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On May 11, 2012, at an undetermined time, N645EP, a Beech V35B airplane, was substantially damaged when it collided with terrain after takeoff from the Las Vegas Municipal Airport (LVS), Las Vegas, New Mexico. The private pilot, sole occupant, was fatally injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot. A visual flight rules flight plan was not filed for the flight and the pilot’s destination that evening was not known. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
The airplane was reported missing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an Alert Notification (ALNOT). The airplane was located by search and rescue personnel on May 12, 2012, about 4 miles east-southeast of the Las Vegas Municipal airport.
A review of the available air traffic control (ATC) and radar data information revealed the pilot departed Henderson, Nevada, earlier that day and received flight following services to LVS. The inbound radar data revealed that the airplane approached LVS from the west, and then turned north before the airplane descended below the radar coverage area around 2029. The last radar return indicated the airplane was 4 miles northwest of the airport at an altitude of 8,400 feet mean sea level (msl).
According to the LVS airport manager, the fixed-base operator was closed and no one saw the airplane land or takeoff. However, airport fueling records from the self-service fuel pump revealed the pilot used his credit card to purchase fuel that evening. The time stamp on the fuel receipt was 2246. The airport manager asserted the time stamp on the self-service fuel pump was accurate. Several requests were made to the pilot's family to obtain the time stamp from when the pilot swiped his credit card. However, that information was not made available at the time the factual report was written.
According to the pilot’s wife, she said the pilot was ultimately destined for Georgia, where he planned to attend their daughter’s graduation. She thought he was possibly headed for either Amarillo, Texas, or Little Rock, Arkansas, where he would spend the night, before continuing on to Georgia the next day.
It is unknown what time the pilot departed LVS. A review of available radar date for the area did record three radar returns emitting a VFR beacon code approximately 4 miles northeast of the airport at an altitude of 7,900 feet msl between 2117:45 and 2118:15. The first two returns were on an east-northeast heading and the last return appeared to be heading southeast.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land. His last FAA third class medical was issued on December 30, 2010, with a restriction for near and intermediate vision. At that time, he reported a total of 1,000 flight hours.
One of the pilot’s logbooks was located in the wreckage. The first entry was made on June 30, 2005, and the last entry was made in September 2009. All of the logged flights were in the accident airplane. At the time of the last entry, the pilot accrued a total of 1,236 total flight hours. The pilot also logged total of 32.3 hours of simulated instrument time between 2005 and 2007; however, none of these flights were endorsed by a flight instructor or safety pilot. No night time was logged.
The pilot's last biennial flight review was conducted in the accident airplane and successfully completed on September 3, 2011.
Weather at LVS at 2053 was reported as wind from 130 degrees at 14 knots, visibility 10 miles, clear skies, temperature 16 degrees Celsius, dewpoint 2 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 29.96 inches Hg.
According to the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department, the moon phase on the evening of the accident was waning gibbous with 62 percent of the moon's visible disk illuminated. However, the moonrise wasn’t until 0039 the following morning.
The airplane was examined on-scene by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Investigator-in-Charge and the FAA on May 13, 2012. The wreckage was heavily fragmented along open, treeless pasture on private property at an approximate elevation of 6,800 feet. The wreckage was scattered along a linear path that was approximately 800 feet long by 250 feet wide, and oriented on a magnetic heading of 236 degrees. The initial impact point was located near the top of a shallow hill and consisted of an approximate 30 foot long ground scar, followed by an approximate 1 foot deep crater. Small pieces of red and white paint chips were found embedded in the ground scar along with broken pieces of clear glass. Broken pieces of the propeller assembly were found in the crater.
Scattered down the shallow hill and along the wreckage path, forward of the initial impact point, were sections of the right wing, pieces of the airframe, section of the instrument panel, the pitot heat tube, personal belongings, and the propeller assembly.
The main wreckage, which included the entire tail section, a large section of the left wing, and sections of the cockpit and avionics were found approximately 200 feet forward of the initial impact point. The engine was found approximately 600 feet forward of the main wreckage. All of the accessories except for the propeller governor had separated from the engine. Both crank case halves and the oil sump were partially crushed aft and all of the engine mounts were broken. The #5 cylinder was partly separated, exposing the valves.
The wreckage was moved to a secure facility and a follow up examination of the engine and airframe was conducted separately. The engine examination was performed under the supervision of an NTSB air safety investigator.
The top spark plugs and rocker covers were removed, but the crankshaft could not be rotated because of impact damage. The cylinders were examined using a lighted borescope. All of the piston heads and cylinder domes were coated with normal combustion deposits. All of the valves were in place and not damaged.
