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On June 17, 2010, about 1408 Pacific daylight time, an experimental Bernhard Vans RV8, N901X, impacted desert terrain at the Martis Creek Dam Recreation area, Truckee, California. The airline transport-rated pilot/owner and a pilot-rated passenger were both fatally injured. The airplane was substantially damaged. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local area flight that was returning to land at the Truckee Tahoe Airport (TRK) at the time of the accident.
Law enforcement spoke to airport personnel in the tower at the time of the accident. One individual reported hearing the pilot transmit that they were on final to the airport at 1408, followed shortly thereafter by a second transmission from the pilot, reporting that they were on the base leg. A glider took off and reported to tower personnel that he could see airplane wreckage in an open field south of the airport.
The individual that heard the radio transmissions was also a friend of one of the pilots. The pilot had told him that they were with a group of friends staying in Truckee for the week. The purpose of the accident flight was to do some sightseeing in the local area.
According to a friend of both pilots, the front-seat pilot had been providing instruction to the rear-seated pilot/owner over the years, and the front-seat pilot had given the owner/pilot his last flight review. The evening prior to the accident, the front-seat pilot told him that the next morning’s flight was to provide the owner/pilot with some flight instruction.
One witness at his residence watching airplanes take off and land with his 10x binocular reported that the accident airplane was on the base leg of the landing approach for runway 28. The wind was gusting out of the southwest about 10 to 20 knots. The witness stated that it appeared as if the airplane continued beyond the normal point for the turn to the final leg, and was north of the final approach for landing; the airplane was low. The witness stated that the airplane executed a steep left bank turn onto final, which he estimated to be about 45 to 60 degrees. As soon as the airplane entered the turn, it “plummeted downward at a high rate of speed.” The witness lost sight of the airplane behind a knoll.
Two airborne pilots reported hearing the accident pilot’s radio transmissions, and the pilot had a normal tone of voice, and sounded calm and relaxed. One of the airborne witnesses reported that they were returning from a cross-country trip. After landing, they began to taxi to their hangar; the Cessna that was following them had landed, and the accident airplane was visible to them from their airplane on the downwind leg. The airplane was straight and level and appeared to be at pattern altitude. The pilot stated that he and his passenger then saw the airplane “knife edge,” left wing low, right wing high, with the accident airplane canopy visible to them. The sharp turn increased to a diving turn, which he estimated to be about a 45-degree angle to the ground.
Front seat pilot
A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed that the 71-year-old pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate. The pilot held a certified flight instructor (CFI) certificate with ratings for airplane single and multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. He also held a flight engineer certificate.
The pilot held a second-class medical certificate issued in May 2010. It had the limitation that the pilot must wear corrective lenses.
Flight time information was obtained from the pilot's family. The front-seat pilot had a total time of 18,970 hours, with 48.6 hours in the last year, 26.8 hours in the past 90 days; his flight time in an RV8 was 93.7 hours. The front seat pilot's last biannual flight review was June 16, 2009.
Rear seat pilot/owner
A review of FAA airman records revealed that the 66-year-old pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate. He also held a flight engineer certificate.
The pilot held a third-class medical certificate issued in May 2010. It had the limitation that the pilot must have available glasses for near vision.
No personal flight records were located for the pilot. The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (NTSB IIC) obtained the aeronautical experience listed in this report from a review of the FAA airmen medical records on file in the Airman and Medical Records Center located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The pilot reported on his most recent medical application, dated May 10, 2010, that he had a total time of 20,650 hours with 75 hours logged in the last 6 months.
The airplane was a 2001 experimental Bernhard Vans RV-8, serial number 81051. A review of the airplane’s logbooks revealed on May 2, 2010, an inspection of the airplane, in accordance with the scope and detail of appendix D of 14 CFR Part 43, was signed off by an airframe and power plant mechanic with inspection authorization, and considered to be in a condition for safe operation; total airframe time was recorded as 362 hours. The airplane was configured with tandem seating; the rear seat was equipped with full flight controls with the exception of a throttle.
