitation “must have available glasses for near vision.” On the pilot's application for a medical certificate, dated January 13, 2009, the pilot reported having accumulating 530 hours total time and 20 hours in the preceding six months. It is unknown if the pilot flew other airplanes, but the airplane's tachometer times in the airframe logbook recorded that N8642S had flown 25.56 hours in the period between March 2009 and the accident. The pilot's total hours were calculated to be no less than 555.56 hours. The pilot had not been formally trained as a formation pilot by the military or by the Formation and Safety Team (FAST). The extent of the pilot’s formation experience could not be determined.
The pilot, age 48, held a private pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land issued August 27, 2002, and a third-class airman medical certificate issued August 26, 2008 with no limitations. The pilot’s previous flight review was accomplished on August 26, 2008. The pilot reported having accumulating 886 total flying hours with 536 hours in the same make and model as the accident airplane. Additionally, the pilot stated he had not been formally trained as a formation pilot, but on average, flew one formation flight a month. He did not routinely practice aircraft separation maneuvers.
N8642S Cessna 150F (Lead)
The four-seat, high-wing, fixed gear airplane, serial number 15061942, was manufactured in 1965. It was powered by a 100-horsepower Teledyne Continental Motors O-200-A engine. Review of the maintenance logbooks revealed that the last annual inspection was accomplished on March 8, 2009 at a tachometer reading of 5,873.11 hours. At the time of the accident, the tachometer read 5,898.67 hours.
N8072F Cessna 150F (Wingman)
The four-seat, high-wing, fixed gear airplane, serial number 15064172, was manufactured in 1966. The airplane was not configured with shoulder restraints. It was powered by a 100-horsepower Teledyne Continental Motors O-200-A engine. Review of the maintenance logbooks revealed that the last annual inspection was accomplished on March 5, 2009 at a tachometer reading of 4,294.65 hours. At the time of the accident, the tachometer read 4,329.76.
At 1453, an automated weather reporting facility at Alexandria International Airport (KAEX), located 5 nautical miles to the west of the accident site reported winds from 070 degrees at 4 knots, visibility 10 miles, ceiling overcast at 1,300 feet, temperature 66 degrees Fahrenheit (F), dew point 61 F, and a barometric pressure of 30.08 inches of Mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Examination of the wreckages was conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and a technical representative from Cessna Aircraft. Lead's airplane was blue and white and the wingman's airplane was black and white. The lead airplane’s vertical fin was found 214 feet from lead’s main wreckage. Black discoloration was present on the upper half of the vertical fin’s right side. The lead airplane’s wreckage site was surrounded by several mature trees. Ground and impact scars were consistent with the airplane impacting with very little forward velocity. The right wing was folded underneath itself at the flap-aileron junction. Near this fold, and located on the leading edge, were three propeller blade strikes with one of the strikes on the wing spar.
The wingman’s wreckage was located in a heavily wooded area about 180 feet from the lead airplane's wreckage. Damage to trees were consistent with the airplane impacting trees in a near 45 degrees angle and rotating 60 degrees clock-wise before coming to rest in a nose-low attitude. Blue paint was discovered on the left wing strut, underneath the left wing, on the left wing’s leading edge, and on the non-chambered side of a propeller blade. Several gouges and chord-wise scratches were found on both propeller blades.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot on October 12, 2009, by the Louisiana Forensic Center LLC, Youngsville, Louisiana, as authorized by the Rapides Parish Coroner’s Office. The cause of death was reported as a result of multiple injuries.
Forensic toxicology was performed on specimens from the pilot by the FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The toxicology stated no carbon monoxide was detected in blood, no cyanide was detected in blood, and no ethanol was detected in vitreous. The following findings were noted in the toxicology:
0.629 (ug/mL, ug/g) Carisoprodol detected in Blood
Carisoprodol detected in Urine
Cyclobenzaprine detected in Urine
Cyclobenzaprine NOT detected in Blood
0.717 (ug/ml, ug/g) Meprobamate detected in Blood
Meprobamate detected in Urine
Carisoprodol and cyclobenzaprine are both prescription muscle relaxants. Meprobamate is an active metabolite of carisoprodol.
According to FAA-CAMI toxicology staff, the blood submitted for toxicology testing was from the chest cavity.
The pilot’s most recent application for 3rd class airman medical certificate, dated 1/13/2009, did not note the use of carisoprodol or cyclobenzaprine. The application did note an emergency room visit on 6/13/2008 for "back ache (MRI)." There was no additional information in the records regarding that visit.
Both the pilot and passenger survived the crash. Toxicology testing was not accomplished with the wingman.
Global Positioning System (GPS) data
A Lowrance Airmap 500 was found in the wreckage of the lead's airplane. A Garmin III Pilot and a Garmin GPSMAP 396 were found in the wreckage of the wingman's airplane. All three devices were sent to the NTSB laboratory in Washington, D.C., for data download and mishap reconstruction. Accident data was only found on the Garmin III pilot, so a midair reconstruction could not be accomplished.
Advisory Circular (AC) AC 90-48B, Pilots' Role in Collision Avoidance
Section 4.g.2. of the AC cautions general aviation pilots of several key points of flying in formation to include "avoid attempting formation flight without having obtained instruction and attained the skill necessary for conducting such operations."
United States Air Force Formation Guidelines
While no FAA-approved formation flight manual exists, the basics of formation flying is explained in the Air Force Manual (AFMAN) 11-248, T-6 Primary Flying, dated October 10, 2008. When defining lead’s formation role, the manual states “before directing a maneuver, always consider [the wingman’s] position and ability to safely perform such a maneuver. Execute each maneuver smoothly, allowing [the wingman] to maintain position without undue difficulty.” The wingman’s “primary responsibility is [to] maintain flightpath deconfliction….”