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On July 20, 2011, at 2157 eastern daylight time (EDT), a Cessna 182S, N23739, was substantially damaged during impact with trees and terrain approximately 1/2-mile southwest of Harnett Regional Jetport (HRJ), Erwin, North Carolina. The certificated private pilot and passenger were fatally injured. Dark night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which departed Key Field Airport (MEI), Meridian, Mississippi, at 1621 central daylight time. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
All times are expressed in (EDT) unless otherwise noted.
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Control (ATC) archived communication and radar data, information recovered from a handheld global positioning system (GPS) receiver found in the wreckage, and interviews with family members of the pilot, the pilot and two passengers departed from Erwin, North Carolina on July 19, 2011, and flew to Philadelphia Municipal Airport (MPE), Philadelphia, Mississippi. During that trip the pilot stopped at Harris County Airport (PIM), Pine Mountain, Georgia, before continuing on to MPE. Upon arriving at MPE, the pilot contacted his family to advise that the group had arrived in Mississippi and that the airplane had "flown great." While in Philadelphia, one of the passengers purchased a vehicle at an auction, and elected to drive the vehicle back to Erwin.
On the afternoon of the accident day, the pilot contacted flight service via telephone at 1531. He reported that he was at MPE, and was flying to Fayetteville Regional Airport (FAY), Fayetteville, North Carolina. The pilot estimated that the flight duration would be about 5 hours, and he requested a weather briefing from the flight service briefer. During the 9-minute conversation, the briefer informed the pilot of thunderstorm activity over much of the proposed route of flight. The pilot then requested a weather briefing for a flight to PIM. The briefer advised that the predicted weather over Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia was not favorable to flying, and recommended that the pilot fly south of Meridian, Mississippi and Montgomery, Alabama before turning to the east in order to avoid the majority of the thunderstorm activity.
At 1556, the pilot and the remaining passenger departed MPE and flew to MEI, landing at 1617. The pilot subsequently serviced the airplane with 35.1 gallons of 100LL aviation fuel at 1654. At 1715, the pilot contacted MEI ground control and requested to taxi for departure. The pilot was offered and accepted radar flight following services, and stated that his destination was Columbus Metropolitan Airport (CSG), Columbus, Georgia, and that he planned to fly at an altitude of 5,500 feet during the flight. ATC subsequently issued the pilot a transponder code of 5601, and the flight departed MEI at 1721.
At 1723, the pilot contacted the departure controller and was radar identified. About 8 minutes later, the departure controller advised the pilot of multiple areas of precipitation with an unknown intensity over the next 50 miles, and offered to provide the pilot with radar vectors around the weather. The pilot acknowledged the offer, but made no further requests for vectors around weather. At 1741, the pilot contacted the departure controller to inquire about the weather conditions, but the controller advised that the pilot was unreadable, and asked him to switch to a different transmitter. At 1743, the pilot contacted the controller again, with an improved quality transmission. The pilot reported that he had "broken out" into marginally good weather conditions, and the controller further advised the pilot of precipitation along his intended route of flight. At 1744, the controller asked the pilot to report the cloud conditions in his area, and the pilot replied. The departure controller then provided the pilot with a frequency on which to contact the Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). The pilot initially read back an incorrect frequency before repeating the correct frequency. After the pilot had not contacted the Atlanta ARTCC by 1754, the MEI departure controller attempted to contact the pilot and again provide him with the frequency. No response was received, and no further communications were received from the accident pilot for the remainder of the flight.
Air traffic control continued to track the flight, and on numerous occasions attempted to contact the pilot, all with no response. About 1901, the airplane passed within 3 nautical miles (nm) of CGS, shortly after which it turned from its eastbound track to a northeast bound track, directly toward HRJ; about 330 nm northeast. At 2043, ATC made a final attempt to contact the pilot after the airplane passed through the airspace of Shaw Air Force Base (SSC), Sumter, South Carolina. At 2105, the airplane's transponder code changed from the previously assigned discrete code to the standard visual flight rules (VFR) code of 1200.
