Friday, August 11, 2006

Accident of the Week

This week's Accident of the Week (tm) involves a T-Tail Arrow, not unlike our beloved Mike Hotel, that disappeared earlier this year during a night flight over Lake Erie. The aircraft had just completed four laps over Niagara Falls -- something the IFR Pilot has done on numerous occasions -- when it disappeared from radar coverage.
NTSB Identification: IAD05FA146
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, August 26, 2005 in Dunkirk, NY
Aircraft: Piper PA-28RT-201, registration: N8164H
Injuries: 3 Fatal

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On August 26, 2005, about 2115 eastern daylight time, radar contact was lost with N8164H, a Piper PA-28RT-201, over the waters of Lake Erie, near Dunkirk, New York. The certificated commercial pilot and two passengers were presumed fatally injured. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local personal flight, which originated at Zelienople Municipal Airport (8G7), Zelienople, Pennsylvania, and was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control radar and voice communication data, the accident airplane approached the Niagara Falls area from the south, about 2050. The airplane then completed four 360-degree turns in the vicinity of the falls.

At 2058, the pilot contacted Buffalo Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility and requested flight following services for the return trip to Zelienople. The airplane was radar-identified by the air traffic controller, and the pilot was told to proceed on course. No further radio transmissions were received. At 2100, the airplane established an approximate 210-degree ground track.

The radar data was plotted onto a map, and a line was drawn from the point where the airplane began to track on the 210-degree course, to Zelienople Airport. The resulting map showed that the airplane's track roughly followed this line.

About 2105, the airplane crossed the Canadian shoreline, and continued out over open water. Over the next 4 minutes, the airplane roughly paralleled the course line for a time, then drifted to the west. At 2109, and over the next minute, the airplane began a right turn 60 degrees away from the plotted course line. About 2110, the airplane turned sharply left, about 80 degrees to a 190-degree track, back toward the plotted course line. About 2112, the airplane began another right turn to the west.

About 2113, the airplane began a sharp turn to the left. Over the next 70 seconds, and inside an area of about 1 square nautical mile, the airplane continued through 270 degrees of turn, and the altitude varied between 4,700 and 4,400 feet before the airplane disappeared from radar.

The final Mode-C (altitude reporting) radar target was observed at 2114:33, at 42 degrees 39 minutes 46.760 seconds north latitude, 79 degrees 18 minutes 40.979 seconds west longitude, at an altitude of 4,400 feet.

The final beacon-only (no altitude reporting) radar target was observed at 2114:43, at 42 degrees 39 minutes 53.396 seconds north latitude, 079 degrees 18 minutes 34.215 seconds west longitude.

The United States Coast Guard commenced a search and rescue (SAR) operation on August 26, 2005, about 0230. On August 29, 2005, about 2030, SAR operations ceased. During the SAR, and subsequent searches conducted by U.S. and Canadian authorities, three seats of a type known to be installed in general aviation airplanes, and various personal effects were recovered.

The weather reported at Dunkirk Airport (DKK), Dunkirk, New York, about 10 nautical miles south of the last observed radar target, at 1953, included winds from 070 degrees at 4 knots, broken clouds at 5,000 feet, broken clouds at 9,000 feet, broken clouds at 11,000 feet, 10 statute miles visibility, temperature 77 degrees Fahrenheit, dewpoint 61 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 29.94 inches of mercury.

At 2053, the reported weather included winds from 140 degrees at 5 knots, clear skies below 12,000 feet, 7 statute miles visibility, temperature 73 degrees Fahrenheit, dewpoint 62 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter setting of 29.95 inches of mercury.

According to the United States Naval Observatory, on August 26, 2005, the official sunset in Dunkirk, New York, occurred at 2001, and the end of civil twilight occurred at 2030. Moonrise of the last quarter moon occurred at 2340.
While the NTSB has yet to issue a probable cause determination, it doesn't seem too far fetched to suspect that the likely determination will be spatial disorientation, with a contributing factor being the conditions of flight (at night, over water). In fact, there are aspects of the crash that are reminiscent of JFK, Jr.'s accident.

The report indicates that the pilot-in-command held a commerical certificate. Although it is possible to hold a commercial certificate without an instrument rating, it's certainly the exception to the rule. So, for the sake of argument, let's assume that the PIC was instrument rated. And that makes the accident even more disturbing. One of the biggest criticisims of JFK, Jr.'s final flight was his decision to proceed at night, over water, without an instrument rating. This accident shows you that its possible for even an instrument rated pilot to lose control of the aircraft.

More information about the search for the wreckage here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An update to the crash of N8164H by the NTSB.