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On August 10, 2010, at 2111 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172M, N21363, was substantially damaged when it impacted trees and terrain shortly after takeoff from Orange Municipal Airport (ORE), Orange, Massachusetts. The two certificated private pilots on board were fatally injured. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, destined for Hancock County - Bar Harbor Airport (BHB), Bar Harbor, Maine. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
About 1615, the left-seat pilot contacted the Raleigh Automated Flight Service Station to file a Washington D.C. Special Flight Rules Area Flight Plan. During the telephone call, the pilot stated that two persons would be onboard the flight, and that he would be the pilot for the flight. He also stated that he planned to depart from Tipton Airport (FME), Odenton, Maryland about 1700, and that his ultimate destination was Maine. No further communications associated with either pilot or the accident airplane were recorded by any flight service stations or air traffic control.
According to a lineman at ORE, he received a telephone call from the right-seat pilot earlier in the day to arrange for after-hours fuel service. The right-seat pilot and lineman agreed that the pilot would call upon arrival at ORE. The lineman stated that he received the call at 2026, and traveled about 5 minutes from his home to the airport to fuel the airplane. As instructed by the pilots, he serviced the airplane's fuel tanks "to the top" with 26.9 gallons of 100LL aviation fuel. The lineman stated that both pilots appeared "normal and alert." The lineman finished fueling the airplane at 2055, and observed that the pilots did not sump the fuel tanks prior to departure.
The pilots requested that the lineman escort them to runway 32, since they were unfamiliar with ORE. Using the airport vehicle, the lineman drove in front of the airplane and directed the pilots to the runway. The lineman sat in the vehicle with the windows open as the pilots conducted an engine run-up prior to departure, and stated that the run-up sounded "normal."
The lineman watched the airplane depart ORE about 2110. He stated that the takeoff seemed "smooth" and "normal," and the engine "sounded like it was getting full power." The lineman observed the airplane make a right turn towards the north after takeoff.
A witness, who was at his home near the departure end of runway 32, heard the accident airplane fly overhead as it took off. He stated that the engine was "spitting and sputtering" and producing popping noises, which seemed to "smooth out" as the airplane turned away. He stated that the airplane appeared to be climbing, but "not as fast" as other airplanes.
Several other individuals witnessed the airplane flying over the town of Orange. One witness heard the engine "hum" and "get louder and softer" prior to impact. Another witness, located less than a quarter-mile from the accident site, stated that he heard an engine "humming," and thought it was a car speeding down the road. After hearing the sounds of impact, he realized that it was an airplane. He stated that the engine noise prior to impact was "quieter than a normal airplane."
Review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) radar data revealed that, at 2110:10, a radar target correlated to be the accident airplane was observed northwest of ORE at 1,200 feet mean sea level (msl), over terrain that ranged in elevation from about 500 to 700 feet. The target tracked roughly northeast and climbed to 1,400 feet msl over the next 30 seconds, then tracked northwest and descended to 1,300 feet msl before radar contact was lost at 2110:57.
According to FAA records, the airplane was manufactured in 1974, and was equipped with a Lycoming O-320-E2D engine. Review of FAA registration information showed that the airplane was registered to and owned by the right-seat pilot. According to information provided by the airplane's insurance carrier, both pilots were listed on the airplane's insurance policy.
Review of the airplane's maintenance records revealed that the most recent annual inspection was completed on June 29, 2010. The airplane had accumulated 3,237 total flight hours on that date, and had accumulated 3,256 total hours at the time of the accident. The engine was most recently overhauled on September 13, 1985, and had accumulated 2,296 hours of operation since that time.
The 2052 reported weather conditions at ORE included calm winds, 9 statute miles visibility, a broken ceiling at 8,500 feet, temperature 24 degrees C, dew point 22 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.86 inches of mercury.
Satellite and radar imagery showed clear skies and no precipitation in the area of the accident site around the time of the accident.
According to the United States Naval Observatory, sunset occurred at 1958. The moon set at 2004 and did not rise until 0747 on the following day.
Information provided by first responders indicated the seating position (left/right) of each pilot. The investigation was not able to determine which pilot was controlling the airplane at the time of the accident.