The engine was a Textron Lycoming IO-360-A1B6, serial number L-29390-51A. In August 2007, the engine was returned to Lycoming with a total time of 179.9 hours for compliance with Service Bulletin 566/Airworthiness Directive 2005-19-11, and the crankshaft, serial number V537946819, was installed. The engine was reinstalled on the airplane on September 21, 2007. On May 2, 2010, an engine inspection was performed utilizing appendix D of 14 CFR Part 43 and was returned to service.
Fueling records from TRK established that the airplane was last fueled on June 15, 2010, with the addition of 42 gallons of 100 LL-octane aviation fuel. On the day of the accident, the airplane was flown approximately 0.9 hours. About 1105, the airplane departed TRK for O43, where an addition of 10.32 gallons of fuel was added.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
First responders to the accident site reported that the airplane had come to rest upright in an open field. The canopy remained attached to the fuselage and in its normal position. A paramedic turned the ignition to the off position, removed the key, and seatbelt of the rear-seated pilot. A sheriff’s deputy reported that the left wing had separated and was lying behind the airplane. The entire airplane came to rest at the accident site. The right wing, right horizontal stabilizer, and rudder remained attached to the fuselage.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Front seated pilot
The Coroner from Placer County completed the autopsy for the pilot on June 18, 2010. The cause of death was listed as blunt force injuries. The pilot’s toxicology showed positive results for Beta-Phenethylamine, decomposition product, and Caffeine.
The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory CAMI, Oklahoma City, performed toxicological testing of specimens for the pilot. Analysis of the specimens contained no findings for carbon monoxide, cyanide and volatiles. The report contained the following findings for tested drugs: 0.02 (ug/ml, ug/g) diphenhydramine detected in blood, diphenhydramine detected in urine, and ibuprofen detected in urine.
Rear seated pilot
The Coroner from Placer County completed the autopsy for the pilot. The cause of death was listed as multiple blunt force injuries. The pilot’s toxicology showed positive results for caffeine, theobromine, and zolpidem. Theobromine is a methylaxanthine alkaloid found in tea and cocoa products. Zolpidem commonly known as ambien is a sedative hypnotic that is used to treat short-term insomnia. The adverse effects listed in the toxicology report could include drowsiness, dizziness, amnesia, headache, and nausea.
The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory CAMI, Oklahoma City, performed toxicological testing of specimens for the pilot. Analysis of the specimens contained no findings for carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles. The report contained the following findings for tested drugs: 0.018 (ug/ml, ug/g) Zolpidem detected in blood (cavity). Zolpidem was also detected in the urine sample.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The airframe and engine were inspected at Plain Parts, Pleasant Grove, California, on August 20, 2010. The visual inspection performed by the NTSB IIC revealed that the fuselage remained intact, but exhibited crush damage from the propeller section rearward to the empennage. The cockpit area floor and sides exhibited compression crush damage. The right main landing gear remained attached to the fuselage. The propeller assembly remained attached to the engine; however, damage was sustained to all three of the wooden propeller blades. All of the blades had separated; however, about 1/3 of each blade from the hub outboard remained attached. The left wing had separated from the airplane. No discrepancies were noted with the flight control, and all cables and hardware were present. The throttle mixture and propeller controls were in the forward position. A visual inspection of the engine revealed no obvious holes. The engine controls, cables, and hardware remained attached at their respective positions.
The FAA’s “Airplane Flying Handbook,” 2004 (FAA-H-8083-3A) states:
Normally, it is recommended that the angle of bank not exceed a medium bank because the steeper the angle of bank, the higher the airspeed at which the airplane stalls. Since the base-to-final turn is made at a relatively low altitude, it is important that a stall not occur at this point. If an extremely steep bank is needed to prevent overshooting the proper final approach path, it is advisable to discontinue the approach, go around, and plan to start the turn earlier on the next approach rather than risk a hazardous situation.
The FAA’s “Airplane Flying Handbook,” 2004 states:
The airplane will, however, stall at a higher indicated airspeed when excessive maneuvering loads are imposed by steep turns, pull-ups, or other abrupt changes in its flight path. Stalls entered from such flight situations are called “accelerated maneuver stalls,” a term, which has no reference to the airspeeds involved.
Stalls that result from abrupt maneuvers tend to be more rapid, or severe, than the unaccelerated stalls, and because they occur at higher-than-normal airspeeds, and/or may occur at lower than anticipated pitch attitudes, they may be unexpected by an inexperienced pilot.