NTSB Identification: ERA12LA307
On April 28, 2012, about 1410 eastern daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Kitfox Series 5, N77LR, impacted the Atlantic Ocean and subsequently sank approximately 3 miles offshore of Port Canaveral, Florida. The certificated private pilot/owner was not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which departed Merritt Island Airport (COI), Merritt Island, Florida, about 1300. The business flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
The pilot owned and operated an aerial photography business, and stated that the purpose of the flight was to photograph boats. At the conclusion of the flight, at an altitude of 100 feet and airspeed of about 65 mph with the wing flaps fully extended, the elevator control "bound up." The pilot attempted to manipulate the control stick, but was unable to regain elevator control and stated that he felt "something move and push up" under his seat, as if “something was stuck.” He stated that the airplane's aileron and rudder controls, as well as the engine, operated normally until impact, but he could not move the elevator control fore and aft. The airplane contacted the water in a wings-level attitude and began to sink. The pilot egressed and was retrieved from the water by a nearby boat.
Two divers on a boat in the vicinity of the accident site reported that they observed the airplane, which appeared to be taking photos, circling their boat at an altitude of approximately 15 feet above the water. They watched as the airplane banked to the west/southwest, and flew out of sight. Shortly after, they heard a call on their radio reporting an airplane in the water near the Port Canaveral channel markers. They responded to the location and initiated an underwater search to locate the airplane shortly after it sank. The divers observed some debris in the water, including a piece of the airplane's propeller blade, but reported poor underwater visibility, and could not locate the fuselage. A second search, performed the day after the accident, was also unsuccessful in locating the airplane.
According to FAA records, the airplane was built in 2000 and registered to the accident pilot in 2008. It was equipped with a Lycoming O-235, 115-horsepower reciprocating engine. The Hobbs meter indicated that the airplane had accrued 1,148.3 hours of flight time, but the airplane’s maintenance history could not be determined, as the pilot was unable to furnish the maintenance records after the accident. The airplane was not equipped with an autopilot, stability augmentation system, altitude hold, airspeed hold, or force trim system that would allow or assist "hands-free" flight.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. He reported 2,157 hours total flight time, of which 686 hours were in the accident airplane make and model. His most recent flight review was conducted on June 25, 2010 in the accident airplane. His most recent third-class Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) medical certificate was issued in October 2011. The pilot formerly held a commercial pilot certificate, but the certificate was revoked by the FAA on October 10, 1997. The pilot received warning notices from the FAA after complaints were filed with regard to his operating the accident airplane at low-level in the vicinity of commercial and U.S. Coast Guard vessels on August 24 and 26, 2011.
The airplane was located and recovered from the water on May 8, 2012, and was subsequently examined by an FAA inspector. The inspector observed unsecured camera equipment, tool bags, and coolers of food and water in the cockpit area, as well as some equipment secured to the right seat with bungee cords. Flight control continuity was established from the elevator and both left and right flaperons to the cockpit, however, the rudder controls could not be manipulated due to impact damage.
The seat pan panel and the dust boot at the base of the pilot's side control stick were removed to facilitate inspection of the control push-pull tubes and bellcranks for continuity and/or travel interference. Found beneath the boot, and between the tube seat structure and the control column bearing were a common hardware clamp and a leather work glove. The plastic hand-grip clamp was approximately 6-inches long, and spring-loaded.
FAA Advisory Circular 150/5380 Debris Hazards at Civil Airports, Potential Foreign Object Damage (FOD) listed one example of potential FOD as, "Tools, hardware, or debris left in the vicinity, or in a migratory path or a vehicle’s control system or engine inlets."