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On September 22, 2012, about 0150 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172S, N21750, was substantially damaged following a collision with trees and terrain near Land O’Lakes, Florida. The certificated private pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was registered to a corporation and was operated by the pilot as a personal flight under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Night, visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated at Pensacola, Florida (PNS) about 2144 central daylight time on September 21, 2012, and was destined for Tampa Executive Airport (VDF), Tampa, Florida.
According to air traffic control (ATC) information, at 0130, the pilot contacted Tampa Approach Control inbound to VDF, about 52 nautical miles (nm) to the north-northwest, at 7,500 feet. At 0134, the pilot informed Tampa Approach that he had the Tampa weather and Tampa Approach issued a visual flight rules (VFR) descent at pilot’s discretion. At 0149, Tampa Approach personnel noticed that the airplane had descended below 1,000 feet, 15 nm northwest of VDF, and they began to call the pilot on the radio. The pilot did not respond when queried by controllers. The airplane continued in a gradual descent until radar contact was lost. At 0243, a police helicopter that was dispatched to the area and the flight crew located the wreckage. There were no known witnesses to the accident.
The pilot held a Federal Aviation Administration private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplane. He reported a total flight experience of 13,480 hours on his latest FAA third class medical application, dated August 22, 2011. The pilot’s personal flight logbook was not recovered. The pilot was also a captain for Edelweiss Air, Zurich, Switzerland and a Swiss citizen. He held an airline transport pilot certificate issued in Switzerland under the Joint Aviation Authority and was type rated in the Airbus A320 and A330.
The airplane was a single engine, high wing, fixed tricycle gear airplane, serial number 172S9641. It was powered by a Lycoming IO-360-L2A engine rated at 180 horsepower.
The aircraft was registered to The Connie III Skyhawk LLC, Tampa, Florida. According to the co-owner, who was interviewed at the accident site, the pilot was flying the airplane from Boulder, Colorado to Tampa after its recent purchase. The aircraft logbooks were reportedly in the airplane and were consumed by the post-crash fire. The co-owner provided electronic copies of pertinent logbook entries to the investigation team.
According to the aircraft maintenance records, the last annual inspection on the airframe and engine was performed on March 5, 2012, at a total aircraft time of 2,937.1 hours.
The 0153 surface weather observation for Tampa International Airport (TPA), Tampa, Florida, reported wind calm, visibility 10 miles or better, few clouds at 1,500 feet, scattered clouds at 11,000 feet, scattered clouds at 25,000 feet, temperature 23 degrees C, dew point 21 degrees C, and altimeter setting 29.99 inches of mercury.
Moonrise was at 1308 on September 21 and moonset was at 2357 on the same day. The next moonrise occurred after the accident, at 1406 on September 22.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was situated on private pasture land located about 17 nm north-northwest of VDF. The main wreckage came to rest, inverted, on a heading of 140 degrees. The cockpit and cabin sections of the airplane were consumed in a post-crash fire. The wreckage path from the initial impact with trees to the final resting place was oriented on a 160-degree heading and was about 400 feet in length. The distance from the first ground impact to the main wreckage was approximately 250 feet.
The left wing was observed separated into two major sections. The left outboard section, from the tip to near the wing strut attachment point, was observed on the right side of the wreckage path, approximately 200 feet from the main wreckage. The outboard 4.5 feet of the aileron remained attached. The inboard 4.5 feet of the aileron was observed lodged in trees. The left wing strut was observed separated from both the wing and the fuselage and was approximately 150 feet from the main wreckage. The inboard section of the left wing was observed burned, approximately 30 feet from the main wreckage. The right outboard section was observed near the initial point of impact with the trees. The outboard 4.5 feet of the aileron remained attached. The inboard 4.5 feet of the aileron was found separated from the wing near the initial point of impact. The right inboard section of the right wing was with the fuselage at the main wreckage location.
The empennage remained attached to the fuselage and was at the main wreckage site. The rudder remained attached to the vertical stabilizer. The inboard section of the left elevator and the entire right elevator remained attached to the horizontal stabilizers. The outboard 2.5 feet of the left elevator was observed separated and was 125 feet beyond the first impact location. The aircraft was equipped with integral wing fuel tanks with a capacity of 56 gallons. The fuel tanks were compromised by impact and post-accident fire. The fuel tank selector handle was destroyed by fire. The fuel valve was in the “both” position. The fuel quantity indicators were damaged in the post impact fire. The fuel strainer was observed attached to the firewall, the bowl was removed and a small amount of residual fuel was observed in the bowl. The fuel screen was observed to be free of debris. The left landing gear strut was observed rotated in the fuselage fitting.
The wing flaps were observed in the retracted (up) position. The wing flap drive mechanism was observed in the retracted position. Control cable continuity was established from the cockpit controls to the rudder and elevators. The left aileron cables exhibited overload separations near wing root. The wing flap cables exhibited overload separations. The right aileron cable exhibited overload separations. The pilot and copilot control wheels were linked together via the cables. All of the cockpit instruments were compromised by the post impact fire and were unreadable. The cabin floorboard and seat tracks were compromised by the post impact fire. All of the seats were observed compromised by the post impact fire.
The engine, as first viewed, remained attached to the firewall and partially attached to the fuselage. The engine sustained post-impact fire and thermal damage. The propeller remained attached to the propeller flange. The primary vacuum pump was dislodged from the accessory housing. All engine components were accounted for at the accident site. With the assistance of wreckage recovery personnel, engine was placed on a flatbed trailer to facilitate an engine examination. The following are the results of the examination.