The left-seat pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land. The certificate was issued on July 12, 2010, following two previous unsuccessful practical test attempts. Review of the pilot's personal flight log showed that he had accumulated 101 total hours of flight experience between October 2007 and July 2010. All of the flight hours were accumulated in the accident airplane. The left-seat pilot had logged 3.9 hours of night flight experience in October 2010. Additionally, two entries dated December 27 and 28, 2009 with strikes through each, depicted a series of cross country flights from FME to a final destination of San Antonio, Texas. The pilot reported 1.5 and 2.0 hours of night flight experience for each of the flights, respectively. No night flight experience was logged in the 8 months preceding the accident flight.
According to FAA medical records, the left-seat pilot was issued a third-class medical certificate with a limitation of, "valid for student pilot purposes only" on May 8, 2008. The limitation was stipulated due to the left-seat pilot's monocular vision (right eye only). The left-seat pilot's application for the medical certificate further elaborated, "Prosthesis in left eye due to golfing accident at age 16." On September 2, 2009, the pilot was issued another third-class medical certificate with the same limitation. On May 5, 2010, the pilot obtained a statement of demonstrated ability after completing a medical flight test with an FAA inspector, which removed the student pilot limitation from his medical certificate.
The right-seat pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land. On his most recent application for an FAA third-class medical certificate, which was issued in November 2009, he reported 2,788 total hours of flight experience, with no flight time logged in the preceding 6 months. The pilot also stated that he did not use any prescription or non-prescription medication. Flight log records provided by the right-seat pilot's family covered a period between April 1999 and June 2001. No more recent flight logs were located, and the right-seat pilot's currency could not be determined.
Neither pilot held an instrument rating.
Orange Municipal Airport was located at an elevation of 555 feet, and was equipped with two runways oriented in a 01/14 and 19/32 configuration. Runway 19/32 was 5,000 feet-long by 75 feet-wide, and both runway thresholds were displaced 850 and 1,659 feet respectively. The town of Orange, Massachusetts was located northwest of the airport, about 1/2-mile from the departure end of runway 32. Rising, wooded terrain was located to the north and east of the airport and the town of Orange.
According to the airport manager, the airport fuel farm's most recent annual inspection was completed on February 9, 2010. Additionally, fuel sampling was conducted, on average, four days per week. The most recent fuel sampling was conducted on August 6, 7, 8, and 10, with all samples being absent of water or contaminates. Fuel was also sampled immediately following the accident, and was found to be absent of water or contaminates.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage was located at 42 degrees, 35.72 minutes north latitude, 72 degrees, 17.89 minutes west longitude, and approximately 1.2 nautical miles north of the departure end of runway 32 at ORE. The wreckage was examined at the accident scene on August 11, 2010. There was an odor of fuel, and all major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene.
The initial impact point was identified by freshly cut tree branches found at the base of approximately 70-foot-tall trees located on the crest of a hill, at an elevation of 575 feet. The wreckage path was oriented approximately 60 degrees magnetic and approximately 285 feet in length. Several fragments of plexiglass and both left and right wingtips were found along the path. The main wreckage came to rest among several trees approximately 6 inches in diameter. The vertical descent path from the initial impact point to where the main wreckage came to rest was calculated to be approximately 22 degrees.
The right wing remained attached at the wing root and displayed leading edge crush damage. The leading edge exhibited a concave dent perpendicular to the wing chord, and consistent in size with trees in the vicinity of the wreckage, approximately 2/3 outboard of its span. The fuel tank was ruptured and absent of fuel. The left wing was largely separated at the root, though a small amount of wing skin and control cables remained attached to the fuselage. The wing exhibited extensive crush damage along the entire span. The right horizontal stabilizer remained attached, and the left horizontal stabilizer was separated at its root. The leading edges of both horizontal stabilizers displayed damage consistent with impact with trees. The vertical stabilizer was separated at its base, and remained attached at the rudder attach point. The right aileron remained attached to the wing. The left aileron was found approximately 40 feet north of the main wreckage. The right elevator remained attached. The left elevator was found approximately 10 feet west of the main wreckage. The elevator trim actuator was found in a 5 degree tab-up (nose down) position. The flaps remained attached, and measurement of the flap actuator jackscrew correlated to the retracted position.
Control continuity was established from the ailerons, elevator, elevator trim tab, and rudder to the cockpit area. The cockpit and cabin were substantially impact-damaged. The throttle was found approximately 2 inches aft of the full power position, and was bent approximately 45 degrees to the left about 1 inch from the knob. The mixture control was found in the full rich position. The fuel selector valve was selected to the "BOTH" position.
