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On October 27, 2009, at 1827 eastern daylight time, an Aeronca 7AC, N2239E, piloted by a private pilot, was substantially damaged during an in-flight collision with terrain near Gaylord, Michigan. The flight was being conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 without a flight plan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The pilot and passenger sustained fatal injuries. The flight departed Gaylord Regional Airport (GLR), Gaylord, Michigan, at 1700.
Position data recovered from an on-board global positioning system (GPS) receiver indicated that the flight initially proceeded southbound to Ostego Lake. The pilot subsequently reversed course and appeared to fly northbound along the lake. The flight continued to the north-northwest, conducting two landings at Boyne City Airport before proceeding northwest along the Lake Charlevoix shoreline. The flight then traveled north to Walloon Lake, ultimately proceeding south-southeast along the lake. The flight continued southeast toward Interstate 75 near the city of Vanderbilt.
As the flight approached Interstate 75, the GPS track data depicted the airplane entering a right turn toward the south. About 1826:16 (hhmm:ss), as the airplane reached a southbound course, it entered a right turn from approximately 1,590 feet. The track data indicated that the airplane continued in that turn until the final data point at 1826:56. The altitude associated with the final data point was 1,216 feet (approximately 100 feet above ground level). During that 40-second time interval, the airplane completed an approximate 450-degree turn with a decreasing turn radius.
Two off-duty Michigan State Police troopers reported witnessing the accident airplane as they traveled southbound on Interstate 75 near Vanderbilt Road. Both troopers initially saw the airplane as it flew on a southeast course approaching the interstate.
The first trooper reported that the airplane appeared to be flying normally on the southeast course when he observed it make an “abrupt” right turn and begin to descend. He recalled thinking that the pilot might have spotted some elk and was descending to get a better look. The trooper stated that the airplane continued the right turn. He noted that it “appeared to be slipping clockwise with some fishtailing and rocking (up & down) movement of the wings.” The airplane continued an “elongated” right turn, again crossing the interstate, before it “straightened” its flight path, which was now west of and parallel to the interstate. He reported that as their vehicle approached an overpass the airplane appeared to be flying “steady” and “slowly.” He stated that upon reaching the south side of the overpass, he observed the airplane “roll hard to the right[,] nose straight down, and begin to corkscrew down towards the ground.” He subsequently observed the airplane “crash in a direct line with the front passenger area of our vehicle.”
The second trooper stated that the airplane “made a very abrupt [right] turn” to a northbound course. At that time, the airplane also began to descend. The airplane executed another “very abrupt” right turn returning to a southbound course. The trooper estimated the airplane’s altitude as 200 to 300 feet above the ground at that time. The trooper commented that the “plane’s wings were dipping slightly back and forth, as well as the tail of the plane was swaying slightly from side to side, however, the plane remained level and did not appear erratic.” The trooper stated that the airplane completed another “very abrupt” right turn, initially crossing the interstate on a west course and continuing the turn to a north course. The trooper stated that the airplane was traveling north along the interstate when “very abruptly the nose dropped straight down and the plane rolled to the right and corkscrewed into the ground.” The airplane impacted “nose first in the ditch of the west shoulder on I-75 southbound, approximately 20 [feet] from the passenger side of our vehicle.”
The airplane came to rest in a grass area adjacent to the southbound lanes of Interstate 75. It was upright and oriented on a southwest heading.
The troopers noted that the interstate traffic was very light at the time, with approximately 1/2-mile between other vehicles ahead and behind them. In addition, they commented that the median area between the north and southbound lanes was “relatively level and open.” One trooper added that “at no time did it appear as if the plane was trying to land.”
The pilot, age 52, held a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land and sea, multi-engine land, and instrument airplane ratings. He was issued a third-class airman medical certificate on April 17, 2005, without limitations. No applications for a medical certificate were on file with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) subsequent to that date.
On his most recent application for the medical certificate, the pilot reported a total flight time of 2,800 hours, with 60 hours flown with the preceding 6 months. The pilot’s logbook was not available to the NTSB for review.
According to the Michigan State Police, at the time of the accident, the pilot held a valid state driver’s license, with no restrictions or limitations.
The accident airplane was a 1946 Aeronca 7AC, serial number 7AC-5813. It was a single engine, high wing, tail wheel design, which incorporated a two-place tandem seating configuration. The airplane was powered by a 100-horsepower Continental O-200-A engine, serial number 213874-71A.
