ERA12LA578
ERA12LA578

On September 23, 2012, about 0430 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172B, N8059X, was substantially damaged following impact with the Atlantic Ocean. The certificated commercial pilot was not found and presumed fatally injured. Dark night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which departed from Herlong Recreational Airport (HEG), Jacksonville, Florida, about 0242. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to information provided by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the pilot was reported missing by a clergyman on September 25, 2012. According to the clergyman, he had last spoken with the pilot about two days before the accident flight, and during the conversation the pilot confided difficulties he was undergoing in his personal life. The pilot also joked during the conversation, “I should just fly my plane into the ocean.” During a subsequent investigation by the Sheriff’s Office it was revealed that the pilot’s airplane was also missing, and his vehicle was parked in the airplane’s hangar at HEG. Review of electronic access records at showed that the pilot last entered the airport on September 23 at 0204. Additionally, upon searching the pilot’s vehicle, the officers discovered a hand-written suicide note that was dated September 23, 2012 at 0225.

Radar information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Jacksonville Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), showed a primary radar target with no associated transponder beacon departing the vicinity of HEG about 0242. The target tracked northeast over the city of Jacksonville, Florida, before it turned southeast bound and headed out over the Atlantic Ocean. About 22 nautical miles east of Saint Augustine, Florida, the target began tracking north. About 0422, the target began maneuvering until the final radar target was observed at 0429, about 21 nautical miles east of Mayport Naval Station (NRB), Mayport, Florida (30 degrees 23.219 minutes north by 81 degrees 0.378 minutes west).

Radar tracks recorded by three other radar facilities showed a similar primary radar target departing from HEG and terminating over the Atlantic Ocean within 20 seconds of the data recorded by Jacksonville TRACON.

About 1230, a commercial diving vessel recovered an approximate 4-foot by 4-foot section of aircraft debris at 30 degrees 22.764 minutes north by 80 degrees 59.140 minutes west, about 1.2 nautical miles southeast of the final recorded radar target. After receiving notification from the FAA regarding a missing aircraft on September 25, the US Coast Guard undertook a search for the pilot and the airplane in the vicinity of the last observed radar target and where the aircraft debris was recovered. The search subsequently ceased on September 26, and neither the pilot nor any additional wreckage was recovered.

Photographs of the recovered debris were forwarded to the airframe manufacturer and later identified as exhibiting features consistent with those of the inboard wing section and fuel tank of a model year 1961 Cessna 172B. Additionally, a placard allowing for the use of unleaded automotive gasoline was observed adjacent to the fuel filler port. Review of FAA airworthiness records for the accident airplane showed that a supplemental type certificate allowing for the use of unleaded automotive gasoline was filed in January 1988.

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