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On November 6, 2011, at 1853 mountain standard time, a Cessna 182Q, N4701N, collided with hilly terrain near Lake Havasu City, Arizona. The pilot was operating the airplane under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The private pilot and two passengers sustained fatal injuries. The airplane sustained substantial damage and fragmentation during the accident sequence. The personal cross-country flight departed Glendale Municipal Airport, Glendale Arizona, about 1810 with a planned destination of Lake Havasu City Airport. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the departure airport, and no flight plan had been filed.
The flight was to be the return leg of a family trip to watch a football game in the Glendale area. They had flown into Glendale earlier that day from their home base of Lake Havasu City, arriving at 1115. The game began about 1415, and continued into overtime, finishing about 1730. According to a friend, who was seated next to the pilot during the game, he had expressed concern about encroaching weather, and the game extending into the hours of darkness. The pilot and passengers immediately left the stadium as soon as the game was completed.
Radar and voice data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that the pilot made radio contact with Luke Airforce Base air traffic control personnel about 5 minutes after departure. The controller provided a transponder code of 0230, followed, 90 seconds later, by an updated code of 2607. Radar data revealed a target 10 miles north of Luke Airforce Base reporting a transponder code of 2607, which for the next 12 minutes, continued on a northwest track, climbing from 4,500 feet to 6,900 feet mean sea level (msl). During the climb, the pilot informed the controller that he would like to cruise at 6,500 feet. The controller advised that if he planned to receive radar services from Albuquerque, he would need to fly at or above 8,500 feet due to radar coverage limits in the area. The pilot responded that he would remain on the Luke frequency.
About 90 seconds later, with the airplane 35 miles northwest of Luke Airforce Base, the controller informed the pilot that radar services were terminated, and that he should squawk VFR (visual flight rules - 1200). The pilot responded, and the target then changed transponder code to 1200. For the next 12 minutes, the target continued on a northwest track, descending to 6,300 feet, with the last target observed 50 miles northwest of Luke Airforce Base.
Flight track data recovered from the airplane's Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver revealed a flight path closely matching that of the radar data. It revealed that the airplane continued beyond the last radar target on the same heading for another 30 miles, while maintaining a GPS altitude of about 6,000 feet, and a ground speed of 140 knots. For the next 4 minutes the airplane began a 10-degree turn to the left followed by a similar turn to the right, while descending to 5,000 feet having reached Alamo Lake. For the next 2 minutes, the airplane descended to 4,650 feet at which point it began a 70-degree turn to the left, followed by a 90-degree turn to the right accompanied by a series of altitude and airspeed oscillations varying between 4,500 and 4,800 feet, and 97 and 126 knots. For the last 24 seconds, the airplane turned 180 degrees to the left while descending from 4,714 feet to the last recorded position at 3,153 feet. The first identified point of impact was located about 1,000 feet southeast, and 800 feet below the final GPS position. The last recorded airspeed was 177 knots.
The entire route of flight beyond the outskirts of the Glendale area occurred over minimally lit, uninhabited desert terrain.
The airplane became the subject of an alert notice (ALNOT) at 0930 on November 9, after the pilot did not report for work as expected. The Civil Air Patrol and Mohave County Sheriff's department subsequently initiated a search, and the airplane was located at 1600 that day.
A review of FAA airman records revealed that the 53-year-old pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land. He did not possess an instrument rating.
An examination of the pilot's logbook indicated a total flight experience of about 333 hours since his first documented training flight in November 2006, through to his last logbook entry dated October 23, 2011. He had amassed a total of 246 flight hours in the accident airplane make and model, 11 of which occurred in the 90 days prior to the accident. He reported 4.2 hours of simulated instrument flight time, no flight time in actual instrument conditions, and 11.7 hours of total night flight experience. He had flown along that route 11 times in total, all since September 2010; 9 were return flights after watching the same football team. Recovered GPS data revealed that four of those flights, including the last one, which occurred 14 days prior to the accident, took place after the end of civil twilight. On all four occasions, clear skies and visibilities of 10 miles or greater existed for all area airports.
The pilot held a third-class medical certificate issued on August 31, 2011. It had limitations that he must possess glasses that correct for near vision.
