Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cessna R182 Skylane RG, Julair LLC, N2344C: Fatal accident occurred June 29, 2011 in Thornton, Colorado

NTSB Identification: CEN11FA428 
 14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, June 29, 2011 in Thornton, CO
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/08/2012
Aircraft: CESSNA R182, registration: N2344C
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.


Recorded radar information showed the airplane maneuvering at an altitude of about 500 to 600 feet above ground level and a groundspeed of about 110 knots. Several witnesses saw the airplane’s wings rock before the airplane entered a steep left bank diving turn toward the ground. This occurred about the same time that the wind on the ground began gusting. The airplane impacted the ground inverted, slightly nose-down in a near flat attitude and exploded and a postimpact fire ensued. A postaccident examination of the airplane showed no anomalies indicative of any systems problems prior to the accident. A study of weather conditions in the area at the time of the accident showed a fast moving thunderstorm cell over the area, which was capable of producing severe downdrafts indicative of a microburst. Flight Service Station records showed the pilot did not contact them for any services. Weather forecasts for the time-period the airplane was operating predicted fast moving thunderstorms with high wind gusts and the potential for low level wind shear and microburst conditions.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The pilot's inadvertent encounter with a microburst while operating at a low altitude, which resulted in a loss of control from which the pilot could not recover. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s inadequate preflight planning for the forecasted severe weather conditions.

HISTORY OF FLIGHT


On June 29, 2011, at 1523 mountain daylight time, a Cessna R182, N2344C, impacted an open field in Thornton, Colorado. The commercial pilot, the sole person on board the airplane, was fatally injured. A post impact fire ensued and the airplane was substantially damaged. The airplane was registered to Julair, LLC, doing business as All American Aerials, Incorporated, and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a business flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local flight which was being operated without a flight plan. The flight departed Front Range Airport (FTG), Watkins, Colorado, approximately 1425.

The pilot's wife said she spoke with him by telephone just before he took off. She said that the he told her that he was going to go up and "shoot a couple of thousand pictures." She said that he voiced no concerns abbout the weather or how his airplane was performing.

Approach control radar recorded a track depicting a Visual Flight Rules 1200 code at the time and in the area where the airplane would have been. The radar track showed the airplane come out of FTG (elevation 5,516 feet), fly up to the Thornton area, and begin a series of turns. The airplane was operating at an altitude between 5,800 to 6,300 feet mean sea level (msl) and a groundspeed of approximately 110 knots.

A review of radar information for the last 8 minutes of the flight, showed the airplane maneuvering just south of the E-470 toll way 2.23 miles northeast of the accident site at an altitude of 6,000 feet msl. The airplane made several orbits around the area of East 138th Court and Boston Street. At 1516:03, the airplane turned west to a heading of approximately 260 degrees. The airplane continued west at an approximate groundspeed of 112 knots until 1517:58, when the airplane made a left turn to the south. The airplane continued south on an approximate heading of 170 degrees for two and a half minutes until reaching 104th Avenue. The airplane turned northeast on an approximate 045 degree heading and continued northeast until 1521:03. The airplane then turned north and flew just east of Quebec Street at an altitude of 5,500 feet msl and a groundspeed of 94 knots until reaching 123rd Avenue. The airplane then made a left turn to the south. At 1521:54, the airplane disappeared from radar. The airplane’s last recorded altitude was 5,300 feet.

Witnesses said the airplane was maneuvering over the Thornton area at a low altitude at the same time that high wind suddenly occurred on the surface. One witness said he saw the airplane’s wings “dipping” up and down, and the airplane suddenly banked steeply to the left before impacting the ground. Several witnesses said that after the airplane impacted the ground, it exploded and the fire started.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot, age 41, held a commercial pilot certificate with single and multi engine land, instrument airplane ratings. The pilot reported on renewal of his pilot insurance policy on December 6, 2010, a total flying time of 18,000 hours and 8,200 hours in the Cessna 182. The policy renewal indicated the pilot successfully completed a flight review on July 5, 2011. Pilot logbooks were never recovered and were suspected destroyed in the airplane.

The flight instructor who gave the pilot his last flight review said that that the pilot was a step above other pilots that he gave flight reviews to. He said that the day the pilot came to him for his flight review; the pilot told him that this was a checkride for him and he wanted to do everything that was in the Practical Test Standards for a private pilot. The pilot performed departure stalls, traffic pattern stalls, slow flight, turns around a point, and patterns and landings. The flight instructor said the pilot showed good knowledge and although he was not sure, thought he had some professional flight training.

Federal Aviation Administration pilot medical records indicated the pilot completed a class 2 physical in April, 2010.

A few days prior to the accident, the pilot spoke to another pilot that was based at Front Range Airport. The pilot told him that he was taking photographs of residential and commercial real estate from his airplane with a digital camera. The pilot told him that he had business in Colorado and had been in the area for about a week. The pilot told him how he flew the airplane and took photographs out of the pilot window at the same time. The pilot told him he had been doing it for some time and was pretty good at it. The pilot also told him of a time when while he was taking pictures, his airplane struck a guy wire. The pilot told him that it hit the wing just outside of the strut, but he was able to fly his airplane back and land it without incident.

The pilot’s wife spoke to the pilot by cellular telephone approximately 10 minutes before the pilot took off. She said that he was in good spirits and did not indicate that he was concerned with the weather conditions or the airplane’s capabilities. She also said that he was in good health.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The airplane was a 1978 Cessna model R182. Airframe and engine logbooks were not recovered and were suspected destroyed in the airplane.

A review of work orders reflecting maintenance performed by a repair station at the pilot’s home airport in Marshfield, Wisconsin, dating back to May 2008, showed that an annual inspection was performed in April 2010. At the annual inspection, the airframe had 10,091.4 total hours. Minor maintenance was performed on the airplane by the repair station in June, September, and October 2010, and February and March 2011. The last work order, dated March 28, 2011, indicated the repair station cleaned, greased, and cycled the landing gear system and adjusted the rigging on the right nose landing gear door.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

At 1534, the aviation routine weather report for Denver International Airport (DEN), 12 nautical miles east-southeast of the accident site was winds 190 at 15 knots gusting to 21 knots, visibility 10 miles, thunderstorm, scattered clouds at 8,000 feet msl, broken ceilings at 13,000 and 20,000 feet msl, temperature 32 degrees Celsius, dew point 1 degree Celsius, altimeter 29.99 inches, remarks; thunderstorm beginning 1532, rain beginning 1516 ending 1525, occasional lightning in the vicinity south, thunderstorm in the vicinity south moving northeast, hourly precipitation amount zero inches.

The closest Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) reporting location to the accident site was Rocky Mountain Regional Airport (BJC). The TAF obtained for the accident time was issued at 1435 and was valid for a 21-hour period beginning at 1500. The TAF forecast for BJC expected wind from 350 degrees at 9 knots, visibility greater than 6 miles, scattered cumulonimbus clouds at 8,000 feet agl, and a broken ceiling at 15,000 feet. Thunderstorms were expected in the vicinity after 1600, with a temporary variable wind at 20 knots gusting to 35 knots, thunderstorm, and light rain, with a ceiling broken at 8,000 feet in cumulonimbus clouds.