Both magnetos were secure on their mounts. They were removed and examined; no defects were noted. Both magnetos were rotated by hand and both furnished spark from their outlet points. The fuel injector was secure on its mount. The injector and main fuel line were removed by investigators. An unmeasured amount of fuel was observed draining from the fuel injector. The throttle cable and mixture cable were intact; they were removed to facilitate the fuel injector examination. The throttle plate was observed in the “closed” position. The inlet fuel screen was observed to be free of contaminants. All fuel injector nozzles were removed and examined; they were unobstructed. The fuel flow divider was removed and disassembled; it displayed fire and thermal damage. The diaphragm was consumed by the post-impact fire. No fuel was observed in the fuel flow divider. The engine driven fuel pump was removed and actuated by hand; fuel was expelled when manually operated.
The top spark plugs were removed and they displayed signatures consistent with having been exposed to high thermal temperatures from the post-impact fire and displayed a low service life and a color consistent with normal combustion when compared to a Champion Spark Plug wear chart. The ignition harness was destroyed by post-impact fire.
All rocker covers were removed and the engine was rotated by hand using the propeller. Suction and compression were observed on all cylinders. The accessory gears were observed to be rotating in a normal manner. The rocker arms were observed moving correctly. Crank shaft and camshaft continuity were confirmed. The propeller was secure on the crankshaft flange.
Nothing was observed during the course of the examination that would have precluded the engine from making power prior to initial impact.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
A postmortem examination of the pilot was performed at the Florida District Six Medical Examiner’s Office, Largo, Florida, on September 22, 2012. The autopsy report noted the cause of death as “Blunt Trauma,” with “Thermal Injuries” listed under contributory conditions. The manner of death was “Accident.”
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 or cyanide in the blood, no ethanol in vitreous fluid, and no drugs in the urine.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
A comprehensive examination of the pilot’s itinerary and recent activities was conducted. The following series of events was obtained from the pilot’s credit card records, airline records, personnel records, receipts, and through personal interviews. The examination covered 9 days of activity. Documentation to support the series of events is included in the public docket for this investigation. Times displayed are local time where the activity described occurred with coordinated universal time (UTC) in parentheses. The pilot’s home time zone was Central European Time (CET).
Thursday, September 13
At 1350 (1150) the pilot began a trip on Edelweiss Air as a flight crewmember, from Zurich to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. At 1736 (2136), he arrived at Santo Domingo and began a three-day layover.
Friday, September 14
The pilot flew as a passenger on a commercial air carrier from Santo Domingo to Miami, Florida and then to Tampa, Florida. At 2100 (0100 on September 15) he arrived at a friend’s home to stay the weekend. The friend reported that the pilot fell asleep in his chair as they were having a conversation that evening. The pilot then went to bed.
Saturday, September 15
At 0800 (1200), the pilot woke up and continued the conversation with his friend. The pilot fell asleep again in his chair during the conversation. After breakfast, the pilot seemed more alert and spent much of the day working on his computer. At 2300 (0300 on September 16), he went to bed.
Sunday, September 16
At 0800 (1200), the pilot woke up. He departed his friend’s home that afternoon, drove to the Tampa International Airport in a rented car, and flew from Tampa to Miami and then to Santo Domingo as a passenger on a commercial flight.
Monday, September 17
At 0700 (1100), the pilot flew as a deadheading crewmember from Santo Domingo to Varadero, Cuba, arriving at 1100 (1500).
Tuesday, September 18
At 1925 (2325), the pilot began the return legs of his work trip on Edelweiss Air, flying from Varadero to Cancun, Mexico, and then to Zurich.
Wednesday, September 19
At 1404 (1204), the pilot arrived in Zurich to complete his work trip on Edelweiss Air. At 1823 (1623) the same afternoon, he departed Zurich as a passenger on Swiss International Airlines, for Newark, New Jersey. He flew in business class. At 2059 (0059 on September 20), he arrived in Newark, processed through U.S. Customs, and checked in at a hotel in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Thursday, September 20
At 0528 (0928), the pilot checked in for a United Airlines flight to Denver, Colorado. He flew in “Economy Plus” class. At 0843 (1443), he arrived at Denver and was picked up in an automobile by the owner of the accident airplane; they then drove to Boulder, Colorado. At 1100 (1700), they arrived in Boulder and the pilot purchased the airplane. The former owner of the airplane reported that the pilot was easily “winded” while walking on the ramp. At 1400 (2000), the pilot departed Boulder Airport in the accident airplane for Woodward, Oklahoma. He arrived in Woodward at 2000 (0100 on September 21). He checked in at a motel at 2034 (0134 on September 21) and had dinner at a local steak house.
Friday, September 21
At 0830 (1330), the pilot departed Woodward Airport for Minden Airport, Louisiana. At 1440 (1940), he arrived at Minden and purchased 27 gallons of 100 low lead aviation fuel. After the airplane was serviced, he departed for Pensacola, Florida (PNS). At 1900 (0000), he arrived at PNS and had the airplane serviced with 24.3 gallons of 100 low lead fuel. At 2018 (0118), he sent a text message to the former owner of the airplane, stating that he was having dinner and the airplane “flies very nicely.” He also stated that he would fly the last leg to Tampa that evening. At 2107 (0207), he paid for the fuel. At 2144 (0244), he departed PNS for Tampa Executive Airport.
Saturday, September 22
At 0130 (0530), the pilot checked in with Tampa Approach Control at 7,500 feet msl and was cleared into their class B airspace under VFR. At 0134 (0534), he reported that he had the Tampa weather, and was at 7,500 feet. He was then cleared to descend at pilot’s discretion. This was the last radio transmission received from the pilot. At 0149 (0549), Tampa Approach began a series of unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the pilot on the radio. At 0150 (0550), the accident occurred at Land O’Lakes, Florida.