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On February 8, 2012, approximately 1200 central standard time, a Varga Aircraft Corporation 2150A single-engine airplane, N8293J, impacted Lake Palestine, while approaching the Aero Estates Airport (T25), Frankston, Texas. The airplane sustained minor damage and the private rated pilot, the sole occupant, was fatality injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by a private individual under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal cross-country flight. Visual flight rules (VFR) meteorological conditions prevailed and a VFR flight plan was not filed. The flight originated from the Cherokee County Airport (JSO), Jacksonville, Texas.
The pilot departed T25 earlier in the day with the intent of refueling the airplane. Fuel records at JSO reveal that about 1045, the airplane was serviced with about 18 gallons of fuel and then was seen departing the airport, headed north. When the pilot did not return home, an ALNOT (Alert Notice) for a missing aircraft was issued and a search was initiated. The airplane was located on February 9th, just off shore of Lake Palestine, in approximately 18 feet of water.
Once the airplane was retrieved from the lake, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Investigator-In-Charge (IIC) and inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), examined the airplane wreckage on site. A visual examination of the airplane and engine revealed minor damage to the airplane and no discrepancies with the engine.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate for airplane single-engine, multi-engine land, with instrument airplane ratings. The pilot also held a mechanic certificate with airframe and powerplant ratings. His third-class FAA medical was issued on April 04, 2011. According to the pilot’s log book, he had approximately 5,575 total flight hours.
The accident airplane was a Varga 2150A, which is an all metal, low wing, tandem two-seat airplane, with fixed tricycle landing gear. The airplane was powered by a reciprocating Lycoming O-320 engine that developed 150 horsepower. The airplane was not equipped with a carburetor ice indicator.
At 1135, the automated weather station at JSO, located about 16 miles southeast of the accident site, reported the wind from 030 degrees at 6 knots, temperature 48 degrees Fahrenheit (F), dew point 37 degrees Fahrenheit, (F), visibility 10 miles, a clear sky, and an altimeter pressure setting 30.44 inches of mercury.
At 1153, the automated weather station at Tyler Pounds Regional airport, located about 17 miles north of the accident site, reported the wind from 290 degrees at 5 knots, temperature 48 degrees F, dew point 37 degrees F, visibility 10 miles, sky overcast at 2,500 feet, and an altimeter pressure setting 30.46 inches of mercury.
At 1135, the automated weather station at Palestine Municipal airport, located about 22 miles southwest of the accident site, reported the wind from 350 degrees at 5 knots, temperature 52 degrees F, dew point 39 degrees F, visibility 10 miles, a clear sky, and an altimeter pressure setting 30.45 inches of mercury.
The carburetor icing probability chart included in Federal Aviation Administration Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin No. CE-09-35, Carburetor Icing Prevention, indicated that the airplane was operating in an area that was associated with a serious risk of carburetor ice accumulation at cruise power settings.
COMMUNICATIONS & RADAR INFORMATION
Both JSO and T25 do not have operating control towers and pilots are advised to use CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) for communication. The pilot was not in contact with air traffic control/radar service and no distress call from the pilot was reported.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The NTSB IIC, and inspectors from the FAA, examined the airplane wreckage on site. After retrieval from water, the airplane placed on shore; the airplane’s canopy was found locked in the open position and the pilot’s seat belts were unlatched. Additionally, the examination revealed that the fuel shut-off valves and ignition switch were in the “OFF” position, the battery and avionics switches were also in the off position. The throttle was found full open, mixture control was found set to full rich, and the carburetor heat was in the cold position. The airplane was then relocated to salvage facility. To preserve the engine for a later examination, both magnetos were removed from the engine, the oil was drained from the engine and replaced with new oil, the lower sparksplugs were removed, and the carburetor bowl and gascolator were drained.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, Office of the Medical Examiner, Dallas, Texas, conducted an autopsy on the pilot. The cause of death was determined to be "drowning, hypothermia, and minor blunt force injuries”.
The FAA Toxicology Accident Research Library, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, conducted toxicological testing. The results were negative for tested drugs.
TEST AND RESEARCH
A follow-up examination of the aircraft wreckage was conducted at a salvage facility by the NTSB IIC and an FAA inspector. The airplane’s lower engine cowling had sustained damage during the accident, resulting in damage to the carburetor’s airbox. In order to perform an engine run, the airbox was removed, the magnetos were re-installed, and the carburetor bowl was drained of remaining water. The battery was installed and fuel was connected to the airplane’s left side fuel line. The engine started and operated on both the left and right magnetos. The engine was shut down, and the fuel was switched to the right side fuel lines. The engine started again and operated on both magnetos. No pre-impact abnormalities were noted with the engine or airframe.