Thursday, September 12, 2013

Piper PA-18A 150 Super Cub, N444LZ: Accident occurred October 13, 2012 in Kenai, Alaska

NTSB Identification: ANC13FAMS1 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, October 13, 2012 in Kenai, AK
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/27/2013
Aircraft: PIPER PA-18-150, registration: N444LZ
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 solo student pilot likely departed during dark night conditions on a personal, visual flight rules, cross-country flight between two Alaskan communities. An Alaska state trooper said that, during his initial investigation, he learned that the pilot was asked by security personnel to leave a bar after a disturbance with other bar patrons. The bar security guard stated that the “very intoxicated” individual left in a taxicab about midnight. The taxicab driver reported that, just after midnight, he drove the pilot to the airport. The taxicab driver stated that the pilot told him that he intended to sleep in the airplane overnight, which was something that he had done many times before.

A review of archived radar data revealed that, about 0137, an unidentified aircraft, believed to be the missing airplane, departed from the airport. After departure, the radar target initially proceeded southeast of the airport before it turned and flew west, then northeast, before making a series of erratic turns, along with several changes in speed, heading, and altitude. Eventually, the radar target proceeded northwest over a saltwater inlet, before turning back to the northeast. The last position of the radar target was recorded about 0248, roughly mid-channel, while in a descent over the inlet, about 30 miles north of the departure airport. The area of the presumed crash site experiences extreme tides and strong currents, with reduced visibility due to turbidity. An extensive search was conducted, but the airplane has been declared missing and is presumed to have crashed; the student pilot is presumed to have received fatal injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
Undetermined. The airplane and pilot were not found.


On October 13, 2012, at an undetermined time, a tailwheel-equipped Piper PA-18-150 airplane, N444LZ, went missing and is presumed to have crashed, at a location between Soldotna, Alaska, and Palmer, Alaska. The student pilot, who was also the airplane owner, is presumed to have received fatal injuries, and the airplane is presumed to have been destroyed. The airplane was being operated as a visual flight rules cross-country personal flight under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. Dark night, visual meteorological conditions likely prevailed at the point of departure, and no flight plan was filed. The flight is presumed to have originated at the Soldotna Airport in Soldotna, at 0137 and was reportedly en route to the private Wolf Lake Airport in Palmer. 

An Alaska State Trooper who participated in the search reported that the missing airplane was one of two airplanes that arrived at the Soldotna Airport on the afternoon of October 12. He said that the two pilots parked their airplanes in the transient parking area with plans to stay overnight in Soldotna and return to Palmer the next day. The State Trooper added that, during his initial investigation, he learned that both pilots went to local bar in Soldotna, and that the pilot of the missing airplane left the bar in a taxicab about midnight. 

In a written statement to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), dated November 2, the pilot of the second airplane, a longtime friend of the missing pilot, reported that after arriving in Soldotna the pair attended a local hockey game together. After the game, they met a group of friends and visited a few local bars in Soldotna. He added that just after midnight, on October 13, his friend was asked by security personnel to leave a bar, so he walked his friend to an awaiting taxicab. He reported that, once his friend was in the back of the taxicab, he instructed the driver to take him to a local hotel, and that was the last time he saw him. 

During a telephone conversation with the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC) on October 30, a bar security guard reported that, just after midnight on October 13, he escorted an individual matching the description of the pilot to an awaiting taxicab after the individual had a brief disturbance with other bar customers. The security guard stated that the individual was very intoxicated.

During a telephone conversation with the NTSB IIC on October 30, a taxicab driver reported that, just after midnight at the bar, two individuals placed an intoxicated person (later determined to be the missing pilot) in the back of his taxicab and instructed him to take the pilot to a local hotel. The taxicab driver said that, after he drove the pilot to the hotel as instructed, the pilot refused to get out of the taxicab. The driver stated that the pilot first asked to be taken back to the bar but subsequently insisted to be taken to the Soldotna Airport. After the taxicab driver reluctantly agreed to take him to the airport, and when he asked the man about his intentions, the pilot reported that was going to sleep in the airplane, something he had done many times before. The taxicab driver said that after arriving at the Soldotna Airport, the pilot got out, but he did not see which way he went, and he did not see an airplane nearby. 

A review and forensic analysis of archived radar data was done by the National Radar Assessment Team, along with technicians for the U.S. Air Force 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron, commonly known as RADES, which revealed that, on October 13, about 0137, an unidentified aircraft, believed to be the missing airplane, departed from the Soldotna Airport. After departure, the radar track initially proceeded southeast of the airport before it turned and flew west, then northeast, before making a series of erratic turns, along with several changes in speed, heading and altitude. Eventually, the radar track proceeded northwest over the waters of Cook Inlet, before turning back to the northeast. The last position of the radar target was recorded about 0248, roughly mid-channel, while in a descent over the Cook Inlet, about 30 miles north of Soldotna, or about 25 miles north-northeast of Kenai, Alaska. A copy of the radar flight track map overlay is included in the public docket for this accident.


