NTSB Identification: CEN16FA211
HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On June 9, 2016, at 1309 central daylight time, a Cirrus SR20 airplane, N4252G, impacted terrain following a loss of control during a go-around at William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), Houston, Texas. The private pilot and the two passengers were fatally injured, and the airplane sustained substantial damage. The airplane was registered to and operated by Safe Aviation, LLC, Moore, Oklahoma, under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a visual flight rules flight plan had been filed. The airplane departed from University of Oklahoma Westheimer Airport (OUN), Norman, Oklahoma, about 1000 and was destined for HOU.
As the airplane approached HOU, a high-volume air carrier airport surrounded by Class B airspace, the pilot was given numerous instructions by air traffic controllers to sequence it between several Boeing 737 airplanes. An air traffic control (ATC) group was formed to review the interactions between the controllers and the pilot. The following information was extracted from the ATC group report, which is available in the public docket of this investigation.
1252:47 – The pilot contacted HOU tower, and the local controller cleared the pilot to land on runway 4 and told her to follow a Boeing 737 that was on a 3-mile final approach to runway 4.
1254:39 – The local controller directed the pilot to maintain maximum forward airspeed due to a Boeing 737 on a 9-mile final approach that was trailing the airplane and traveling 80 knots faster.
1256:58 – Due to the trailing Boeing 737, which was overtaking the airplane, the local controller directed the pilot to go around and fly runway heading.
1257:37 – The local controller instructed the pilot to make a right base to runway 35, informed her of another Boeing 737 on a 5-mile final for runway 4, and stated that she would be landing before the Boeing 737.
1258:16 – The local controller told the pilot that he would call her base turn.
1258:48 – The local controller issued a traffic advisory for an additional Boeing 737 inbound to runway 4, and the pilot reported that traffic in sight. The local controller told the pilot to pass behind that traffic and land on runway 35.
1259:20 – The local controller asked the pilot to turn left 30° to resolve a perceived traffic conflict between the airplane and the inbound Boeing 737.
1259:30 – The local controller asked the pilot if she would like to follow the Boeing 737 to runway 4. The pilot responded that she would, and the local controller cleared her to land on runway 4. A few seconds later the local controller told the pilot, "just maneuver back for the straight-in, I don't know which way you're going now, so just turn back around to runway 35."
1300:13 – The local controller asked the pilot which direction she was turning. She responded, "I thought I was turning a right base for 35…" The controller asked her to keep the right turn "tight," and the pilot acknowledged.
1300:31 – The local controller cleared the pilot to perform a straight-in approach to runway 35, and the pilot replied, "straight in to runway 35 and I don't believe I'm lined up for that." According to radar data, at this time, the airplane was about 2 nautical miles south of runway 35. The local controller told the pilot to turn right to a heading of 040° and climb to 1,600 ft.
1301:16 – The airplane was southeast of runway 35, heading 040°, and the local controller told the pilot to make a right turn to land on runway 35. 1302:02 – The local controller prompted the pilot to begin her descent to land on runway 35, and the pilot replied that she was "trying to lose altitude."
1303:25 – The local controller told the pilot that she "might be too high." The pilot replied that she would perform a go-around, and the controller acknowledged and told her to fly a right traffic pattern for runway 35.
1304:38 – The local controller told the pilot that she was cleared to land on runway 35 and that no other traffic was expected inbound.
1306:00 – The local controller advised the pilot of a Boeing 737 on a short final to runway 4 ahead of her, and the pilot acknowledged that she had the airplane in sight.
1307:03 – The local controller provided a wind check and cleared the pilot to land on runway 35, and the pilot replied, "35 cleared to land trying to get down again."
1307:49 – A new local controller took over the position.
1308:21 – The airplane was over runway 35, and the pilot called that she was going around. The new local controller responded with the following 16-second transmission, "OK, Cirrus 52G, just go ahead and make the left turn now to enter the downwind, midfield downwind for runway 4, if you can just keep it in a nice tight low pattern, I'm going to have traffic 4 miles behind you so I need you to just kind of keep it in tight if you could." The pilot responded, "OK, this time will be runway 4, turning left, 4252G." The controller continued with the following 23-second transmission, "And actually I might end up sequencing you behind that traffic, he's on 4 miles a minute, um, it is gonna be a bit tight with the one behind it so when you get on the downwind, stay on the downwind and advise me when you have that 737 in sight. We'll either do 4 or we might swing you around to 35, uh, uh, ma'am, ma'am, uh, straighten up, straighten up!"
Witnesses saw the airplane at a low altitude when it turned to the left and descended. A security camera video showed that the airplane spun to the left and was about 45° nose down in a slightly left-wing-low attitude before impact with terrain. The airplane impacted an unoccupied automobile in a hardware store parking lot about ½-mile north of runway 35. The video showed that the airplane's airframe parachute rocket motor activated during the impact; however, the parachute remained stowed in the empennage and did not deploy.
