WPR10FA162
WPR10FA162

On March 17, 2010, about 1132 Pacific daylight time, a North American AT-6F airplane, N75AG, sustained substantial damage after impacting terrain while maneuvering at a low altitude near Bakersfield, California. The airline transport pilot who occupied the front pilot seat position and the commercial pilot who occupied the rear pilot seat position were killed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local flight, which was being operated in accordance with 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. No flight plan had been filed. The flight departed the Shafter-Minter Field (MIT), Shafter, California, about 1110.

A witness, who was an acquaintance of the rear-seated pilot/owner and was located about one mile southeast of the accident site, reported that he observed the airplane circling his farm, followed by a low pass at an altitude estimated to be between 150 to 200 feet above the ground (agl). The witness further reported that he observed the airplane depart the area in a climb to the north. A second witness, who was located about one-half mile south of the accident site, reported that he observed the airplane circling overhead, followed by a constant, shallow rate of descent before it impacted terrain in a slightly nose down attitude. The witness stated that the airplane then bounced once before impacting the terrain a second time, followed by a cloud of dust and billowing smoke. The witness added that at no time during the gradual descent until the time of impact did he observe the airplane’s pitch attitude change, that its attitude was steady until the time of impact, and that he did not observe the airplane make any type of an evasive maneuver to avoid the impact with terrain.

An onsite examination of the airplane by the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) revealed that all airplane components necessary for flight were accounted for at the accident site. The airplane was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

Pilot #1 (front seat pilot)

The pilot, age 54, was employed as a pilot for a major FAR Part 121 US cargo carrier at the time of the accident. He was issued an airline transport pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane multiengine land, and a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, airplane single-engine sea, and gliders. The pilot was type rated in the Grumman G-159, Lockheed L-188, and the McDonald Douglas MD11. The pilot also possessed a turbojet flight engineer certificate, and a flight instructor certificate for airplane single-engine, multiengine, gliders, and instrument airplane. The pilot held a first-class medical certificate, which was issued on October 21, 2009, with the restriction, “must wear corrective lenses and possess glasses for near and intermediate vision.” The pilot reported on his most recent application for his airman medical certificate that he had accumulated 10,468 total flight hours. There was no record of the pilot’s time in the AT-6F airplane. The pilot's personal logbook was not obtained during the investigation.

Pilot #2 (rear seat pilot/airplane owner)

The pilot/owner, age 68, was employed as an agricultural pilot at the time of the accident. The pilot was issued a commercial pilot certificate, with a rating for airplane single-engine land. The pilot’s most recent flight review was conducted on May 1, 2009. He held a second-class medical certificate, which was issued on December 7, 2009, with the restriction, “must wear corrective lenses.” The pilot reported on his most recent application for his airman medical certificate that he had accumulated 33,300 total flight hours. A review of the pilot’s personal logbook indicated that he had accumulated a total of 1,750 total flight hours in the accident airplane. It was reported that the pilot was well known in the air racing community, and had competed in many air race competitions in the accident airplane since the early 1990s.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The two-seat, low-wing, retractable landing gear tail wheel equipped airplane, serial number 112237, was manufactured in 1945. Its most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standard airworthiness certificate was issued on November 12, 1958. It was equipped with a Pratt and Whitney R-1340, 550-horsepower radial engine and a Hamilton Standard two-blade constant-speed propeller. The airplane’s most recent annual inspection was completed on September 5, 2009. At that time, the airplane had accumulated 5,866.1 total hours of operation. The engine had accumulated 116 hours since overhaul.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

At 1154, the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) weather reporting facility at Meadows Field (BFL), Bakersfield, California, located about 15 nm east-northeast of the accident site, reported wind 140 degrees at 3 knots, visibility 6 miles, sky clear, temperature 19 degrees Celsius, dew point 11 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 30.15 inches of Mercury.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The examination of the accident site revealed that airplane wreckage debris was scattered over an area of about 865 feet long by 80 feet wide, and oriented on a magnetic heading of about 295 degrees. The main wreckage, which consisted of the forward engine area, forward and aft cockpits, aft fuselage and empennage, was located on the west side of a dry canal bank and lying on its left side. The airplane came to rest on a measured magnetic heading of about 050 degrees. The first identified point of contact (FIPC) was a shallow ground scar, which measured about 60 feet in length on a magnetic heading of 320 degrees. All major components of the airplane were accounted for at the accident site. Elevator, elevator trim, and rudder control cable continuity was confirmed from the aft portion of the fuselage to broomstraw cable separations in the cockpit area. The aileron control tubes had separated from the mid-point area of the cockpit.

The engine, cockpit and fuselage were recovered and examined on March 19, 2010. The engine had separated from the airplane during the impact sequence. All engine accessories remained intact with the exception of the right magneto, which had separated during the impact sequence. The propeller remained attached to the engine, all three propeller blades remained attached at their respective hubs, and all counterweights remained attached to the propeller. The propeller spinner was observed bent and twisted, consistent with rotational deformation.