At 2137, the airplane began tracking eastward toward the final approach course at HRJ. About this time, the airplane also began descending from its previously established cruising altitude of about 5,500 feet. At 2139, the airplane descended below the ceiling of the class C airspace surrounding Pope Air Force Base (POB), Fayetteville, North Carolina. The airplane subsequently descended below the outer shelf floor airspace at 2142, and was roughly tracking the final approach course to runway 05 at HRJ.
At 2148, the airplane reached a point about 1 nm southwest of the runway 05 threshold at HRJ, and was displaced about 0.3 nm from, and parallel to, the runway final approach course. The airplane then turned right and began tracking southeast as it climbed from 1,300 feet to 2,100 feet. The airplane then made a left, 180-degree turn and began tracking back toward the point 1 mile from the runway 05 threshold, and descended to 1,300 feet. About 3 nm northwest of the airport, after climbing to about 1,800 feet, the airplane made another 180-degree turn, and began tracking back toward the runway 05 final approach course. At 2156:38, the airplane had again crossed the final approach course to runway 05, and had climbed to an altitude about of about 2,000 feet. Over the next 40 seconds, the airplane performed another 180-degree turn, and descended to about 1,800 feet. At 2157:12, the airplane's position as recorded by the handheld GPS receiver recovered from the wreckage became unreliable, but placed the airplane within less than 1 nm of the accident site. The final position was recorded at 2157:27.
The airplane's position, as reported by ATC radar between 2157:04 and 2157:14, was recorded as a track that began 1.2 miles south of the runway 05 threshold, and continued east, followed by a right turn to the northwest. During that time, the airplane descended from a reported altitude of 1,800 feet, to 1,500 feet 10 seconds later. The right turn continued as the final radar target was recorded at 2157:24, at a reported altitude of 700 feet, and a groundspeed of 141 knots, about 2,100 feet southwest of the initial impact point. The calculated descent rate between the final two radar targets was 4,800 feet per minute.
On the morning of July 21, 2011, the families of the pilot and passenger became concerned that the pilot and passenger had not returned, and could not be reached by telephone. The pilot's family contacted several FAA ATC facilities along the pilot's expected route of flight, and a missing aircraft alert notice was subsequently issued. Upon reviewing ATC radar data, the FAA identified an uncorrelated VFR radar target in the vicinity of HRJ on the evening of the accident flight. The FAA subsequently notified the Civil Air Patrol and local first responders, who located the wreckage later that day, about 1443.
The pilot, age 79, held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued on June 20, 2011 with the limitation, "must wear corrective lenses for near and distant vision."
A pilot logbook was recovered from the wreckage that documented a period between June 1998 and November 2010. According to the logbook, the pilot had accumulated 1,973 total hours of flight experience. Between October 2006, when the pilot purchased the accident airplane, and November 2010, the pilot logged 83 hours of flight experience in the accident airplane. In the 12 months preceding the accident, the pilot logged 12 total hours of flight experience, of which 0.2 hours were at night, and 2 hours of which were in simulated instrument meteorological conditions. No flights were recorded after November 12, 2010.
The most recent flight review endorsement found in the logbook was dated October 18, 2006, and no endorsements for an instrument proficiency check were found anywhere in the log.
According to FAA airworthiness information, the airplane was manufactured in 1999. The airplane was equipped with a suite of avionics manufactured by Bendix/King, including a KLN-89B GPS receiver, two KX-155A navigation/communication radios, KAP 140 two-axis autopilot, and a KMA 26 audio selector panel. On May 9, 2002, the KLN-89B GPS was removed, and a KLN-94 GPS was installed. It was approved for instrument flight rules operation on the following day. Also installed to the airplane at the time of the accident, but not documented in the airplane's FAA airworthiness file, were a Ryan Traffic and Collision Alert Device 9900B and mounting and electrical provisions for a Skyforce Skymap IIIc moving map GPS receiver.