The airplane was equipped with a two-blade, fixed pitch propeller, which was partially separated from the engine. One blade exhibited S-bending. The opposite blade was bent forward approximately 90 degrees at its mid-span point. Both blades exhibited minor scratching.
The engine remained attached to the airframe. Borescope examination of the cylinders revealed no anomalies. The crankshaft could be rotated by hand, and thumb compression and valve train continuity was established on all cylinders. The top spark plugs were removed, and all were clean and light gray in color, and exhibited normal wear. Both left and right magnetos were rotated by hand and produced spark on all towers. The oil pickup screen and fuel filter were intact and void of debris. The carburetor was broken and separated from the engine. The carburetor floats were significantly impact damaged and the carburetor bowl was void of fuel.
The vacuum pump remained attached to its respective mounting pad on the engine. The vacuum pump's drive shaft was sheared, and exhibited signatures consistent with torsional overstress. The vacuum pump rotor was fractured into several pieces, with all fracture surfaces exhibiting signatures consistent with overstress. Examination of the interior surfaces of the vacuum pump body, vanes, and rotor pieces revealed no indications of a pre-impact mechanical lock-up of the pump.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on both pilots by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Holyoke, Massachusetts. The cause of death for both pilots was "multiple injuries."
The FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing on both pilots.
Toxicological testing of the right-seat pilot was positive for Amlodipone and Citalopram. Toxicological testing of the left-seat pilot was positive for Quinine.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Two handheld global positioning system (GPS) receivers were recovered from the wreckage and retained for examination at the NTSB Vehicle Recorders Laboratory.
Data recovered from one of the handheld GPS receivers showed a track consistent with the airplane taxiing toward the runway 32 threshold at 2106, and accelerating down runway 32 at 2108. The track then climbed and turned toward the northeast. About 2110, the track entered a left turn, and shortly thereafter began descending after reaching a maximum recorded GPS altitude of 1,611 feet, at a calculated groundspeed of 66 knots.
The track continued to increase in calculated descent rate and ground speed while the radius of the left turn decreased. The descent rate initially increased to more than 3,800 feet per minute, and then decreased to an average descent rate greater than 2,000 feet per minute over the next 14 seconds. During that time the groundspeed varied between 101 knots and 50 knots, with an average groundspeed during the descent of 81 knots. During the final 5 seconds of the flight, the calculated directional track rate of the change increased in excess of 25 degrees per second. The last position was recorded at 21:11:15, 560 feet northwest of the initial impact point. The final recorded GPS altitude was 876 feet, the final calculated groundspeed was 88 knots, and the final calculated descent rate was 1,770 feet per minute.
Data were not recovered from the second handheld GPS receiver.
During an interview, the ORE airport manager stated that after the accident, he decided to make a sweep of the airport for anything unusual. About 2300, he drove the airport vehicle from the airport fuel farm, along the airplane's taxi path to the runway, utilizing a spot light to inspect the area ahead. Near the first centerline stripe on runway 32, he noticed a dead bird, and found another between the first and second runway centerline stripes and to their left. He recovered the remains from the runway and stored them in a freezer.
Examination of the airframe at the scene revealed no evidence of or remains from an encounter with birds. Several areas of orange-colored organic material were sampled from the airframe by the Massachusetts State Police for further testing. The samples along with the right portion of the horizontal stabilizer, and the recovered avian remains were taken to the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History. Examination of the recovered samples and the exterior of the horizontal stabilizer found no evidence of deoxyribonucleic acid or feather remains. The avian remains recovered from the runway were identified as Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor).
Feathers with an aged appearance were recovered from within the horizontal stabilizer, and were identified as European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), a species of bird that nests in cavities and often in man-made structures. Review of the maintenance invoices for the accident showed that a bird nest was removed from the airplane's "tail section" during the most-recent annual inspection.
According to FAA Advisory Circular AC 60-4A, "Pilot's Spatial Disorientation," tests conducted with qualified instrument pilots indicated that it can take as long as 35 seconds to establish full control by instruments after a loss of visual reference of the earth's surface. AC 60-4A further states that surface references and the natural horizon may become obscured even though visibility may be above VFR minimums and that an inability to perceive the natural horizon or surface references is common during flights over water, at night, in sparsely populated areas, and in low-visibility conditions.