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On July 27, 2010, at 1005 central daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Lunceford Sparrowhawk II gyroplane, N91814, was substantially damaged during a collision with terrain and subsequent ground fire while maneuvering near the Perry County Municipal Airport (KTEL), Tell City, Indiana. The private pilot survived the accident, but subsequently died of his related injuries on July 28, 2010. The gyroplane was registered to and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 without a flight plan. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local flight that departed KTEL at an unconfirmed time.
Several witnesses reported that the gyroplane was maneuvering in the airport traffic pattern before the accident. One of the witnesses noted that the gyroplane was flying about 100 feet above the tree line as it maneuvered toward runway 13 from the north. There were no eyewitnesses to the final moments of the flight; however, all of the witnesses reported hearing a sudden decrease in engine noise immediately before a sound similar to a ground impact. The witnesses reported seeing smoke emanate from the accident site. The gyroplane crashed in a forested area located immediately adjacent to the airport property. First responders to the accident site reported that the pilot was conscious and had already extricated himself from the wreckage, which was completely engulfed in flames.
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the pilot, age 69, held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single engine land rating. His last aviation medical examination was completed on June 5, 2010, when he was issued a third-class medical certificate with a restriction for corrective lenses. The pilot also held a repairman certificate for the accident gyroplane. A search of FAA records showed no accident, incident, enforcement, or disciplinary actions.
The pilot's flight logbook was consumed during the postimpact fire. The most recent pilot data was obtained from his application for his current medical certificate, dated June 5, 2010. On that application, the pilot noted having 592 hours total flight experience, of which 55 hours were flown during the previous 6 months. On his previous application for a medical certificate, dated May 7, 2008, he noted having 525 hours total flight experience, of which 20 hours were flown during the previous 6 months.
The pilot's total flight experience in the accident gyroplane could not be accurately determined. The pilot's spouse and flight instructor both estimated that he had flown 2-5 hours in the accident gyroplane during the preceding 30 days.
The accident gyroplane was a Lunceford model Sparrowhawk II, serial number S0200018. The experimental amateur-built gyroplane was constructed of an aluminum frame that was encapsulated by a molded fiberglass cabin. The gyroplane had a maximum takeoff weight of 1,500 pounds and a useful load of 570 pounds. A four-cylinder, 2.5 liter, Subaru EJ25 reciprocating engine powered the gyroplane. The 165-horsepower automobile engine provided thrust through a Warp Drive, fixed pitch, three-bladed, composite propeller.
The accident gyroplane was issued an airworthiness certificate and operating limitations on October 24, 2008, by a designated airworthiness representative. The recording hour meter was destroyed during the postimpact ground fire, which prevented the determination of the total service time at the time of the accident. Reportedly, the airplane had completed the 40 hour flight test phase required by its operating limitations, but the available logbook information was inconclusive on how many actual hours had been accumulated since initial certification. The last condition inspection was completed on April 15, 2010. A postaccident review of the available maintenance records found no history of unresolved airworthiness issues.
The closest weather observation station was at the Huntingburg Airport (KHNB), located about 21 miles northwest of the accident site. At 0955, the KHNB automated surface observation system reported the following weather conditions: wind calm; visibility 10 miles; clear skies; temperature 28 degrees Celsius; dew point 24 degrees Celsius; altimeter setting 30.07 inches of mercury.
The Perry County Municipal Airport (KTEL) is located about 6 miles northwest of Tell City, Indiana. The airport has one runway: 13/31 (4,400 feet by 75 feet, asphalt). The general airport elevation is listed as 660 feet mean sea level (msl). The elevation of the runway 13 threshold is listed as 608 feet msl. A medium intensity runway lighting system is installed on runway 13/31. Runway 13 is equipped with a 4-light precision approach path indicator system.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located about 1/4 mile north of the airport in a heavily wooded ravine, approximately abeam the runway 13 approach threshold. Damage to the dense overhead foliage was limited, consistent with a near vertical descent path. There was no evidence of lateral travel through the trees. There was evidence of an extensive postimpact ground fire that completely destroyed the fuselage, cockpit, and flight controls. The engine exhibited significant fire damage. All three composite propeller blades exhibited chordwise impact damage consistent with engine rotation. Additionally, there were multiple severed tree branches located nearby the main wreckage. The leading edge of the main rotor blades did not exhibit any appreciable impact damage.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The pilot survived the accident, but subsequently died of his related injuries on July 28, 2010. An autopsy was not performed on the pilot.
The FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology tests on samples obtained during the pilot's postaccident treatment. No ethanol was detected in blood samples. Midazolam was detected in urine and blood samples. Glucose was detected at 170 mg/dl in urine, and the hemoglobin A1C level was 6.6-percent.
The pilot had been previously diagnosed with Type-II diabetes which was, according to FAA documentation, controlled by diet and weight loss. Midazolam is used for sedation and likely was administered during postaccident medical treatment.
According to FAA Regulation 14 CFR Part 61.31, to serve as the pilot in command of an aircraft, a person must hold the appropriate category, class, and type rating for the aircraft to be flown. However, an appropriate category and class rating is not required when operating a non-type certificated (experimental) aircraft.
According to FAA interviews and available logbook information, the accident gyroplane had experienced a loss of engine power on two previous occasions. The first instance was attributed to contaminated fuel from the disintegration of the fuel tank. The other reported instance was attributed to the engine computer malfunctioning when the radio push-to-talk switch was depressed. A postaccident review of the available maintenance records found no history of unresolved airworthiness issues.