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On October 21, 2010, at 1915 eastern daylight time, a Rockwell International 112TC, N1154J, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain following an uncontrolled descent near Waynesboro, Georgia. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight that departed Covington Municipal Airport (9A1), Covington, Georgia, at 1530, and was destined for Jim Hamilton L.B. Owens Airport (CUB), Columbia, South Carolina. The certificated private pilot/owner intentionally exited the airplane while in flight in the vicinity of Augusta, Georgia, descended via parachute, and was not injured. The personal flight was conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
The pilot provided a written statement and he was also interviewed by telephone. According to the pilot, the purpose of the flight was to pick up the airplane at the conclusion of some maintenance work, and to fly it to CUB for further work. He said the airplane was serviced with fuel prior to his arrival, and that he completed all preflight, engine run-up, and before takeoff checks by the checklist prior to departure. The pilot stated that no anomalies were noted during any of the inspections or checks, and that all flight controls worked properly throughout their respective control ranges.
According to the pilot, he performed 3 touch-and-go landings at 9A1 before departing for CUB. Once en route, he noticed that the elevator control was "stiff" as he completed an altitude change. Then, the yoke would no longer move fore and aft, and he "then realized that I had lost elevator control of N1154J." The pilot stated that he had aileron control and could turn left and right, but altitude changes could only be made by increasing or decreasing engine power. Eventually, the pilot lost aileron control, and could only perform shallow turns with rudder inputs.
The pilot declared an emergency over the radio to air traffic control (ATC), and was provided with radar vectors to Augusta Regional Airport (AGS), Augusta, Georgia. He attempted to troubleshoot the problem over the radio with ATC and other pilots on his assigned frequency, and then "started putting on a parachute I had on board."
The pilot made multiple approaches but could not complete the landing before he began to run out of daylight, and his fuel state became critical. He maneuvered the airplane south of the airport towards a wooded area "away from homes." About 1,500 feet above ground level, the airplane's fuel supply was exhausted, the engine stopped producing power, and the pilot parachuted from the airplane. The airplane departed controlled flight, and descended into terrain, while the pilot parachuted to the ground, where he suffered no injuries.
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. The pilot reported 155 hours of flight experience, of which 104 hours were in the same make and model as the accident airplane. His most recent second-class medical certificate was issued on June 6, 2009.
According to FAA records, the airplane was manufactured in 1976, and was registered to a corporation in March 2010. It was a four-place, low wing, single-engine airplane, configured with retractable tricycle landing gear. According to the pilot, the airplane had accumulated approximately 1,890 total hours and the last annual inspection was completed on January 28, 2010.
The pilot reported that in July 2010, “almost the complete instrument panel” had been stolen from his airplane. A statement from the pilot/owner’s insurance company revealed that the pilot was compensated for the loss of his instruments.
At 1853, the weather conditions reported at AGS, about 20 miles north of the accident site, included winds from 240 at 4 knots, clear skies, 10 miles visibility, temperature 23 degrees C, dewpoint 7 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.89 inches of mercury.
A cursory examination of the wreckage was performed at the crash site by FAA aviation safety inspectors. All major components were accounted for at the scene, and no evidence of pre-accident mechanical anomalies was noted.
The wreckage was moved to a recovery facility and an NTSB senior air safety investigator performed a detailed examination of the wreckage.
There was a significant amount of impact crushing of the cockpit that prevented investigators from manipulating the cockpit controls “as found.” The cockpit was cut and pried apart to gain access. All elevator cables were connected to the elevator arms on the control yoke. The upper elevator arm was bent about 45 degrees. The lower arm was undamaged. The control yoke was then removed by cutting it in half. The left control yoke cross-tube was fractured at the weld point on the control yoke column due to impact and overstress.
The empennage was cut from the aft fuselage during recovery of the wreckage. While impact damage was evident, the elevator and rudder remained attached. The elevator cables were also cut during wreckage recovery but remained attached to the elevator bellcrank and the connections were in good condition. The pushrod from the elevator bellcrank to the elevator horn was attached and was in good condition. The horn and bellcrank moved freely with no binding evident.
The elevator trim actuators were examined, and each actuator was connected to its respective trim tab. The trim tabs were found in the full tab down positions. The chain drive was actuated manually and the chain moved from stop-to-stop freely and showed no evidence of a lack of lubrication. In summary, the examination of the empennage revealed no evidence of any binding or restriction of movement of the elevator or elevator trim surfaces.
The elevator control cables were accessed by removal of the fuselage skin. The cables, turnbuckles, and cable pulleys were in good condition and moved freely. No evidence of cable interference from foreign objects was observed. The examination of the fuselage revealed no evidence of any binding or restriction of movement of the internal pulleys or cables.
Examination of the instruments mounted in the instrument panel revealed that the serial numbers on the air pressure instruments matched the serial numbers of the air pressure instruments that were installed in the airplane when it was purchased by the pilot/owner, and later reported stolen in July, 2010.
The pilot exited the airplane wearing a Softie emergency parachute. The pilot was asked how it was that a parachute was on board, why he purchased one, and where his training was obtained. When asked if he was a military parachutist, he said no, but stated that he had served in the United States Marines as an infantryman. He said that he had previously owned an L39 jet trainer manufactured in the former Czechoslovakia. The pilot said he sold the jet, but bought the parachute so that he could get instruction in the jet from its current owner, as the ejection seats in the jet were disabled.
The pilot stated that his parachute training was conducted in Monroe, Georgia, at a sport parachuting school. He said that he did not receive training in his personal rig, but instead was given ground school orientation, and then performed a tandem jump with one of the school's instructors. When asked, the pilot said he received his training on October 17, 2010, which was 4 days prior to the accident.
The owner/instructor of the sport parachute school was interviewed by telephone, and also provided a written statement. He was a parachute rigger and a commercial pilot. According to the school's owner, the pilot appeared at his school on October 17, 2010, wearing a military flight suit and boots, and carried the Softie parachute rig into the school with him. The pilot asked if he could be taught to use the Softie parachute.
The owner/instructor said he could explain the use and characteristics of the Softie parachute, but could only offer basic ground school and a tandem jump for orientation. The pilot accepted the offer and completed the training.
According to the owner/instructor, when he asked the pilot why he needed an emergency parachute, "He stated he was a pilot flying out of Dobbins [AFB] and that he flew L-39 [jets], acting as the “rabbit” for other Marine pilots to chase him around the sky and do the dog fights “Top Gun” style of training. The only thing I thought strange was he had not gone to jump school and stated it was not required for the pilots. (That was what prompted his desire to try his parachute.) He also indicated during the conversation that the planes he was flying for the Marines did not have ejection seats and if he needed to get out, he would have to climb out."