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On May 23, 2011, about 1520 mountain daylight time, a Cessna T207A, N803AN, impacted the terrain during an attempted visual flight rules (VFR) go-around from Runway 16 at Monument Valley Airport, Monument Valley, Utah. The commercial pilot and two of his passengers received serious injuries, and the other three passengers received minor injuries. The airplane, which was owned by Yaki Point, LLC, and operated by Grand Canyon Airlines, sustained substantial damage. The 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 on-demand sightseeing flight, which departed Grand Canyon Airport, Grand Canyon, Arizona, about one hour and forty minutes prior to the accident, was being operated in visual meteorological conditions. A company VFR flight plan had been filed.
According to the airplane's operator, the airplane was part of a flight of four airplanes that were taking an organized tour group of revenue passengers on a sightseeing tour of Southern Utah. Although the final destination of the tour was Page Municipal Airport, Page, Arizona, there was a planned stop at the Monument Valley Airport, where the passengers were scheduled to spend time at the Goulding Lodge and Trading Post.
The lead airplane of the group, and the first to land at Monument Valley, was a Cessna 208 Caravan. The other three airplanes were all Cessna T207's. The pilot of the Caravan reported that there were strong gusty winds in the area, and that twice while he was on final approach he hit downdrafts that caused the airplane to sink and lose airspeed. In both instances he had to apply "significant power" to recover. One of the downdraft encounters was while he was on short final. He also stated that once he was down on the runway, the winds were not as "squirrely" as they had been in the air, but more of a constant wind of about 10 knots out of the west. After landing, the Caravan pilot advised the following pilots that the winds on final were "weird," but not especially strong.
The second pilot to land (flying the first T207) touched down about 3 or 4 minutes after the Caravan. That pilot reported that although there was some bumpiness while she was on final, while she was on short final she detected hardly any wind at all. She said that she was able to fly a smooth stabilized approach to a smooth normal touchdown. The pilot of the Caravan confirmed this description, stating that from his position it appeared that the first T207 had not encountered any strong downdrafts or unusual winds.
The third airplane landed about 3 minutes after the second one. The pilot of that airplane said that although he had seen the windsock hanging limp when he overflew the airfield, once he was established on final approach it got really bumpy. He further stated that the winds were coming from all different directions, and that he had encountered a number of updrafts and downdrafts. He also stated that by the time he pulled off the runway and into his parking spot, that the winds were from about 240 degrees at about 25 knots, and that the wind sock was standing straight out.
The accident airplane was the last to land, and the other pilots were watching it while it was on final approach. They reported that the pilot seemed to be a little high, and that the airplane's wings were rocking in a manner consistent with the pilot making corrections as a result of the airplane encountering variable winds. One of the pilots turned away before the airplane was on short final, but the other two who continued to watch reported that the airplane appeared to drop onto the runway and hit hard enough to bounce back into the air. At that point it appeared that the pilot added full power and initiated a go-around with what was described as a "very high" angle of attack. Soon thereafter it appeared that the pilot entered a left bank, and the airplane began sinking toward the terrain. It eventually impacted the terrain in a left wing low attitude, and appeared to the witnesses to cartwheel before coming to a stop.
All the pilots agreed that the engine sounded as if it was running strong and smooth during the apparent go-around attempt. And it reportedly remained at a very high power setting until the airplane impacted the terrain.
A review of the written statements provided by the passengers revealed that the airplane was being thrown around by gusty winds while on final. They also reported that when the airplane touched down it was somewhat sideways and not aligned with the runway, and that soon after contacting the runway, the pilot added power and executed a go-around. One passenger reported hearing a beeping sound, which she thought was some kind of warning, just before the airplane touched down, and again after the pilot initiated the go-around. She further stated that during the go-around, after the pilot initiated the left turn, the beeping appeared to get louder and faster. The passengers also stated that the pilot flew what appeared to them to be a "very tight turn," and confirmed that the airplane's left wing tip was the first part to impact the ground.
The 34 year old commercial pilot held Airplane Single-Engine Land and Airplane Instrument ratings. He also held Airplane-Single-Engine Land and Instrument Airplane Instructor ratings. Of his 965 hours of total flight time, 140 hours were in the make and model airplane involved in the accident. Of the 140 hours in make and model, 108 of those hours were accumulated in the 90 days prior to the accident. His last flight review, which was completed in a Cessna T207A, was signed off on March 10, 2011. His last FAA airman's medical, a class 2, was completed on March 29, 2011. The medical contained the limitation that the pilot had to wear corrective lenses while acting as a pilot. As of the date of this report, the pilot had no recollection of the sequence of events related to the accident.
The airplane was a 1979 Cessna T207A, with a Teledyne Continental Motors TSIO520M, 310 horsepower engine, and a McCauley D3A34C401 controllable pitch propeller. The airplane's last 100 hour/annual inspection was completed on April 9, 2011, at which time the airframe had accumulated 13,417 hours. The engine had accumulated 1,326 hours since a major overhaul. At the time of the accident the airplane was below maximum allowable gross weight and within center of gravity limits.
There was no weather recording or transmitting equipment at the Monument Valley Airport. The nearest weather reporting facility was at Kayenta, Arizona, which is located about 20 miles south of the accident site. According to the pilot of the third airplane to land, he listened to the transmission of the Automatic Weather Observation System at Kayenta while he was approaching Monument Valley, and the wind there was from 150 degrees at 25 knots, gusting to 30 knots.