At 1038, the National Weather Service (NWS) Forecast Office in Boulder, Colorado, issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook for central and eastern Colorado, which discussed a better chance for showers and thunderstorms developing during the afternoon with the main threat from these showers and thunderstorms being gusts to 50 miles per hour.

At 1225, the NWS Forecast Office in Boulder, Colorado, issued an Area Forecast Discussion for eastern Colorado, which discussed high based convection expected to develop into the afternoon with gusts to 35 knots likely in and near any showers or thunderstorms. Higher gusts were possible based on dry adiabatic mixing and these stronger gusts could cause landing and takeoff delays.

The Denver Center Weather Service Unit issues a Meteorological Impact Statement, valid at the time of the accident for the Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZDV) area, advised that the low-level wind shear and microburst potential between 1300 and 1800 was moderate to high.

COMMUNICATIONS
The pilot received takeoff clearance from Front Range tower prior to his departure. He confirmed the clearance and his intent to depart to the north. No further communications occurred between the pilot and any air traffic controlling agency.

A review of Flight Service Station records indicated the pilot did not contact them for any services.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The airplane impacted in a rolling prairie grass field and came to rest inverted next to a horse pen approximately 330 feet northwest of a house. The elevation of the terrain in the area was approximately 4,800 feet msl.

The airplane wreckage path was along a common heading of 090 degrees magnetic. The wreckage encompassed an area defined by an initial impact point extending 112 feet to where the airplane main wreckage came to rest.

The first impact was evidenced by a 30-inch long scrape running parallel to the wreckage path followed by a spray of dirt that extended east for approximately 15 feet. In this area were several white colored paint chips.

A second point of impact was located 43 feet east of the initial impact mark. It consisted of an 18-inch wide, 12 inch deep smooth strike in the ground which produced a hole and dislodged a large piece of dirt that was 2 feet in front of the strike. The east side of the hole was smooth and showed gray paint transfer. At the right end of the smooth side of the hole were two parallel running white stripes which equated to the white strips at the airplane’s propeller blade tips.

In the immediate vicinity of the hole were large pieces of broken clear Plexiglas. The pieces were clean except for some dirt spray. Also in this area was the airplane’s magnetic compass, pieces of the upper engine cowling, broken pieces of the forward windscreen support posts, white colored paint chips, map pages, and personal items.

Approximately five feet left and two feet aft of the hole was the airplane’s right wing tip. It was broken longitudinally along the attachment rivets. The position light had been broken out.

From the second impact point extending east for approximately 39 feet was an area of debris which contained more pieces of clear Plexiglas, pieces of the fuselage, pieces of door post, and pieces of paper. At the end of the debris area was the right window frame. It was broken out of the door. The Plexiglas was gone, and it had sustained charring from the fire. Just east of the window frame was the airplane’s right cabin door. It was broken out at the hinges, was bent aft and buckled outward, and was charred. The door handle was in the closed and locked position and the locking pin was extended.

The airplane main wreckage consisted of the majority of the airplane’s remaining structure. The fuselage remains were oriented on a south-southwesterly heading.

The cowling, cabin, baggage compartment and aft fuselage to just forward of the empennage were consumed by fire. The left wing with exception of the forward spar was consumed by fire. The inboard portion of the right wing to include the fuel tank and flap were consumed by fire. The right wing outboard of the flap to include the right aileron was charred, melted and partially consumed. The main landing gear was charred. The wheels and tires were consumed by fire.

Flight control continuity was confirmed from the aileron actuators to the remains of the mixer bar and control yokes.

The airplane’s empennage was inverted and resting on the top of the vertical stabilizer and the tip of left horizontal stabilizer. The horizontal stabilizers and elevator showed heat damage, partial melting, and paint blistering. The left horizontal stabilizer was bent upward approximately 10 degrees at mid span. The vertical stabilizer and rudder also showed heat damage and paint blistering.

Flight control continuity was confirmed from the elevator and rudder to the remains of the rudder pedals and control yokes.

The airplane engine was resting inverted on the upper cowling forward of the consumed cabin area. The firewall and engine mounts were crushed downward and bent aft. The engine was intact and showed heat damage from fire, especially the aft section where the dual magnetos, oil filter, fuel pump, and vacuum pump were installed. The crankshaft was partially fractured just aft of the flange. The propeller hub was intact. Both propeller blades were broken in their mounts and fractured approximately 10 inches outboard of the hub. The hub and blade remains showed heat damage and partial melting.

A 26-inch long section of propeller blade was located 18 feet south of the main wreckage. It was fractured laterally across the face of the blade, approximately mid span. The fracture was consistent with an overload failure. The blade section, which included the blade tip showed chordwise scratches and paint rubs consistent with a ground contact. The section was bent torsionally and showed several nicks in the leading edge.

The airplane wreckage was recovered and transported to a repair station and salvage facility for further examination.

FIRE

A post-impact fire ensued at the time the airplane impacted the ground. The fire burned an area that extended west to east along the airplane’s crash path for approximately 70 feet, and north to south for approximately 72 feet. The fire continued until county fire fighters arrived on the scene and extinguished the fire.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

An autopsy was conducted by the Adams County Coroner on June 30, 2011. The Coroner concluded the pilot died from blunt force injuries sustained in the crash.

Results of toxicology testing of samples taken were negative for all tests conducted.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

The airplane engine, systems, and instrumentation were examined at Greeley, Colorado. The engine showed heavy impact and fire damage to the accessories, wiring harness, muffler, and exhaust manifold. The case and cylinders were intact. The accessories were removed and the crankshaft and camshaft was rotated from the accessories case. The crankshaft and camshaft rotated normally. All valves, rockers, and pushrods showed normal movement. Thumb compression was confirmed on all 6 cylinders.

An examination of the flap actuator indicated the flaps were at a position approximating 10 degrees.

The landing gear was retracted. The elevator trim actuator found extended 1.4 inches, a position indicating nose up trim.

Flight and engine instruments were charred, melted, and partially consumed by fire. The fuel selector indicator and valve confirmed that the selector was in the “both” position, indicating both wing tanks were supplying fuel to the fuel pump and carburetor.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The Cessna R182 Pilots Operating Handbook shows the minimum stall speed at a weight of 3,100 pounds, most forward center of gravity, zero degrees of flap deflection, and zero degree bank angle to be 42 knots indicated airspeed. With 20 degrees of flaps extended, the stall speed decreases to 30 knots.



 





ADAMS COUNTY — The FAA said a commercial pilot who died last year in a field near Thornton was taking “a couple of thousand pictures” of residential properties for business when the plane crashed.

Salil Sinha, 41, of Marshfield, Wisc., was the only person on board. The plane exploded on impact.