The high-wing, single-engine airplane, fixed-gear airplane, serial number 18267292, was manufactured in 1979. A review of the airplane’s maintenance logbooks revealed a total airframe time of 10,713.7 flight hours at the last annual inspection, dated June 22, 2011. The times of the aircraft tachometer and hobbs-hour meter could not be confirmed at the accident site.
The airplane was equipped with a conventionally aspirated, six-cylinder Teledyne Continental Motors O-470-U engine, serial number 469810. At the time of the annual inspection, the engine had accrued a total time of 1,049.8 flight hours since its overhaul, which occurred in October 2000.
The airplane was originally equipped with a factory installed 300A NAVOMATIC autopilot system. This autopilot was removed in 1997, and no evidence of an autopilot was located in the wreckage or subsequent aircraft maintenance records.
Kingman Airport (KIGM), Kingman, Arizona, was located 55 miles north-northwest of the accident site at an elevation of 3,449 feet. The airport was equipped with an automated surface observation system (ASOS) which, at 1909, disseminated wind from 200 degrees at 3 knots; visibility 9 miles in light rain, ceiling broken at 2,300 feet agl, overcast at 3,200 feet; temperature 6 degrees C; dew point 4 degrees C; with an altimeter of 29.95 inches of mercury.
The ASOS at Blythe Airport (KBLH), which was located approximately 66 miles southwest of the accident site at an elevation of 399 feet, reported at 1852 wind from 320 degrees at 3 knots; visibility 10 miles, ceiling overcast at 7,000 feet; temperature 16 degrees C; dew point 8 degrees C; and altimeter 29.92 inches of mercury.
Several pilot reports indicated light to moderate rime icing between 9,000 and 14,000 feet over the Kingman and Prescott, Arizona, areas surrounding the period, with several pilots reporting broken to overcast cloud cover over western Arizona.
Astronomical data obtained from the United States Naval Observatory for Kingman, indicated Sunset began at 1737, with the end of civil twilight at 1804.
At the time of the accident, the sun was 15 degrees below the horizon, and the moon 36 degrees above the horizon at an azimuth of 105 degrees. The moon was 93 percent illuminated, with a waxing crescent.
Preflight Weather Briefing
The pilot contacted the FAA Prescott, Arizona, contract Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) at 0805 on the morning of the accident, and requested an abbreviated weather briefing for a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flight between Lake Havasu City and Glendale, and an outlook briefing for the return trip from Glendale. The pilot estimated his departure from Lake Havasu at 1000, with an en route time of 1 hour, and a cruising altitude of 7,500 feet. The return from Glendale was estimated at 1800, and was the leg the pilot indicated he was concerned with due to other weather sources indicating a storm was imminent. The briefer relayed that adverse weather conditions included an AIRMET Tango for moderate turbulence below 18,000 feet, and that AIRMET Zulu for moderate rime icing between 5,000 and 12,000 feet extended over western Arizona on the edge of the intended route. The briefer indicated that a frontal system was moving east across southern California into Arizona, with deteriorating weather conditions expected during the period over western Arizona. The briefer provided the Needles forecast (KEED) for 1800 which indicated scattered clouds at 5,000 feet, broken clouds at 8,000 feet, with a 30 percent probability of light rain showers. The pilot acknowledged that the weather was moving in, and indicated they were going to shortly make their decision as to whether they should fly. The briefing ended with a discussion of surface wind at the destination area. The pilot did contact AFSS prior to the accident flight for an updated briefing.
A complete weather report is contained in the public docket.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane was located within an unpopulated area of the Rawhide Mountain Wilderness. The wreckage came to rest at an elevation of 2,400 feet above sea level, on the southwest facing 30-degree slope of a ravine, about 9 miles northwest of Alamo Lake. The terrain was comprised of loose shale and rock, interspersed with scrub and mesquite trees.
The first identified point of impact was characterized by a 6-foot-wide crater, which contained the engine, propeller, and sections of the instrument panel. Both wings, and the horizontal and vertical stabilizers, were positioned above the engine, and had sustained accordion-like crush damage perpendicular to the chord, from their leading edges through to the aft spars. The left and right wing remained partially attached by the forward spar, and were oriented on a bearing of 55 degrees magnetic. Three-inch-deep ground disruptions of similar shape and length to both wings, and the vertical stabilizer, were noted adjacent to the crater. Fragments of green lens material were located at the tip of the northeast ground disruption next to the right wing tip, with red lens fragments noted at the tip of the southwest ground disruption, next to the left wing tip. Fragments of red lens material and a tail-mounted VOR antenna were located at the tip of the northwest disruption.