Both the left and right wings had separated from the center section of the airplane during the impact sequence. The right wing exhibited aft crushing to its leading edge, with its outboard section observed bent and twisted. The inboard area sustained severe thermal damage due to the post crash fire. The airplane’s left wing sustained impact damage, and the entire span of the wing was bent and wrinkled. The wing’s leading edge exhibited aft crushing due to impact forces.

The airplane’s empennage remained attached to the aft fuselage, with the right horizontal stabilizer observed intact and secure at all attach points. The right elevator was separated from the stabilizer at all attach points and was observed lying on the ground under the rudder. The vertical stabilizer remained attached to the aft fuselage with the rudder observed attached to the stabilizer at the upper two attach points. The left horizontal stabilizer and left elevator had both separated from the fuselage during the impact sequence. Both were located about 135 feet from the FIPC in line with the debris path.

The forward cockpit area sustained substantial damage due to impact forces. Both rudder pedals were observed to be intact. The forward cockpit seat remained attached to its support structure but was bent and twisted as a result of impact damage. The seat’s shoulder harness was observed intact and the lap belt was observed buckled and not cut through. Control continuity from the rudder to the rudder pedals could not be confirmed, as all cables had been separated to the rudder pedal connections. All separations were consistent with overload. The aft cockpit area sustained substantial damage. The aft cockpit seat was bent and deformed, with the left side twisted inward. Both the seat belt and shoulder harness were observed to have been cut through during the recovery process; the seat belt remained buckled. Both rudder pedals were intact. Cable connections to both pedals were separated, each consistent with overload.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

An autopsy was performed on the front seat pilot by the Kern County Medical Examiner’s Office, Bakersfield, California, on March 18, 2010. The autopsy report noted the cause of death as “multiple blunt force injuries.”

Toxicological testing was performed on the front seat pilot by the FAA Bioaeronautical Science Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The results were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, and ethanol. Testing of the blood revealed 0.071 ug/ml Diphenhydramine. Testing of the urine revealed the presence of Diphenhydramine. Diphenhydramine is an over the counter sedating antihistamine used to treat allergies and is marketed as a non prescription sleep aid.

An autopsy was performed on the rear seat pilot by the Kern County Medical Examiner’s Office, Bakersfield, California, on March 18, 2010. The autopsy report noted the cause of death as “multiple blunt force injuries.”

Toxicological testing was performed on the rear seat pilot by the FAA Bioaeronautical Science Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The results were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and drugs.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

A Garmin GPSMAP 296 was recovered from the wreckage and forwarded to the NTSB Vehicle Recorders Laboratory, Washington, DC. A Vehicle Recorders specialist reported that a review of the data extracted from the global positioning system (GPS) revealed that the flight departed runway 35 at MIT about 1110, then made an immediate left turn to a heading 270 degrees. The flight then proceeded west for about 7 nautical miles (nm) and climbed to an altitude of about 3,950 feet mean sea level (msl). It then made a right 90-degree turn to a heading of about 356 degrees at an altitude of 4,190 feet msl. At this time the airplane proceeded north for about one-half mile before making a 90-degree left turn to a heading of west while climbing through 4,350 feet msl. The airplane then flew west for about 3.5 nm, then initiated a 90-degree left turn to a heading of south. The airplane flew this heading for about 3.5 nm before making another 90-degree left turn to a heading of east. The airplane proceeded to fly east for about 2.3 miles, then made another 90-degree left turn to a heading of north. It was noted that at about 1119, about 9 minutes after departure, the airplane completed the turn to north; its altitude now was about 5,100 feet msl, and its groundspeed was recorded to be about 215 miles per hour (mph). The airplane then flew north for about 8.7 nm before commencing a right 180-degree turn to a heading of south. After completing the course reversal at about 1123, the airplane’s GPS altitude was 4,575 feet msl, its heading was 181 degrees, and its groundspeed was about 207 mph. The airplane then flew south for 15 nm before beginning the first of two 360-degree turns to the left; the time recorded for entry into the first turn was about 1127, or about 17 minutes after taking off from MIT. The airplane was now at an altitude of about 5,275 feet msl and a groundspeed of about 230 mph. The second 360-degree left turn began at about 1129, at an altitude of about 3,288 feet msl and a groundspeed of about 258 mph. At the completion of the second 360-degree turn the airplane continued turning left, commencing a 180-degree turn to the north at an altitude of about 1,065 feet msl, and at an airspeed of about 262 mph. After completing the turn and approaching the point where the airplane would make a low pass over a farm, it was now about 650 feet msl, or about 340 feet above ground level (agl), and a groundspeed of about 225 mph; the data revealed that the low pass was made at about 1131. The data further revealed that after making the low pass the airplane then began a climbing left hand turn to a northwest heading, where it ascended to an altitude of about 860 feet msl, or about 550 feet agl. The last recorded GPS data, which occurred at 1131:28, indicated that the airplane was at an altitude of 390 feet msl, which is about 85 feet agl, on a heading of 299.7 degrees, and at a groundspeed of about 202 mph.

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