The FAA released its findings of fact on the crash of the Cessna R182 earlier this month, but it did not indicate why the plane crashed. Witnesses said the airplane was maneuvering over the Thornton area at a low altitude at the same time that high wind suddenly occurred on the surface. One witness said he saw the airplane’s wings “dipping” up and down, and the airplane suddenly banked steeply to the left before impacting the ground. Several witnesses told the FAA after the airplane impacted the ground, it exploded and the fire started.

The plane took off from Watkins about an hour before the crash. Sinha did not file a flight plan. The pilot’s wife said she spoke with him just before takeoff for about 10 minutes. Sinha told her he was going to go up and “shoot a couple of thousand pictures” but voiced no concerns about the weather or how the plane was performing. Sinha’s wife said her husband “was in good spirits” and “in good health.”

The FAA’s report said a few days prior to the accident, Sinha pilot spoke to another pilot based at Front Range Airport. The pilot told him that he was taking photographs of residential and commercial real estate from his airplane with a digital camera. The pilot told him that he had business in Colorado and had been in the area for about a week. The report went on to say the pilot told him how he flew the airplane and took photographs out of the pilot window at the same time. The pilot told him he had been doing it for some time and was pretty good at it.

The pilot also told him of a time when while he was taking pictures, his airplane struck a guy wire. The pilot told him that it hit the wing just outside of the strut, but he was able to fly his airplane back and land it without incident.

The National Weather Service’s report for Denver International Airport at 3:34 p.m. included southwesterly winds at 15 knots gusting to 21, 10 miles of visibility, a thunderstorm in the area and scattered clouds at 8,000 feet, or about 2,700 feet off the ground. The closest reporting facility to the accident scene was at Rocky Mountain Regional Airport in Jefferson County. Its report was recorded shortly after Sinha took off, and it expected winds from the north at nine knots, visibility greater than six miles, scattered clouds and expected thunderstorms by 4 that afternoon.

The weather service also issued a forecast discussion earlier in the afternoon, about three hours before the crash. It talked about high-based thunderstorms with winds gusting to 35 knots. A meteorological impact statement, valid at the time of the accident, said low-level wind shear and microburst potential between 1 and 6 p.m. that day was “moderate to high."

Sinha flew at an altitude between 5,800 and 6,300 feet (about 600 to 1,100 above the ground), according to the FAA report. The plane’s speed was 110 knots. For the last eight minutes of the flight, Sinha was just south of E-470 at 6,000 feet and made several orbits around 138th Court and Boston Street. He turned west for almost two minutes, then turned south for 2 ½ minutes until he reached 104th Avenue.

At that point, the FAA said the plane turned northeast for almost five minutes before heading north. The FAA said Sinha flew just east of Quebec Street at 5,500 feet until he reached 123rd Avenue. There, he turned to the south and disappeared from radar. The report said Sinha’s last recorded altitude was 5,300 above sea level.

The FAA said Sinha had a commercial pilot certificate license with single- and multi-engine land instrument airplane ratings. He renewed his pilot insurance policy six months before the crash. He had flown for 18,000 hours and 8,200 hours in the Cessna. The FAA said it couldn’t recover pilot logbooks from the airplane. It suspected they were destroyed in the fire.

The flight instructor who gave Sinha his last review told the FAA Sinha was “a step above other pilots,” according to the report.

“He said that the day the pilot came to him for his flight review, the pilot told him that this was a check ride for him and he wanted to do everything that was in the Practical Test Standards for a private pilot,” the report said. “The pilot performed departure stalls, traffic pattern stalls, slow flight, turns around a point, and patterns and landings. The flight instructor said the pilot showed good knowledge and although he was not sure, thought he had some professional flight training.”

The plane’s last work order was in March. It showed the repair station was cleaned and greased. It cycled the landing gear system and adjusted the rigging on the right nose landing gear door.

The report said Sinha’s plane crashed in a field and came to rest next to a horse pen, about 330 feet from a house. The debris field spread out over 112 feet. The first impact showed a 30-inch long scrape to the wreckage, followed by a spray of dirt that extended for 15 feet. A second point of impact was 43 feet east of the first impact point. It consisted of an 18-inch wide by 12-inch deep smooth strike in the ground, the report said. It produced a hole in the ground and dug up a 2-foot piece of dirt. The Adams County coroner said Sinha died from injuries in the crash, not from the fire. Toxicology tests were negative.

Exciting New Art Exhibit Opens Saturday January 28 At The Pima Air & Space Museum

THE BONEYARD PROJECT: RETURN TRIP opens on Saturday, January 28th.

Conceived in 2011 by Eric Firestone and organized by Firestone with curators Carlo McCormick, Lesley Oliver and Med Sobio, the exhibit resurrects disused airplanes from America’s military history through the creative intervention of contemporary artists. Each of the artists included in the exhibit has utilized airplanes and aircraft parts found among the airplane graveyards located in the Arizona desert, known throughout the region as “boneyards.”
Read More and Photos: http://tucsoncitizen.com

ORNGE charity that vowed to improve patient care has been closed

A charity that raised millions by taking payments from many ORNGE suppliers has been shut down. The move happened Wednesday at almost the same time that a new board of directors — volunteer, not paid like the group that was ousted recently — took over.

The ORNGE Foundation, with a mandate to “support and promote improvement of patient care” in Ontario was the latest air ambulance entity to get the boot Wednesday.

New ORNGE boss Ron McKerlie said the decision to close the charity is part of the government’s plan to get the air ambulance service back on track. Scandal has dogged the service since mid-December, with revelations by the Star of high salaries and executive perks, secrecy, less than speedy ambulance dispatches and some mysterious payments from overseas.

McKerlie told staff in an internal email that an ORNGE-backed charity would have a hard time continuing to solicit donations from the public and patients until “we regain their trust and confidence.” The two executives who ran the foundation lost their jobs. The day before, ORNGE’s other charity, J-Smarts, was shut down.

The ORNGE Foundation has $7.5 million in assets, and an additional $6.8 million in “deferred revenue.”

What McKerlie did not mention in his email to staff is that very few of the dollars the foundation received since it was created four years ago came from public and patients.

Instead, the money (and gifts like two fancy motorcycles painted orange) came from companies like Pilatus, which sold 10 single-engine airplanes to ORNGE at an estimated total cost of $40 million for use as air ambulances.

In one case, a press release from ORNGE noted that Pilatus donated $343,000 to the Foundation. When ORNGE purchased $144 million worth of helicopters (12 in total) from Agusta Westland, Agusta made a $6.7 million payment to an ORNGE for-profit and gave two orange “choppers” to the Foundation. Another former asset of one of the ORNGE charities was a $50,000 speedboat that founder Chris Mazza wanted to use to teach youth how to wakeboard and water ski safely.

Another corporate donor to the Foundation was Fasken Martineau, the legal firm that works for ORNGE.

