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HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On May 9, 2012, about 2225 eastern daylight time, a Mooney M20J, N9154K, was destroyed following a collision with trees and terrain after takeoff from Spring Hill Airport (70N), Sterling, Pennsylvania. The commercial pilot and one pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured and one passenger received serious injuries. The airplane was registered to a corporation and was operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed. The flight was originating at the time of the accident and was destined for Republic Airport, Farmingdale, New York (FRG).
The surviving passenger reported the following. He arrived at FRG earlier on the day of the accident for the flight with the pilot and the other passenger. He stated that he was in the aft seat at all times, the other passenger was in the right, cockpit seat at all times, and the pilot was in the left, cockpit seat at all times. The pilot performed all flight duties and the other passenger did not fly the airplane. The flight proceeded to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where the pilot had the fuel tanks topped off. He did not recall the pilot performing any weight and balance calculations, nor did he observe him using a checklist at any time. He recalled that the pilot stated they were, “…a little overweight from Farmingdale.”
During the flight, the pilot elected to land at 70N since it was closer to the other passenger’s parents, who were picking the group up for dinner. He stated that the pilot had not flown into 70N before. On the first attempt at a landing, the pilot acquired the runway late and commenced a go-around to lose altitude. An uneventful approach and landing were then made.
After dinner, the group returned to 70N for the return flight to FRG. The pilot was aware of the hill at the departure end of runway 23, since they had seen it in daylight hours during their arrival at 70N. After ground operations, the pilot taxied the airplane to runway 23. He lined up for takeoff at the intersection of the taxiway and runway 23; he did not back taxi to the end to utilize the entire runway. The pilot advanced the throttle to begin the takeoff roll. The runway lights were on and appeared normal. The airplane became airborne at the departure end numbers, just prior to the displaced threshold. Immediately after liftoff, the stall warning horn activated. The pilot was “unable to recover from the stall.” As the flight approached the trees at the end of the runway, the airplane began a turn to the left of the runway centerline. He could see the trees approaching, and estimated that the airplane was about three feet above the trees. The left wing struck a tree, and they “went down.” The airplane landed upside down, and caught fire immediately. He was able to climb out of a rear window that broke out during the impact.
When asked about engine performance, the passenger stated, “I didn’t hear any problems with the engine at all.” Shortly before the crash, he recalled the front seat passenger asking the pilot, “Are we going to be OK?” to which the pilot answered, “I don’t think so.” He also stated that the wind was “very light” at the time of departure.
The father of the front seat passenger was interviewed after the accident. He stated that none of the occupants of the airplane had been to 70N before. The flight departed runway 23 from the intersection closest to the departure end of runway 5. He stated that all the taxiway lights and the runway beacon were working.
A witness reported hearing the airplane's engine, followed by the sound of the airplane colliding with the trees and ground. She went outside her home and could see the wreckage on fire. The surviving passenger came running out of the woods, calling for help.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane. He reported a total flight experience of 272 hours on his commercial certificate application, dated July 11, 2011. The pilot’s personal flight logbook was not recovered.
The airplane was a single engine, low wing, retractable gear airplane, serial number 24-3372. It was powered by a Lycoming IO-360 engine rated at 200 horsepower.
The aircraft maintenance records were not recovered after the accident.
The 2253 surface weather observation for Pocono Mountains Municipal Airport (MPO), Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania, reported wind from 310 degrees at 6 knots, visibility 10 nautical miles (nm) or better with light rain, few clouds at 7,000 feet, ceiling 9,000 feet broken, temperature 13 degrees C, dew point 7 degrees C, and altimeter setting 29.64 inches of mercury. Sunset was about 2008 and evening civil twilight was about 2039.
A lighted hill, about 29 feet high, was located about 201 feet beyond the runway 23 departure end. Runway 23 was 2,478 feet long, including a 400-foot displaced threshold at the departure end, and had a 2.4-percent upslope. All airport lighting was reportedly operational at the time of the accident.
The intersection of the taxiway and runway where the takeoff roll was initiated was about 200 feet from (beyond) the approach end of runway 23.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was situated in a wooded area, about 0.37 nm southwest of the departure end of runway 23. The airplane wreckage was found inverted, on a heading of 090 degrees. All structural components of the airplane were located within the area of the main wreckage and there was no discernible wreckage path. A post-crash fire consumed a majority of the cockpit, cabin, and left wing. Several broken tree limbs were located adjacent to the wreckage; they exhibited smooth, angular cuts and black transfer marks.
The landing gear were found in the extended position and the wing flaps were found in the “takeoff” position.
Flight control rod continuity was established from the burned cockpit area to the rudder, elevator, and ailerons. The left aileron control rod was intact and connected to the left aileron. The bracket holding the forward eyelet of the left aileron control rod was separated from the underlying structure. The right aileron control rod was broken immediately next to the aft eyelet. The fracture exhibited indications of an overload separation. The eyelet remained attached to the right aileron. The pilot and co-pilot control wheels were linked together via control rods.
The engine was removed from the firewall and examined at the accident site. The propeller remained attached to the engine. The exhaust system was partially impact-separated from the engine; it was removed and the heat shroud was removed from the cabin heater assembly and inspected. No exhaust gas residue was observed. The engine was separated from the airframe and was suspended by a chain using a front loading tractor and back hoe. All rocker covers and spark plugs were removed. The spark plugs displayed an extended service life and a color consistent with normal combustion when compared to a Champion Spark Plug wear guide. The engine was manually rotated using the propeller; suction and compression were observed on all cylinders. The valve rocker arms were observed rotating in a normal manner. The accessory gears were observed rotating. All cylinders were examined using a lighted bore scope; no defects were observed. Nothing was observed during the course of the examination that would have precluded this engine from making rated power prior to impact.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
A postmortem examination of the pilot was performed at the offices of Forensic Associates of NE PA, Wayne Memorial Hospital, Honesdale, Pennsylvania, on May 11, 2012. The autopsy report noted the cause of death as “Multiple traumatic injuries secondary to airplane accident (pilot)” and the manner of death was “accidental.” The report stated that the pilot was dead when the fire erupted.
Forensic toxicology testing was performed on specimens of the pilot by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory (CAMI), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The CAMI toxicology report indicated no carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, or drugs.
A postmortem examination of the pilot-rated passenger, seated in the right cockpit seat, was performed at the offices of Forensic Associates of NE PA, Wayne Memorial Hospital, Honesdale, Pennsylvania, on May 11, 2012. The autopsy report noted the cause of death as “Combined effects of smoke inhalation with carbon monoxide poisoning and pulmonary edema and heat secondary to airplane crash and fire” and the manner of death was “accidental.”
Forensic toxicology testing was performed on specimens of the pilot by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory (CAMI), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The CAMI toxicology report indicated 19 percent carbon monoxide in the blood. No cyanide or drugs were detected in the blood. The blood was unsuitable for analysis for ethanol.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Aircraft weight and takeoff performance was estimated using for the prevailing conditions at 70N at the time of the accident. According to the aircraft manufacturer, the expected takeoff roll for the airplane at the time of the accident was about 1,490 feet on a level runway, given a gross weight at takeoff of 2,714 pounds. Maximum gross weight for the airplane was 2,900 pounds. Runway 23 had a 2.4-percent upslope. The aircraft manufacturer did not have performance charts that incorporated runway upslope.