According to the operator, at the time of the accident, the temperature at Monument Valley was 26 degrees C (68 degrees F), with a barometric pressure of 29.74 inches of Mercury, giving a density altitude of 6,790 feet. The wind around the airport was varying widely, sometimes with gusts up to 25 knots from 240 degrees (80 degrees off the runway heading), and a few minutes later being light to calm. Some of the airplanes in the four-plane group encountered a strong variable wind and moderate turbulence while on final, but at least one airplane did not encounter those conditions. Some of the airplanes encountered downdrafts on final that required significant power inputs to recover from their sink rate and decrease in airspeed, while others encountered very little if any downdraft activity. One pilot reported that immediately after the accident the wind appeared to be, "very inconsistent." He described the wind as being perfectly calm for awhile, and then having a sudden strong gust come up that rocked the wings of the tied down airplanes and caused the wind sock to stand straight out.
The Monument Valley Airport is located on a flat desert plateau 5,280 feet above sea level. It has one asphalt paved runway designated 16/34. About 400 feet off the south end of runway 16 there is a nearly vertical sandstone rock wall that towers about 700 feet above the elevation at the end of the runway. Because of this obstacle, all of the flight guides that provide information about the airport indicate that all landings should be made on runway 16 (toward the obstacle), and all takeoffs should be made on runway 34 (away from the obstacle). Runway 16, the landing runway, is 4,100 feet long, 45 feet wide, and contains an uphill slope of 2.0%. The Airguide Publications Airport Manual states that "Cliff South is 1,000 feet above airport elevation," that there should be no touch-and-go landings, and the warning, "Go-around not possible."
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane's left wing contacted the terrain at a point 1,660 feet from the runway threshold on a heading of 140 degrees. Fragments of the red navigational light lens and portions of the landing light lens where found at that location. About 45 feet further along the impact track, which ran on a heading of about 090 degrees, was an indentation in the sand where the propeller and engine made contact with the terrain. Ground scars indicated that at that point the engine separated from the airframe, and the propeller separated from the crankshaft flange. The propeller came to rest about ten feet past where it first impacted the terrain, but the engine and its cowling tumbled about another 120 feet further down track, coming to rest about 40 feet past the fuselage, which was located at 37 degree, 01 minutes, 2.3 seconds North, by 110 degrees, 11 minutes, 55 seconds West. The outboard one-half of the left wing had been torn open, twisted, and severely distorted from the leading edge to the aft spar. Although the lift strut was still attached to both the wing and the fuselage, the aft spar had separated from where it connected to the fuselage spar carry-through. The left flap cables and the aileron crossover cable contained separation failures, with the failure ends showing a broom straw condition consistent with overload. Except for the aforementioned cable overload failures, flight control continuity was established throughout the remainder of the airplane. The flaps were set at the 10 degree position, and the throttle, propeller, and mixture controls were in the full forward position. Neither of the main fuel tanks had been breached, and both contained an undetermined amount of fuel. The right wing had retained its basic form along its entire span, with the section outboard of the inboard end of the aileron being bent up about 15 degrees. The leading edge of the outboard section was crushed aft at about a 10 degree angle, starting at a point directly forward of the inboard end of the aileron and continuing to the tip where the aft-crushing was to the depth of the forward wing spar. The cabin portion of the fuselage retained its basic form from a point just forward of the lift strut attach fittings, to a point just aft of the most rear seat. At that point the aft portion of the fuselage had torn almost completely lose, and was being retained only by a small section of stressed skin along the right side, and by the empennage flight control cables. All passenger restraints remained attached to the fuselage and intact. The aft portion of the fuselage had been crushed, twisted, and severely deformed to a point just forward of the empennage. The empennage itself retained its basic form, with the trailing edges of both elevators exhibiting forward crushing consistent with their aft edges coming in contact with the terrain during the accident sequence. In addition, there was a crease/fold of the skin of the right horizontal stabilizer, running at about a 45 degree angle from its leading edge, starting about 2 feet inboard of its tip, to a point on its trailing edge, about two feet outboard of its juncture with the vertical stabilizer. The skin on both sides of the rudder showed a small degree of accordioning consistent with it also being pushed forward as its trailing edge came in contact with the terrain.
All three propeller blades remained attached to the propeller hub, with one being at the full flat pitch position, and the other two having rotated to about 90 degrees from flat pitch, with their leading edges facing directly forward in relation to the hub. The blade at flat pitch was bent aft about 5 degrees starting about one-half its span. The leading edge of its cambered face, from a point about 12 inches from the hub to its tip, displayed chord-wise burnishing removal of both the paint and the primer down to bare metal. From its tip to a point about 18 inches inboard of the tip, the chord-wise burnishing was also present from its leading edge to its trailing edge, although in that area it had not removed all of the paint. One of the two 90 degree blades was bent forward about 30 degrees in a constant arc that started about 18 inches out from the hub. The leading edge of its cambered face displayed only paint burnishing consistent with operational use, but much of the paint on its flat face had been removed due to chord-wise burnishing. The burnished area was only along the leading edge near half its span, but the burnished area grew progressively wider as it progressed toward the tip, stretching across the full chord at the tip itself. The second 90 degree blade was bent aft about 10 degrees about 18 inched from the hub, and then curved forward again about 10 degrees along its outboard 2 feet, so that the root and the tip were in the same plain. The leading edge of its cambered face showed the same operationally induced burnishing as the other 90 degree blade. Both the paint and the primer on the outboard one-third of its flat face were completely removed down to bear metal due to the same chord-wise burnishing. The propeller spinner had been crushed nearly straight aft into the hub, and it displayed clear rotational scarring and twisting, with the blade openings having been pushed against the direction of rotation into the leading edge of the respective propeller blades.