The Star has reviewed the ORNGE Foundations reports to the Canada Revenue Agency and found that the Foundation’s $7.5 million in assets is a rough split between cash and investments, and unidentified capital assets. The $2.2 million revenue last year includes an $835,659 payment from outside of Canada. The source is not identified. The sources of millions in deferred revenue are not identified in the documents, though that is not unusual in a charity’s report to the federal government.

In an interview, chief operating officer Tom Lepine said ORNGE routinely asks for companies it does business with to pay an additional 2 per cent to its foundation. He said this is the way large organizations operate. The Star does not know how much each company provided and whether the donation amount raised the cost to taxpayers of the air ambulance service.

The Foundation website went dark yesterday but before it did the Star noted a long list of corporate donors, including the two aircraft companies and a Swiss company called Aerolite Medical Interiors, which sold the mini medical suite that was installed in the new helicopters. That’s the medical interior that paramedics at ORNGE have been complaining about, saying that it prevents them from properly performing treatments such as CPR on a patient.

Now that these two charities are finished, what becomes of their assets?

“To the extent legally possible, those assets will be transferred to ORNGE,” an ORNGE spokesperson said in an email to the Star.

McKerlie, in his email to staff, noted that many ORNGE employees have been donating to the Foundation through their weekly pay.

“For those of you who have kindly contributed to the Foundation, you can rest assured that those funds will be provided to ORNGE to directly support the front-line operations to improve patient care.” McKerlie said the weekly pay deductions have ceased.

Also unclear is exactly what the ORNGE Foundation did. Its website described how it purchased medical equipment for use on the air ambulances. Ontario already pays $150 million a year to ORNGE and that money provides, equips and services the growing fleet.

One purchase the Foundation did fund was an air ambulance simulator that is kept in the ORNGE headquarters parking lot. It is the second simulator because the first one had an issue with mould and had to be replaced.

ORNGE insiders say the staff cuts and policy changes will continue over the next few weeks. Many who have contacted the Star expressed anger that while a few executives were terminated, many of the people fired had relatively low-paying ($40,000 to $60,000) jobs.

Meanwhile, ORNGE’s outgoing board, many of them well paid by the air service, announced that it had approved the creation of a new volunteer board that includes a respected former cabinet minister from the Mike Harris era.

Former attorney general Charles Harnick, a lawyer, will be one of six members on the board headed by mining executive Ian Delaney, chair of Sherritt International Corporation.

“Our goal is to restore public confidence in this critical service,” Health Minister Deb Matthews said after the government “recommended” ORNGE appoint the new slate.

The previous board was fired earlier this month after a string of troubles at the service, including the revelation its chief executive, Mazza, was paid $1.4 million a year. He is now on indefinite medical leave.

Forensic auditors are now going over the books at ORNGE, which started a series of for-profit businesses to “leverage” the $150 million a year the service gets from taxpayers.

The new board has been asked to wind down the for-profit operations at ORNGE, work with the forensic audit team to ensure “proper accountability for public funds,” negotiate a new performance agreement with the provincial government and conduct a comprehensive review of patient care and safety measures. This follows concerns air ambulances have been too slow to take off in responding to emergencies.

Delaney, well known in Canadian and international business circles for his company’s dealings in Cuba, stepped down as chief executive of Sherritt in November but remains chairman of the company in addition to his new duties with ORNGE.

Also named to the board are Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre chief executive Barry McLellan, former Confederation College president Patricia Lang, Maneesh Mehta, co-founder of the Black Box Institute and a member of the board of the Central Local Health Integration Network, Patrice Merrin, chairman and interim chief executive of CML Healthcare, and Patricia Volker, an instructor with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario.

http://www.thestar.com

Trial begins in civil suit against Robinson Helicopter for 2006 crash

For more than a decade, Torrance-based Robinson Helicopter Co. knew about vibrations in the R-44's main rotor mast that contributed to a 2006 crash in Riverside County that killed an experienced pilot and his brother-in-law, an attorney told a jury Wednesday.

"They had 13 years to fix it and they never did," attorney Kevin Boyle said during opening statements in trial of a Los Angeles Superior Court civil suit filed against Robinson in April 2008. "They masked the problem instead of solving it."

Boyle represents the widow and family of Leo Straatman, who was a passenger in the Robinson R-44 Raven II that went down about 2:30 p.m. near Desert Center on May 1, 2006, after the tail boom shook off and the main rotor hit the cabin, slicing off one of pilot Frank Verellen's legs.

The chopper was 85 minutes into its maiden voyage from Zamperini Field in Torrance to southern Ontario, Canada, where it was being ferried by Verellen to Zimmer Air Services Inc., an authorized Robinson dealer, according to lawyer Brian Panish, who represents the Verellen family and also gave an opening statement.

Verellen, 63, was Zimmer's chief pilot and Straatman, his 64-year-old passenger, owned part of the company, according to Panish.

But according to Robinson Helicopter's Raymond Hane, the likely cause of the accident was that Verellen entrusted the controls to Straatman, who did not have a pilot's license. He said a Robinson test pilot checked out the chopper before the keys were turned over to Verellen.

"He found no problems with the helicopter," Hane said.

However, Boyle said Robinson's chief engineer admitted in a deposition that the vibration in the main rotor mast could cause the gearbox to shake violently. He said the company even coined a word for the problem: "chugging."

The engineer also acknowledged the cause of the chugging was unknown, Boyle said.

"They continued to sell these things every day, and they didn't know the cause," Boyle said.

The company made minor adjustments to the rubber mounts, but nothing more, Boyle said.

According to Panish, Verellen's flight experience "was as high as it gets anywhere in the world," logging more than 7,600 hours without any previous accidents.

Verellen also flew fixed-wing aircraft and was an expert crop duster, Panish said, as he narrated a video of Verellen piloting a plane and spraying crops. He also flew John Cusack during filming of the 1993 film "Map of the Human Heart," Panish said.

But Hane said Verellen should have removed the left-side cyclic control of the helicopter before he and Straatman left the ground because his passenger was not licensed to fly.

"This is the point where Mr. Verellen made what turned out to be the fatal mistake," Hane said.

The main controls of a helicopter are on the right side, where Verellen was sitting. Cyclics are similar to joysticks in a conventional aircraft and are used to change the pitch angle of the rotor blades.

The attorney said Verellen likely let Straatman take the controls to get him acclimated to the sensitivity and feel of them while the aircraft was traveling over the desert at 125-130 mph. But Hane said the controls are very sensitive at high speed and an incorrect move can cause a fatal crash such as the one that killed both men.

Verellen was married for 41 years and had five children and 16 grandchildren, Panish said. He said his relatives' economic damages are about $960,000.

Straatman was married for 40 years and had four children and eight grandchildren, Boyle said. He said the survivors' economic damages are about $2.3 million.

Straatman and Verellen both owned farms and their widows are sisters.