A visual exam of the top spark plugs revealed the center electrode was missing from the number five spark plug. The spark plugs had normal wear when compared to the Champion Check-A-Plug comparison card. They had light gray deposits in the electrode areas.
The fuel nozzles were removed and examined. Nozzles one, three, and five were broken in half. The number two nozzle was bent. Nozzles four and six were not damaged. All of the nozzles had varying amounts of debris in the interior chamber.
The propeller governor was in place and not damaged. The actuating arm was in place and moved freely. The drive shaft was free to rotate. The oil screen was clean and clear and free of debris.
The vacuum pump exhibited impact damage, but the drive coupling was intact. The drive shaft would not rotate. The unit was disassembled and the rotor block was shattered. The vanes were in place and damaged. Scoring was observed in the interior of the vacuum pump case.
Both magnetos were separated from the engine and had impact damage. Both magnetos sparked at all terminals when the drive shafts were rotated by hand.
The propeller assembly separated from the engine at the crankshaft. All three blades remained attached to the hub. The first blade was bent aft. The second blade was also bent and torsionally twisted. The blade exhibited chordwise scoring and leading edge gouging. The third blade was twisted and exhibited leading edge gouging.
Examination of the engine revealed no mechanical deficiencies that would have precluded normal operation of the engine.
The airframe was examined under the supervision of the NTSB Investigator-in-Charge. The examination revealed the flap actuator was in the fully retracted position. The landing gear actuator indicated that the gear was still in transit when the accident occurred and was near the fully retracted position.
Flight control continuity was established for the rudder, elevator, and trim cables to the center fuselage. The ends of the cables were broken and exhibited frayed ends, consistent with overload. The arm for the differential elevator control was broken off at the base of the differential control. Metallurgical examination of the fractured end of the control arm by an NTSB metallurgist revealed it failed from overload forces.
The right wing sustained more impact damage than the left wing. The right wing aileron balance and up-cable remained attached to the bell crank and were fractured. The fractured ends were frayed, consistent with overload forces.
Flight control continuity was established for the left aileron to the wing root and for both the left and right flap cables to the center section of the airplane.
The horns on the pilot’s control wheel were broken off. The passenger’s control wheel separated from the airframe, but the horns were intact.
The propeller and mixture controls were found full forward and the throttle was out approximately 1-inch.
The fuel selector was set to the right fuel tank. The top of the fuel manifold valve was torn open and packed with dirt.
The attitude indicator sustained heavy impact damage. It was disassembled and the gyro remained in the gimbals, which remained in the case. The gyro was opened and no scoring was observed on the gyro or the inside of the case.
The needle on the tachometer was frozen at 2,400 RPM and registered a time of 4,380.7 hours. The airspeed needle was frozen at 208 knots and the altimeter was set to 29.98 inches Mercury.
A review of the airplane's maintenance logbooks revealed the last annual inspection was completed on March 1, 2011, at an airframe total time of 4,289.5 hours.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was conducted on the pilot by the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico, on May 14, 2012. The cause of death was determined to be multiple blunt force injuries. Evaluation for natural disease was limited by the degree of injury.
Toxicological testing was conducted by the FAA’s Accident Research Laboratory in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, but no blood, urine, or vitreous specimens were available. Ethanol was identified in liver (0.085 gm/dl) and muscle (0.026 gm/dl). However, ethanol may be produced in post mortem tissues: the investigation was unable to determine if any of the ethanol was ingested.
According to the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook, Chapter 10 Night Operations it states, “Good eyesight depends upon physical condition. Fatigue, colds, vitamin deficiency, alcohol, stimulants, smoking, or medication can seriously impair vision. Keeping these facts in mind and taking adequate precautions should safeguard night vision."
"Night flying is very different from day flying and demands more attention of the pilot. The most noticeable difference is the limited availability of outside visual references. Therefore, flight instruments should be used to a greater degree in controlling the airplane. This is particularly true on night takeoffs and climbs."
"After becoming airborne, the darkness of night often makes it difficult to note whether the airplane is getting closer to or farther from the surface. To ensure the airplane continues in a positive climb, be sure a climb is indicated on the attitude indicator, vertical speed indicator (VSI), and altimeter. It is also important to ensure the airspeed is at best climb speed. Necessary pitch and bank adjustments should be made by referencing the attitude and heading indicators. It is recommended that turns not be made until reaching a safe maneuvering altitude. Although the use of the landing lights provides help during the takeoff, they become ineffective after the airplane has climbed to an altitude where the light beam no longer extends to the surface. The light can cause distortion when it is reflected by haze, smoke, or fog that might exist in the climb. Therefore, when the landing light is used for the takeoff, it may be turned off after the climb is well established provided other traffic in the area does not require its use for collision avoidance."