A review of the pilot's logbook revealed that she received her private pilot certificate on May 2, 2014. According to the logbook, she had landed within Class B airspace at least four times. Her most recent flight in Class B airspace was to Dallas Love Field (DAL), Dallas, Texas, and consisted of a landing on May 30, 2016, and a takeoff on June 3, 2016. There was no evidence that she had flown to HOU before the accident flight.
Interviews with the pilot's flight instructors and review of her logbook did not find evidence that the pilot had completed a flight review in the previous 24 calendar months, as required by 14 CFR 61.56(c). (Title 14 CFR 61.56(c) states that a person may not act as pilot-in-command of an aircraft unless that person has accomplished a satisfactory flight review within the preceding 24 calendar months.)
The manufacturer's checklist for a balked landing/go-around states that the airplane should be pitched to maintain the best angle of climb, between 81 to 83 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS), before raising the flaps. The manufacturer's published stall speed at 0° bank angle, idle power, and flaps up is 69 KIAS. The stall speed at 0° bank angle, idle power, and flaps full down is between 59-61 KIAS. An excerpt from the pilot's operating handbook concerning stall speeds is located in the public docket of this investigation.
Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that, at the accident location, at 1309, the altitude of the sun was about 83° above the horizon, and the azimuth of the sun was about 158°.
HOU has 4 runways: 4/22, 35/17, 13L/31R, and 13R/31L. According to HOU tower personnel, in the period leading up to the accident, HOU was landing runways 4 and 35 and departing runways 4, 12L/R, and 35. Most of the traffic was landing on runway 4 and departing from runway 12R.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
All major airplane components were accounted for at the accident site. The nose of airplane was aligned about 330° magnetic. The propeller was separated just aft of the propeller flange. All three blades remained attached to the hub and displayed curling, chordwise scratches, and leading edge nicks and gouges. The wing remained attached to the fuselage.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, Houston, Texas, conducted an autopsy on the pilot. The cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries, and the manner of death was ruled an accident.
The FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed forensic toxicology on specimens from the pilot. Testing was negative for carbon monoxide and ethanol. The following substances were detected:
Ibuprofen detected in urine
Naproxen detected in urine
Zolpidem detected in heart blood
Ibuprofen and naproxen are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and their use would generally not present a hazard to aviation safety. Zolpidem is a prescription medication used to treat insomnia and may impair mental and/or physical ability required for the performance of potentially hazardous tasks, such as driving, flying, and operating heavy machinery. Due to adverse side-effects, the FAA recommends waiting at least 24 hours after use of zolpidem before flying.
On the pilot's most recent medical application, she reported the use of doxycycline and dapsone for acne. The use of zolpidem was not reported.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The airplane was equipped with a Garmin G1000 Integrated Flight Deck and a Heads Up Technologies recoverable data module (RDM) data recorder. Flight data recorded by these devices were downloaded by the National Transportation Safety Board's Vehicle Recorder Division in Washington, DC. Review of the data revealed that, at 1308:19, the airplane began to pitch nose up, while at 63 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS) and 102.8 ft mean sea level (msl). The airplane began climbing at 9-11° nose up, while traveling at 66-74 KIAS with full flaps extended. According to ATC communications, at 1308:21 the pilot reported the go-around and the tower controller begin transmitting a clearance. At 1308:26, the airspeed was 74 KIAS, which was the highest airspeed that the airplane achieved during the climb out, and the airspeed then began to decrease. At 1308:36, the tower controller finished his clearance and began another part of the clearance at 1308:42 and continued transmitting past the last recorded point. At 1308:45, the airplane entered a left turn with the airspeed decreasing through 64 KIAS. At 1308:52, power was reduced from 94% to about 81%, with a corresponding reduction in engine parameters. The flaps were moved from full to half flaps at 1308:56, with the airplane at 13° nose up, 18° of left bank, and 62 KIAS. The flaps were fully retracted (0° flaps) at 1309:02 with the airplane in a 26° left bank and travelling at 58 KIAS. One second later, the airplane was in a 71° left bank, the pitch dropped to 5° nose low, and engine power increased to 90%. No further data were recorded.
FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 61-98C, "Current Requirements and Guidance for the Flight Review and Instrument Proficiency Check," dated November 20, 2015, states, in part, that the intent of a flight review is a routine evaluation of the pilot's ability to conduct a safe flight. The AC further states that, regardless of the pilot's experience, the flight instructor should review at least those maneuvers considered critical to safe flight such as stabilized approaches to landings, slow flight, stall recognition, stalls, stall recovery, and spin recognition and avoidance.
FAA Safety Team AFS-850 16-08, "Fly the Aircraft First," dated August 2016, provides a reminder to pilots to maintain aircraft control at all times. It states, in part, "The top priority – always – is to aviate." It further states, "Rounding out those top priorities are figuring out where you're going (Navigate), and, as appropriate, talking to ATC or someone outside the airplane (Communicate). It seems simple to follow, but it's easy to forget when you get busy or distracted in the cockpit."