Nashville airport releases security footage of Sen. Rand Paul


Nashville airport releases security footage of Sen. Rand Paul: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul showed no visible signs of being “irate” as Nashville International Airport police asserted in an incident report, according to newly released video of a run-in with airport security.

A security video of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul at a Nashville International Airport checkpoint doesn’t show him being “irate,” as police asserted.

The Kentucky Republican ran afoul of a millimeter-wave screening machine Monday morning that went off as he tried to enter the airport terminal. Transportation Security Administration officials asked him to undergo a pat-down, but he refused.

An incident report describes the police response as being to “a passenger being irate.” But videos released by the Metro Airport Authority late Wednesday show Paul entering the security line at 7:57 a.m. and then alternately sitting and standing in a glass cubicle while being watched by authorities. Paul appears to make a few phone calls as well.

Paul is shown being escorted by an airport official at 9:04 a.m. Paul rebooked his flight and later went through security without incident.

For about half of the video, Paul is obscured by a column blocking part of the cubicle. When asked why the camera would be set up only to be obscured by a column, airport spokeswoman Emily Richard said that cameras are “placed for the widest view possible, not a specific area.”

The airport authority said it didn’t have any comments outside the incident report and referred questions to the TSA. The TSA referred questions back to the airport authority, which oversees policing of the airport.

“It is our protocol to refer to law enforcement when a passenger refuses to complete the screening process,” said TSA spokesman Jonathan Allen.

The incident brought outcry from Paul’s father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican who is running for president. The elder Paul vowed to abolish the U.S. Transportation Security Administration if he were elected.

Closing on old airport set for early February

WEST BAY — After months of delays, frustrations and “cautious optimism,” airport officials say they should finally close on the old Panama City airfield in early February.

Airport Authority board attorney Franklin Harrison said Wednesday his team still was working through “a couple of issues” with new owner St. Andrew Bay Land Co., but his earlier “cautious optimism” had now been upgraded to simple optimism, no modifiers attached.

“I see no major problems at all,” Harrison told the board of the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport during its monthly meeting Wednesday.

Once the deal is finally closed, the airport’s financial number crunchers finally can get their hands on at least $51 million of a $56.5 million purchase price that has been held in escrow for years, Harrison said.

The $51 million was the minimum contract price set, an amount that could increase following efforts by airport officials and St. Andrew Bay Land Co. to work through issues such as the final environmental condition of the old 700-acre site. The money is needed to pay back $45 million in loans borrowed through Florida’s State Infrastructure Bank program to help with the construction of the $325 million airport, which officially opened in May 2010.

The closing date was repeatedly delayed as the airfield was prepared for transfer to the new owners — from the first quarter of 2011, to the end of July, then the middle of October.

A 30-day notice of closure finally was sent aiming for Dec. 15, but that was delayed until Feb. 1 when a new amendment was added to the notice. The airport board will hold a special meeting Feb. 3 to add a second amendment adjusting the conditions once again.

“I hope to close the following week, but that’s just Franklin Harrison talking,” Harrison said, adding that St. Andrew Bay Land Co. officials have not been acting from an adversarial position.

Traffic down in December

In other business, airport executive director John Wheat told board members that total airport passenger traffic had declined 5.44 percent during December, or 56,912 passengers compared to 60,186 in December 2010.

The December decline was the result of fewer passengers flying Delta Air Lines, Wheat said. Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, posted December increases of 2.72 percent in enplanements and 3.53 percent in deplanements.

The decline in December air travel was felt throughout the Panhandle’s four airports, Wheat said, with Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport posting a 4.8 percent decline, Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Okaloosa County experiencing a 7.8 percent decline and Tallahassee Regional Airport declining by 6.8 percent.

Board officials also were told that additional sodding and seeding has gone well for the area around the site of a future crosswind runway, work left undone when Phoenix Construction left to sue the board.

Airport vice chairman John Pilcher wanted to know if any plans were afoot for “concrete out there” to finally finish the second runway, but Wheat told him simply, “no.”

Plane crash survivors in hospital

There were no fatalities after this Savannah Bingo crashed on a property at Brandy Creek last Thursday.

MURRAY, Paz and Frank Swinbourne are still recovering in Townsville hospital after the plane Mr Swinbourne was flying crashed near his property at Brandy Creek last Thursday.

The licenced pilot and his family were taking off from their private airstrip at their property off Forestry Rd at about 12.55pm when the Savannah Bingo plane failed to get enough altitude and clipped trees, crashing into a clearing of bush on a nearby property owned by Vic and Roz McFarlane.

Mr Swinbourne's daughter Fraulein was not in the plane and spoke to the Whitsunday Times on Tuesday saying her family were still in hospital but hoped that they would be let out next week.

Mrs McFarlane said had the plane landed 50 meters further it would have landed on their workshop or boat.

"They couldn't have asked for a better spot to land with clear access for the emergency services to get to them," she said.

Neighbours Neil and Hayley Kennedy were looking out from their home when they saw the plane with its nose in the air trying to get more power to take off.

They were some of the first on the scene of the plane crash and contacted emergency service personnel.

"The plane sounded louder than usual and was closer than usual," Mr Kennedy said.

"He [the pilot] would fly regularly when the weather was suitable and was a very experienced pilot."

Whitsunday Police Station officer in charge senior sergeant Steve O'Connell said the plane was full of fuel and was thankful that it didn't catch fire.

Civil Aviation Safety Authority is doing a conjoint investigation into the cause of the accident with Whitsunday Police.

Aero Vodochody L-39C Albatross, N16RZ: Fatal accident occurred January 20, 2012 in Rainbow City, Alabama

National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Final Report: http://app.ntsb.gov/pdf 

National Transportation Safety Board  -  Docket And Docket Items:   http://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms

National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Data Summary:   http://app.ntsb.gov/pdf


NTSB Identification: ERA12FA149
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, January 20, 2012 in Rainbow City, AL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/30/2013
Aircraft: AERO VODOCHODY L39C, registration: N16RZ
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot radioed an air traffic controller and obtained an instrument flight rules clearance while on the ground. The pilot read back the clearance and was informed that he was released for departure and to switch to advisory frequency. There was no further radio contact between air traffic controllers and the pilot, and the airplane was never radar identified. The base of the radar coverage at the airport is 4,000 feet. Another pilot, who was on the ground at the airport waiting to depart, informed the controller that he watched the flight depart and heard a pretty loud boom shortly afterward. A postcrash fire ensued. The ceiling was 300 feet overcast, with visibility 1 mile in mist. The main wreckage was located about 1.1 miles south-southwest of the airport in a swampy wooded area. Postcrash examination revealed no preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
An in-flight loss of control in instrument meteorological conditions.

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On January 20, 2012, at 1818 central standard time (CST), an experimental exhibition, Aero Vodochody L39C airplane, N16RZ, collided with trees while maneuvering in the vicinity of Rainbow City, Alabama. The airplane was registered to Fighter Town USA LLC, and was operated by a private individual as a 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. The airplane sustained substantial damage and a postcrash fire ensued. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed. The certificated airline transport pilot (ATP) was fatally injured. The flight departed from Northeast Alabama Regional Airport (GAD), Gadsden, Alabama, about 1817, en-route to Burlington, North Carolina.