Records indicate that the pilot purchased the accident airplane in August 2007. A restoration of the airplane was completed in April 2009, and a replacement airworthiness certificate was issued on May 28, 2009. The restoration included replacement of all four wing spars and the fabric covering for the fuselage, wings, and control surfaces. An annual inspection was completed at that time. The airframe had accumulated 3,492 hours at the time of the restoration and annual inspection.
Since the airplane was returned to service after the restoration, maintenance records revealed a single oil change on October 23, 2009. The airplane had been operated approximately 15 hours since the annual inspection according to the hour meter on the recording tachometer. There was no record of any unresolved maintenance issues.
The closest weather reporting facility was located at GLR, about 10 miles south of the accident site. Conditions recorded by the GLR Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) at 1753 were: Calm winds, visibility 10 miles, broken clouds at 3,500 feet above ground level (agl), temperature 9 degrees Celsius (C), dew point 4 degrees C, altimeter 29.94 inches of mercury.
At 1853, conditions recorded by the GLR ASOS were: Winds from 140 degrees at 4 knots, visibility 10 miles, broken clouds at 3,900 feet agl, temperature 8 degrees C, dew point 4 degrees C, altimeter 29.95 inches of mercury.
Sunset occurred at 1834 on the day of the accident. Civil twilight ended at 1904.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located about 9 miles north of GLR in a grass area adjacent to southbound Interstate 75 near mile marker 290. This was near the median crossover south of Sturgeon Valley Road. The airplane came to rest upright and was oriented on a southwest heading. The terrain surrounding the wreckage appeared undisturbed except in the immediate vicinity of the accident site. No ground scars were observed. At the time of the post accident examination, the right wing was separated from the airframe and was located about 10 feet from the fuselage. The nose, right wing, and outboard section of the left wing sustained damage consistent with impact forces. Local authorities noted that the fuselage was sectioned aft of the rear passenger seat to allow removal and treatment of the occupants.
The flight control surfaces remained attached to the airframe. Examination of the flight control system revealed cable separations consistent with overload failures and cuts due to recovery efforts by the responding authorities. No pre-impact anomalies with respect to the flight control system were observed.
The engine remained attached to the engine mount and firewall. The 2-bladed propeller remained secured to the engine. The blades were twisted and exhibited chordwise scratches. Examination of the engine did not reveal any anomalies consistent with a pre-impact failure or malfunction.
The recording tachometer hour meter indicated 1,085 hours at the accident site.
The elevation at the accident site was approximately 1,115 feet.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy of the pilot was conducted at the Ostego Hospital, Gaylord, Michigan, on October 28, 2009. The cause of death was attributed to blunt trauma due to the accident.
The Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aero Medical Institute toxicology report for the pilot indicated the presence of Clopidogrel, Ibuprofen, Metoprolol, and Ranitidine in urine and blood samples.
Approximately 8 months prior to the accident, the pilot had reportedly experienced some chest pain while exercising. He subsequently underwent stent placement to treat two narrowed areas in his coronary arteries. A family member stated that the pilot had returned to all normal activities, including running, and as far as he was aware the pilot had not experienced any further symptoms.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Review of the GPS data indicated that the airplane’s ground speed decreased during the final 450-degree turn immediately prior to the end of the data. Between 1826:05 and 1826:16, as the airplane became established on a southbound course, its average groundspeed was about 68 knots. Between the final two data points recorded at 1826:53 and 1826:56, the airplane’s average groundspeed was approximately 44 knots.
Photos recovered from the on-board digital camera included images of the flight instruments. Airspeed indicator markings depicted the power-off, flaps up stall speed as approximately 49 knots (56 mph) as evidenced by the lower limit of the green arc. The power-off, flaps extended stall speed was about 42 knots (48 mph) as evidenced by the lower limit of the white arc.
Times related to the digital image data are with reference to the camera’s internal clock. This time data is independent of the GPS time data noted in this factual report. A comparison of digital image data and GPS track data suggested that the camera’s clock was approximately 22 seconds ahead of the GPS time reference. The time stamp associated with the last digital image was 1826:21 (corresponding to an approximate GPS time of 1825:59). Accordingly, the last digital image was taken about 60 seconds prior to the accident.
According to documentation obtained from the FAA, the accident airplane met the requirements of a light sport aircraft (LSA). Further, regulations (14 CFR 61.303) state that individuals holding at least a recreational pilot certificate with a category and class rating may operate any LSA within that category and class, provided that person holds a valid state driver’s license. However, the pilot must comply with any restrictions or limitations associated with the driver’s license, and must not have had his/her most recently issued medical certificate suspended or revoked, or the most recent application for a medical certificate denied. Based on a review of the available data, the pilot appeared to be in compliance with the regulations related to the operation of a light sport aircraft.