According to FAA aircraft registration information, the pilot purchased the airplane on October 17, 2006, and registered it with the FAA on May 2, 2011. Following the accident, only a propeller maintenance log was recovered for examination. According to the log, a new propeller was installed on the airplane on June 10, 2011, at an airplane tachometer time of 814.2 hours. Following the accident, the airplane's tachometer read 824.3 hours. No records documenting the airplane's most recent annual inspection could be located.
Audio Selector Panel Operation
The airplane's KMA 26 audio selector panel featured a microphone selector switch, which was used to select the desired transmitter for the cockpit microphones. The "C1", "C2", and "C3" positions of the selector switch were used to select the installed communications transceivers 1, 2, or 3 as the active transmitter. The "EMG" position was used to bypass the unit's audio amplifier and directly connected the number 1 communication transceiver to the pilot's microphone and headphones. The "PA" position would normally be selected when the airplane was configured with a passenger address capability. With the microphone selector positioned to the "PA" position, no transmissions could be made via any of the airplane's installed communications transceivers.
The weather conditions reported at Simmons Army Airfield (FBG), Fort Bragg, North Carolina, located 18 nm southwest of the accident site, at 2155, included calm winds, 10 statute miles visibility, clear skies, temperature 31 degrees Celsius (C), dew point 23 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.85 inches of mercury.
Review of composite weather radar imagery produced by National Weather Service for in Raleigh, North Carolina, 2156, revealed that there were no precipitation echoes within 20 nm of the accident site about the time of the accident.
On the day of the accident, the sun set at 2027, and the end of civil twilight was 2056. The moon rose at 2313 and did not set until 0020 the following day.
A pilot who had landed at HRJ around 2300 on the night of the accident reported that visual meteorological conditions prevailed about that time, but that it was also hazy. There were thunderstorms in the area, but not in the immediate vicinity of HRJ. As he approached the airport, he activated the pilot controlled lighting about 5 miles from the runway, and observed that the runway lights were clearly visible from the air. He further the described the area southwest of the runway 05 threshold as a "black hole" at night due to the lack of ground lighting, and stated that flying in that area could be very disorienting.
The Harnett Regional Jetport was comprised of a single asphalt runway that was 5,000 feet-long by 75 feet-wide and oriented in a 05/23 configuration. A continuously lit, two-light precision approach path indicator was located near the approach end of runway 05. The airport was equipped with pilot-controlled medium-intensity runway lighting that could be activated via radio over the airport's common traffic advisory frequency. A localizer/distance measuring equipment instrument approach procedure, as well as an area navigation instrument approach procedure, was published for runway 05.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The initial impact point was located in a wooded area at 35 degrees, 22.038 minutes north latitude, 78 degrees, 44.747 west longitude, and was identified by several freshly cut tree branches, fuel blight of the foliage, and paint chips consistent in color with the accident airplane. Also found in the immediate vicinity of the initial impact point was the left wing strut, which was suspended in a tree, and exhibited a concave 180-degree bend with a radius similar to the tree trunk. The wreckage path was oriented approximately 55 degrees magnetic, and extended about 350 feet past the initial impact point through the wooded area. The airplane impacted numerous trees, approximately 90 feet in height. Several 2-inch-diameter branches were found along the wreckage path that exhibited 45-degree angular cuts with gray paint transfer. Fragments of the airplane, including portions of the left and right wings, left and right ailerons, and left and right horizontal stabilizers, were found along the wreckage path. The airplane’s left wing was located, suspended in trees, approximately 350 feet from the initial impact point. The main wreckage, which consisted of the fuselage, right wing, engine, and propeller, came to rest in the Cape Fear River, approximately 700 feet past the initial impact point. Both left and right wings and left and right horizontal stabilizers exhibited concave crush damage consistent with impact with trees.