A witness stated the pilot arrived at a maintenance facility to pick up the airplane in the afternoon. He conducted a prefight inspection in the hangar and the airplane was towed outside. The pilot performed the before start engine checks, started the engine, and taxied to runway 24 in preparation for takeoff. He conducted an engine run up and departed. The witness walked back inside the hangar and heard two loud explosions. An employee from the fixed base operator came by and stated the airplane had crashed in a wooded area off the departure end of runway 24.

The pilot called the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Birmingham Approach Control at 1815 via radio, while on the ground at GAD and requested his IFR clearance. The controller asked what runway he would be departing from and the pilot replied runway 24. The controller issued the clearance at 18:16:31. The clearance required the pilot to enter controlled airspace on a heading of 140 degrees to climb and maintain 5,000 feet and to expect flight level 190 within ten minutes after departure, and then on course when radar identified. The pilot read back the clearance and was informed he was released for departure and to switch to advisory frequency. There was no further radio contact between the controllers and the pilot. The base of the radar coverage at the GAD is 4,000 feet.

Another pilot, on the ground at GAD, waiting to depart, called Birmingham Approach and asked if they had picked up the accident airplane on radar. He informed the controller he watched the flight depart and heard a pretty loud boom shortly afterwards. The pilot also reported the airport was below weather minimums.
Another witness, who lived in front of the accident site, stated her mother-in-law called her while she was out at a restaurant and asked her if something had blown up at her house. She informed her mother-in-law that she was not home. She immediately left the restaurant and went home. Police and fire personnel were there and were putting out a fire in the woods behind her house. She stated that it was difficult to see the emergency responders due to the dense fog.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot, age 58, held an ATP certificate with a rating for airplane multiengine land, and a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane, issued on March 3, 2010. In addition the pilot had a letter of authorization for “experimental aircraft AV-L39.” The pilot held a second-class medical certificate, issued on February 11, 2010, with the restrictions, “Must wear corrective lenses.” The pilot indicated on the application for the second-class medical that he had 5,200 total flight hours and he had flown 80 hours in the last 6 months. The instructor pilot, who trained the accident pilot, stated he had conducted 20 training flights and the pilot had about 83 hours in the L39, of which 19 hours were dual flight instruction. The pilot’s wife stated his logbook was in the accident airplane.

Review of training records at SIMCOM, Orlando, Florida, revealed the pilot attended SIMCOM Beech 200 recurrent training from August 20, 2011, to August 21, 2011, and he satisfactorily completed the pilot flight review and instrument proficiency check in a King Air simulator. The pilot indicated on the SIMCOM Pilot Data form for 2011, that he had 5,200 total flight hours and he had flown 150 hours in the last 12 months. The pilot indicated he had 1,800 total instrument flight hours and 700 hours in airplane single-engine land. In addition, the pilot indicated he had received 2 hours of flight instruction in the last 12 months. The pilot's logbook was not located in the wreckage. Review of the pilot's insurance application form, dated November 9, 2011, indicated the pilot had 5, 540 total flight hours and he had flown 5 hours of instrument flight in the last 12 months in the L39, and 15 hours in the King Air in the last 12 months. In addition, the pilot indicated he had 90 total hours in the L39. The pilot’s last flight review for the L39 was conducted on April 14, 2011.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatross is a high-performance tandem seat jet trainer aircraft serial number 132013, manufactured in 1981. The airplane is powered by a single turbo fan Ivchenko AI-25TL 3,792-lb thrust engine. Review of logbook information provided by International Jets revealed the last 100-hour condition inspection on the engine was conducted on January 19, 2012, at HOBBS time of 320.2 hours. The engines total time in service was 382.7 hours. The 100-hour condition inspection on the aircraft was conducted on January 19, 2012, at HOBBS time of 320.2 hours. The airplanes total time in service was 898.0 hours. The HOBBS meter was not located at the accident site. The last altimeter, static system test and transponder encoder test was conducted on November 3, 2009. The airplane was topped off with 59 gallons of Jet fuel at GAD on January 20, 2012.

A pilot for the maintenance base, test flew the airplane after the 100-hour condition inspection. No anomalies were noted with the airplane during the test flight.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

The National Weather Service (NWS) Surface Analysis Chart for 1800 CST depicted a stationary front extending east-to-west across northern Georgia, Alabama, into southern Tennessee and into Arkansas. An area of extensive fog and overcast clouds was depicted along the front. The station models across Alabama indicated southerly winds with overcast clouds with temperatures in the mid to upper 50’s degrees Fahrenheit with temperature dew point spreads of 2 degrees or less, high relative humidity, low visibilities, low cloud cover, and near saturated conditions.

The GOES-13 infrared red satellite image at 1815 depicted a low stratiform cloud layer over northern Alabama with a radioactive cloud top temperature –minus 0.16 degrees C, which corresponded to cloud tops near 12,000 feet.

The Birmingham, AL 1800 sounding indicated a saturated low-level environment with the lifted condensation level (LCL) at 420 feet above ground level (agl) with a relative humidity greater than 90 percent from the surface to 4,500 feet. The sounding also indicated rapidly increasing winds with altitude, with the wind increasing from the southwest at 45 knots at 5,400 feet.

IFR conditions due to low ceilings and visibility had been reported since 1335.

GAD weather at 1815, wind from 080 degrees true at 5 knots, visibility 1 statute mile (in mist), ceiling overcast at 300 feet agl, temperature 12 degrees C, dew point missing, altimeter 29.94.
Several air carrier pilots in the vicinity of Huntsville (HSV), Alabama, indicated cloud tops near 3,000 feet near the time of the accident with sky clear above. No reports of turbulence or icing were received over Alabama surrounding the period.

The astronomical data from the United States Naval Observatory indicated the following astronomical conditions on January 20, 2012, for Gadsden, Etowah County, Alabama.

Begin civil twilight: 0621 CST

Sunrise: 0648 CST

Sunset: 1702 CST

End civil twilight: 1729

Moonset: 1436 CST

Moonrise: 0516 CST on January 21, 2012

At the time of the accident, both the Sun and the Moon were more than 15 degrees below the horizon and provided no illumination. The Moon phase was a waning crescent with only 8 percent of the disk illuminated when visible.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The main wreckage was located about 1.1 miles south-southwest of GAD in a swampy wooded area, adjacent to the 700 block of Perman Lake Road in the vicinity of Rainbow City, Alabama. Examination of the crash site revealed the airplane collided with the tops of 60 to 80-foot tall trees, in a steep nose down attitude, left wing low on a heading of 070 degrees magnetic. The airplane collided with the ground 88 feet from the initial tree impact. The nose section (zone 1 fuselage) and (zone 2 cockpit sections) was buried 7 feet below the surface of the ground. The crater was 15 feet wide and 31 feet long. The forward ejection seat remained in the crater. The rear ejection seat separated from its rail and was located to the left of the crater next to a tree. Both ejection seats were armed and deactivated by maintenance personnel. The engine assembly separated from the airframe and was located 121 feet down the crash debris line (CDL). The tail section was located 21 feet to the right of the engine assembly on a heading of 100 degrees magnetic. The inboard and outboard section of the right wing was located along the CDL, 259 feet from the beginning of the CDL.