The pilot, age 27, held a student pilot/third class medical certificate that was issued on April 11, 2011. The medical certificate contained no limitations. A student pilot certificate, for an individual under 40 years old, is valid for 60 months.

No personal flight records were located for the student pilot, and the aeronautical experience listed on page 3 of this report was obtained from FAA records on file in the Airman and Medical Records Center located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. On his application for medical certificate, dated April 11, 2011, he indicated that his total aeronautical experience was 15 flight hours, all of which were accrued in the previous 6 months.

A review of the student pilot’s third class medical certificate, dated April 11, 2011, revealed that in section "V" of the application for airman medical and student certificate, FAA form number 8500-8, the accident pilot checked "No," indicating that he had never been convicted or arrested on any charges of driving while intoxicated (DWI). 
According to information provided by the Alaska State Troopers, the pilot was charged, and he was convicted to a DWI charge in June of 2002.


The closest weather reporting facility was at the Kenai Municipal Airport, about 25 miles south-southwest of the last position of the radar target. At 0153, a weather observation from the Kenai Airport was reporting, in part: Wind, 020 degrees (true) at 3 knots; visibility, 10 statute miles; cloud and sky conditions, clear; temperature, 25 degrees F; dew point, 23 degrees F; altimeter, 29.11 inHg. Dark night conditions prevailed at that time.


There were no reports of communications with the missing airplane.


The presumed crash site is the Cook Inlet, a saltwater inlet off the Gulf of Alaska. According to nautical charts, at the last known location of the airplane, the water is less than 100 feet deep during mean low tide. The several rivers that terminate at the inlet are glacier fed, and visibility in the water is often less than 1 foot due to turbidity. The Inlet is an area with strong tidal influence, and strong currents.


The sole occupant has not been recovered, and no medical or pathological information is available.


After the airplane did not arrive in Palmer the following day, family and friends of the missing pilot reported the airplane overdue. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an alert notice on October 14 at 0923 Alaska daylight time. Search personnel from the Civil Air Patrol, Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Air National Guard, and the U.S. Coast Guard, along with several volunteers, were dispatched to conduct an extensive search effort. The official search was suspended on October 21. Family members and volunteers continued to search for the missing airplane.

No emergency transmitter locator (ELT) signal was received by search personnel. The missing airplane was not equipped with, nor required to be equipped with, a digital, 406 MHz ELT that instantly transmits a distress signal to search and rescue satellites, thereby alerting rescue personnel within minutes of the location of the crash. As of February 1, 2009, analog, 121.5 MHz ELT's stopped being monitored by search and rescue satellites, and the installation of the 406 MHz has been voluntary. The missing airplane had an older generation 121.5 MHz ELT installed. Both types of ELT’s can be turned on manually, or automatically, by impact forces.

Search personnel reported that survival time, in water less than 40 degrees F, is typically less than one hour.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska—   Nearly 11 months after a Palmer man and his plane were reported missing en route from Soldotna to Palmer and never found, the discovery of wreckage on a beach near Kodiak may offer closure in the case.

According to Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters, troopers were informed that beachcombers on Sitkinak Island Sept. 4 had found landing gear parts which may be from 27-year-old Brendan Mattingley’s green, red and white Piper PA-18 Super Cub. While they examined the items, they didn’t retrieve them.

“They drug it above shoreline but it’s there -- I’m not aware of anyone with plans to collect it,” Peters said.

Mattingley’s aircraft took off from the Soldotna airport between 8 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 13, headed for the Wolf Lake Airport in Palmer. Its disappearance prompted an eight-day search involving more than 350 flight hours and 50 aircraft, which found neither Mattingley nor his plane before it was suspended.

A preliminary NTSB report says that a radar track identified by investigators as Mattingley’s probable path traces a meandering path north, then ends over Cook Inlet. In statements made to investigators and later released by the NTSB, four witnesses say Mattingley had gotten drunk at a Soldotna bar the night before the crash and was asked to leave, eventually taking a taxi to the airport and being dropped off there on the morning of the crash.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Clint Johnson says he was notified of last week’s discovery by troopers. He says he’s seen photos of the wreckage, and that investigators have been able to identify the serial numbers of some items found on the beach.

“It does appear that it’s from a PA-18 or a Piper-series aircraft,” Johnson said. “It does resemble the paint scheme, but it’s been in the water for a while.”

On Thursday afternoon, Johnson was reviewing documentation on the tundra tires fitted to Mattingley’s plane, required by the FAA for any non-standard aircraft components. While Johnson says non-standard landing gear are “very, very common” in Alaska, the paperwork may help confirm whether the parts once belonged to the missing aircraft.

Johnson says investigators may visit the site of the wreckage if the serial numbers match those from Mattingley’s landing gear. He spoke with Mattingley's father, Ken Mattingley, about the discovery Wednesday.

“It doesn’t change the outcome, but it may change it from a missing (plane) to an actual crash,” Johnson said.

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