Elevator, rudder, and rudder trim control cable continuity was established from the cockpit to the respective control surfaces. The aileron control cables remained attached to the control yoke, however, both wings were separated from the airplane during the impact sequence, and control cable continuity from the cockpit to the wing flight control surfaces could not be established. The wing flap actuator, position indicator, and cockpit switch were found in the flaps retracted position. Measurement of the elevator trim actuator revealed a position that correlated to a 5-degree tab trailing edge up (airplane nose down) deflection. The cockpit elevator trim indicator was damaged. A barometric pressure setting of 29.92 was observed on the altimeter and the audio selector panel microphone selector switch was observed in the "PA" position.
The fuel strainer screen was absent of debris, and the fuel selector handle was in the "BOTH" position. The fuel selector valve was impact damaged, and exhibited a position between the "BOTH" and "LEFT" fuel tank selection. The fuel control unit screen was clear, and fuel was found in both the control unit and the strainer. The fuel flow manifold was clear. Both left and right fuel tanks were ruptured during impact.
The engine was separated from the airframe, but remained attached to the propeller. Two of the three propeller blades were recovered. The propeller hub was fractured, and the third propeller blade was separated from the hub. The recovered propeller blades exhibited slight bending at the tips, as well as leading edge polishing.
The propeller rotated freely by hand, and rotational and valve train continuity was established on the engine. Thumb compression was confirmed to all six cylinders. The engine-driven fuel pump was separated from the engine. Both left and right magnetos produced spark on all terminal leads when rotated by hand. All accessory drive gears exhibited normal rotation when the propeller was turned. The upper spark plugs were removed from all cylinders, and the lower spark plugs were removed from the Nos. 2, 4, and 6 cylinders. All spark plugs exhibited minimal wear. The lower Nos. 1, 3, and 5 spark plugs could not be removed due to impact damage. Both vacuum pumps were intact and rotated freely by hand.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing on the pilot. The testing was negative for the presence of carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, or drugs.
Engine Monitoring System Data
An electronic engine monitoring system was recovered from the wreckage and the contents of its non-volatile memory examined. The data extracted from the unit included several previous flights, as well as the accident flight. The recorded parameters included cylinder head and exhaust gas temperatures for each of the engine's six cylinders, as well as battery voltage. No signs of abnormal engine operation were observed on the data for the accident flight, and the final record of the data was consistent with the previously established operating trend.
FAA Aeronautical Information Manual – Pilot Control of Airport Lighting
The FAA Aeronautical Information Manual, 2-1-9 Pilot Control of Airport Lighting, described the standard procedures for activating lighting at airports not served by an air traffic control tower utilizing an aircraft's very high frequency communications radio. According to the manual, "Radio control of lighting is available at selected airports to provide airborne control of lights by keying the aircraft's microphone. Control of lighting systems is often available at locations without specified hours for lighting and where there is no control tower or FSS [Flight Service Station] or when the tower or FSS is closed (locations with a part-time tower or FSS) or specified hours. All lighting systems which are radio controlled at an airport, whether on a single runway or multiple runways, operate on the same radio frequency."
The manual further stated, "The control system consists of a 3-step control responsive to 7, 5, and/or 3 microphone clicks. This 3-step control will turn on lighting facilities capable of either 3-step, 2-step or 1-step operation. The 3-step and 2-step lighting facilities can be altered in intensity, while the 1-step cannot. All lighting is illuminated for a period of 15 minutes from the most recent time of activation and may not be extinguished prior to end of the 15 minute period (except for 1-step and 2-step REILs [runway end identifier lights] which may be turned off when desired by keying the mike 5 or 3 times respectively)."
Should an aircraft's communications radios become inoperative or incorrectly configured during the course of a flight, communication and/or activation of pilot-controlled lighting at airports not served by an air traffic control tower would be impossible.
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.