The nose section (zone 1) with the nose landing gear was fragmented and located in the initial impact crater. The nose landing gear was in the retracted position.

The front and rear cockpit (zone 2) was located in the initial impact crater. The forward wind screen was fragmented. The forward canopy was separated and fragmented. The forward instrument panel was fragmented. The front ejection seat was separated from the rail. Continuity of the flight control systems could not be determined due to the structural damage to the airframe.

The rear canopy was separated and fragmented. The instrument panel was fragmented. The rear ejection seat separated from the rail and was located outside of the crater edge next to a tree in the armed position. Continuity of the flight control system could not be determined due to structural damage to the airframe.

The right wing was separated at the main landing gear center section of the wing. There was no evidence of sooting or bubbling of paint present. The leading edge of the right wing was fragmented. The right aileron was damaged and separated from its hinge points. The right flap separated from its hinge points and its position was not determined. The metal auxiliary fuel tank was ruptured and separated from the wing. An odor of fuel was present at the crash site. The dummy missile separated from the right wing pylon mount. The right main landing gear separated and the land gear was in the retracted position and was located in the creek.
The fuselage and engine section (zone 3) was fire damaged and fragmented extending aft to the tail cone section (zone 4). The three main bladder fuel cells were ruptured and the majority of the fuel was contained in the impact crater.

The vertical fin separated from the empennage. The leading edge and top of the vertical fin were damaged. The rudder separated from all hinge points and was located adjacent to the vertical fin. The tail section was separated at the tail separation point and was lying inverted on the ground. The left horizontal stabilizer was damaged and the left elevator remained attached at all hinge points. The left elevator trim tab was in the neutral position. The right horizontal stabilizer was not damaged. The right elevator remained attached at all hinge points and the trim tab was in the neutral position. There was no evidence of sooting or bubbling of paint present on any of the surfaces.

The left wing separated at the main landing gear center section of the wing and fire damaged. The leading edge of the left wing was fragmented. The left aileron was damaged and separated from its hinge points. A section of the left flap was fire damaged and located in the impact crater and the position could not be determined. The metal auxiliary fuel tank was ruptured and separated from the wing. An odor of fuel was present at the crash site. The dummy missile separated from the wing pylon mount. The left main landing gear was located in the impact crater and was in the retracted position.

The engine assembly was on its left side. The first stage fan disk was separated from the engine. The rotor blades were bent opposite the direction of rotation. The second and third stage fan disks remained in the engine and were visible. The respective blades were bent opposite the direction of rotation.

The oil reservoir was bent around the right front engine mount. The oil reservoir filler cap separated from the oil filler. The top of the filler cap was sheared off. The fuel-oil heat exchanger was damaged and separated from the engine.

The bleed air flapper valve for the air conditioner was in the fully open position. The engine deice flapper valve was fully closed. The right hand igniter plug was broken where it exits the igniter can.
The right rear engine mount was intact and fire damaged. The exhaust gas temperature (EGT) harness was intact and the four EGT probes were in place. The engine’s exhaust pipe was damaged and remained attached to the engine by metal tubing. The exhaust pipe attachment clamp remained attached to the exhaust pipe with a tightened and safetied turnbuckle.
The fuel control unit was attached to the remnants of the engine gear box. The throttle lever position was at about 90 percent. The engine high pressure fuel pump was attached to the engine by one fuel line.
The anti G suit bleed air plumbing was attached to the bleed air port. The ram air turbine was separated from the fuselage structure. The auxiliary power unit was separated from the engine compartment and was damaged. The main generator was separated from the engine and was damaged.

The airframe and engine assembly was transported to a salvage company in Griffin, Georgia for storage. The engine was disassembled and examined by an NTSB Powerplants Group. The first stage fan disk was intact, but was recovered separate from the engine. The second and third stage fan disks were also intact, but remained attached to the rest of the engine. All of the first, second, and third stage fan blades were in their respective disks, although there were several first and second stage fan blades that were fractured across the airfoil. All of the longer or full length first, second, and third stage fan blades were bent opposite the direction of rotation. The inlet bullet, inlet guide vanes, and fan blades were examined under an ultraviolet light and nothing fluoresced. The seventh and eighth stage compressor blades were in place, but were bent opposite the direction of rotation. There was no metal spray on the seventh and eighth stage compressor blades. The second stage turbine blades were all intact and did not have any apparent damage to the airfoils. There was no metal spray on the second stage turbine blade airfoils and turbine exhaust case struts.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

The Huntsville Forensic Laboratory, Huntsville, Alabama, Medical Examiner conducted a postmortem examination of the pilot, on January 25, 2012. The cause of death was severe blunt force injuries. The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory performed toxicology testing on specimens from the pilot. Carbon monoxide and cyanide samples were not performed. The results were positive for 46 (mg/dl, mg/hg) ethanol detected in the muscle. No ethanol was detected in the liver. N propanol 8 (mg/dl, mg/hg) was detected in the muscle. These volatiles are consistent with postmortem production of alcohols.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The Department of Defense Flight Information Publication (Terminal) Low Altitude United States Airport Diagrams for Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, Volume 14 found in the crater were effective October 20, 2011, and expired December 15, 2011. The Low Altitude United States Airport Diagrams for Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, Volume 17 found in the crater were effective September 23, 2010, and expired November 18, 2011.

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA149 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, January 20, 2012 in Rainbow City, AL
Aircraft: AERO VODOCHODY L39C, registration: N16RZ
Injuries: 1 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. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
On January 20, 2012, at 1818 central standard time, an experimental exhibition, Aero Vodochody L39C airplane, N16RZ, collided with trees while maneuvering in the vicinity of Rainbow City, Alabama. The airplane was registered to Fighter Town USA LLC, and was operated by a private individual as a 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. The airplane sustained substantial damage and a post crash fire ensued. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed. The certificated airline transport pilot was fatally injures. The flight departed from Northeast Alabama Regional Airport (GAD), Gadsden, Alabama, at about 1817 en-route to Burlington, North Carolina.

A witness stated the pilot arrived at a maintenance facility to pick up the airplane in the afternoon. He conducted a prefight inspection in the hangar and the airplane was towed outside. The pilot performed before start engine checks, started the engine, and taxied to runway 24 in preparation for takeoff. He conducted an engine run up and departed. The witness walked back inside the hangar and heard two loud explosions. An employee from the fixed base operator came by and stated the airplane had crashed in a wooded area off the departure end of runway 24.