The debris field, which was comprised of cabin items, seat fragments, and sections of airframe skin, spanned a distance of about 360 feet from the initial impact, on a bearing of 145 degrees magnetic. The last major section of debris was located about 260 feet from the initial impact, and consisted of the forward cabin area, including the firewall, main and nose landing gear, and remnants of the footwell. The entire section had sustained thermal damage, consistent with postaccident fire. All major sections of the airplane were accounted for at the accident site.
All primary airplane structures, including the wings, main landing gear, and empennage were oriented 180 degrees relative to the direction of the debris path, consistent with the airplane impacting the ground in an inverted attitude. The debris field was oriented opposite the direction of travel.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was conducted by the Mohave County Medical Examiner, with the cause of death reported as the effect of blunt force injuries.
Toxicological tests on specimens recovered from the pilot by the Mohave County Medical Examiner, were performed by the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute. The results were negative for all screened drug substances and ingested alcohol. Refer to the toxicology report included in the public docket for specific test parameters and results.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The airframe and engine were recovered from the accident site, and examined by the NTSB investigator-in-charge and representatives from Cessna Aircraft and Continental Motors Incorporated.
All control cables and pushrods sustained varying degrees of fragmentation, with their separation surfaces exhibiting either broomstraw, shear, or bending damage consistent with impact. The empennage had separated from the aft tailcone at the bulkhead. The horizontal and vertical stabilizer remained attached at the root. The horizontal stabilizer had sustained crushing through to the elevators, perpendicular to the chord. The vertical stabilizer had become completely crushed aft through to the rudder. All control surfaces remained attached at their hinge points. The elevator trim jack screw indicated 1 1/4-inch extension, which according to the Cessna representative was a zero degrees elevator trim tab setting.
The engine was separated from its mount. The oil sump had become crushed, and formed around the lower crankcase. Fragmented remnants of both magnetos, the alternator, and propeller governor remained attached to the engine. All rocker covers were completely or partially separated, exposing the valves spring areas. The forward upper section of the crankcase, adjacent to cylinder number five, had become fragmented, exposing the forward section of the crankshaft. The lower forward section of cylinder number five was separated from the engine, exposing the piston. All engine intake and exhaust tubes had become separated and fragmented. The top spark plugs for all cylinders except number four were removed; plug number four sustained damage, with the threaded portion remaining in place. No mechanical damage was noted, and the electrodes and posts exhibited light grey deposits and wear corresponding to normal operation when compared with the Champion Aviation Check-A-Plug AV-27 Chart. Visual inspection of the combustion chambers was accomplished through the spark plug bores utilizing a borescope; there was no evidence of foreign object damage or detonation and all combustion surfaces exhibited light grey deposits consistent with normal operation.
The propeller hub had become separated from the crankshaft hub. Both blades had separated from the hub, and exhibited chordwise scratches, leading edge nicks, and varying degrees of blade twist. One blade had separated about 6 inches from the tip with a jagged tear pattern.
No anomalies were noted to the airframe or engine, which would have precluded normal operation. A complete examination report is contained within the public docket.
Fueling records provided by Desert Skies Executive Air Services, located in Lake Havasu City Airport, established that the airplane was last serviced with the addition of 30 gallons of 100-octane low-lead aviation fuel on the morning of the accident.
FAA Advisory Circular 60-4A states in part, "The attitude of an aircraft is generally determined by reference to the natural horizon or other visual references with the surface. If neither horizon nor surface references exist, the attitude of an aircraft must be determined by artificial means from the flight instruments. Sight, supported by other senses, allows the pilot to maintain orientation. However, during periods of low visibility, the supporting senses sometimes conflict with what is seen. When this happens, a pilot is particularly vulnerable to disorientation. The degree of orientation may vary considerably with individual pilots. Spatial disorientation to a pilot means simply the inability to tell which way is 'up.'...Surface references and the natural horizon may at times become obscured, although visibility may be above flight rule minimums. Lack of natural horizon or such reference is common on over water flights, at night, and especially at night in extremely sparsely populated areas, or in low visibility conditions.... The disoriented pilot may place the aircraft in a dangerous attitude... Therefore, the use of flight instruments is essential to maintain proper attitude when encountering any of the elements which may result in spatial disorientation."