The pilot called the FAA Birmingham Approach Control at 1815 via radio while on the ground at GAD and requested his IFR clearance. The controller asked what runway he would be departing from and the pilot replied runway 24. The controller issued the clearance at 18:16:31. The clearance required the pilot to enter controlled airspace on a heading of 140-degrees to climb and maintain 5,000 feet and to expect flight level 190 within ten minutes after departure, and then on course when radar identified. The pilot read back the clearance and was informed he was released for departure and to switch to advisory frequency. There was no further radio contact between the controllers and the pilot.

Another pilot, on the ground at GAD, waiting to depart, called Birmingham Approach and asked if they had picked up the accident airplane on radar. He informed the controller he watched the flight depart and heard a pretty loud boom shortly afterwards. The pilot also reported the airport was below weather minimums.

Another witness who lives in front of the accident site stated her mother in law called her while she was out at a restaurant and asked her if something had blown up at her house. She informed her mother in law that she was not home. She immediately left the restaurant and went home. Police and fire personnel were there and were putting out a fire in the woods behind her house. It was difficult to see the emergency responders due to the dense fog.

Tom Coble
BURLINGTON, N.C. - Thomas Lynn Coble, a devoted Christian, committed family man, seasoned pilot, widely-acclaimed businessman and gracious philanthropist, died Jan. 20, 2012, when his L-39 Albatros fighter jet went down shortly after takeoff in Rainbow City, Ala. He was 58 years old.
 
Tom is survived by his wife, Debby Coble; parents, P.J. and Donna Coble; son, Matt Coble; future daughter-in-law, Ning Yan Gu; daughter, Misty Coble Hedspeth; son-in-law, Matt Hedspeth; grandchildren, Ryan, Peter and Rosemary; brothers, Tony, Terry and Tim (deceased).
In 2002, Tom founded Coble Trench Safety (CTS), a specialty firm focused on renting and selling trench and traffic safety equipment and providing OSHA-required safety training for contractors and municipalities. CTS has 11 branches from Baltimore, Md., to Atlanta, Ga.
Tom was born to P.J. and Donna Coble on Jan. 10, 1954 in Burlington, N.C. He grew up working with his father on commercial and residential construction sites, where he quickly discovered an affinity for operating heavy equipment. While learning the mechanics of working backhoes, cranes and forklifts, Tom also learned a thing or two about running a family business.
He decided to check out the business program at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. But unlike the other kids, whose parents drove them to check out a school before making a commitment, Tom flew himself and Debby, his sweetheart since the fourth grade, to Liberty to take a look.
Tom and Debby enrolled at Liberty University. He put himself through school by working at a slaughterhouse, starting a painting company and flipping a couple of houses. He and Debby were married before his senior year.
With graduation quickly approaching, he got the opportunity of a lifetime. The late Jerry Falwell, former president of Liberty University, asked Tom to be his executive pilot, an experience that would have a remarkable impact on Tom's life. Falwell became one of Tom's personal heroes, a figure who continued to inspire him throughout his life.

Read More and Guest Book: http://www.legacy.com

 Tom Coble
Coble with his wife, Debby, and grandson, Ryan, in an undated photo.
Photo submitted

A Burlington pilot who was killed in plane crash in Alabama will be honored on Sunday during a celebration service at the Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport.

Tom Coble, 58, was traveling alone when his L-39 Albatros fighter jet went down shortly after takeoff at 6:21 p.m. Friday from an airport in Rainbow City, Ala. He was en route back to Burlington.

The celebration service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at Coble’s airplane hangar at the Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport. Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Harvest Baptist Church in Burlington.

The Coble family released a statement on Wednesday about its loss. The statement thanked all those who have showed the family support during the past week.

“We are grieving the loss of an extraordinary man, known to us as husband, daddy, papaw, grandpa, son, brother, uncle and friend, but we do not grieve without hope,” the family stated in the press release. “We believe that, for Tom, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord Jesus Christ; of this we are certain (2 Corinthians 5:8). This truth is sustaining us in the midst of tragedy. We know Tom’s soul was not in the wreckage, but rather went immediately to Heaven to be with Jesus. We are comforted by the Holy Spirit and are truly thankful for all our family and friends who have surrounded us with love and prayer during this difficult time.”

 “There has been a lot of media coverage concerning Tom’s passing,” the family stated. “One comment in particular on the Burlington Times-News was particularly encouraging to us.

“Darrel Tarver, who lives in Rainbow City, Ala. near the crash site, wrote on the Time-News site ‘Sorry for your loss, my wife and I remember the plane flying many times over our house here in Rainbow City, Al. My wife was home when it crashed in the woods 200 feet from our house, and just a few feet from our neighbors’ house. I was not at home at the time but I could not help but to think he did all he could do, and stayed with the plane so not to let it hit anyone’s homes. We thank him for his bravery and quick action from myself and family.’”

The family stated it didn’t know what happened in those final moments before Coble stepped into eternity, but it did know Coble would have done everything possible to avoid involving anyone else in the accident.

“We are thankful that no one else was hurt, both at the time of the accident or during the clean-up afterward,” the family stated. “Tom was an amazing pilot and was born to fly. He is our hero and will be missed every single day. We celebrate his life and the great man that he was.”

Anyone wishing to honor the memory of Tom Coble may do so by donating to Heart’s Cry Children’s ministry at www.heartscrychildren.com. It is an adoption advocacy nonprofit in Panama found by Matt and Misty Hedspeth. Misty is Coble’s daughter.

The FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board and officials from Alabama are investigating the incident. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.

The L-39 Albatros, a Czechoslovakian experimental aircraft, had undergone routine service in Gadsden, Ala., Less than a minute after takeoff the plane burst into flames and came down in a wooded and marshy area 1.1 miles from the Rainbow City airport. Debris from the crash was scattered along 142 feet.

NTSB spokeswoman Bridget Serchak said a preliminary report on the crash would be released about 10 days after the accident. The final report would be made available in about 12 months, said Serchak.

Coble was a well-known local aviator and loved to fly. He had more than 40 years of flying experience and owned multiple aircraft. Growing up in Burlington, Coble began taking flying lessons at 15 and flew solo on his 16th birthday

Coble founded Coble Trench Safety, which rents and sells trench and safety equipment and offers training classes, in 2002. The company has 11 branches from Baltimore to Atlanta. Prior to founding that company, he founded Coble Cranes and Equipment/Coble Rents. He sold that company in 1999.

A graduate of Liberty University, Coble became the executive pilot for the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, former president of Liberty University and a well known pastor and political figure.

Coble attended Harvest Baptist Church in Burlington and led Alamance County‘s Coalition of Concerned Christians.

Coble is survived by his wife, Debby Coble; parents, PJ and Donna Coble; son, Matt Coble; future daughter-in-law, Ning Yan Gu; daughter, Misty Hedspeth; son-in-law, Matt Hedspeth; and grandchildren: Ryan, Peter and Rosemary.