Thursday, November 07, 2013

Penobscot Island Air: Air Taxi Owner Disputes Pilot Error in Matinicus Island, Maine, Plane Crashes - Cessna 207A Stationair 7, N70437 and Cessna U206G, N910TA

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a report last week claiming the Penobscot Island Air pilot was at fault in an October 2011 plane crash on Matinicus. The pilot, Don Campbell, was delivering groceries to the island when he died in the crash that resulted from a gusty crosswind that forced the Cessna 207A into a sharp banking dive to the right as he was attempting to land. According to the report, the crash was a result of the pilot's failure to maintain control during the approach when the plane was struck by a strong gust.

Kevin Waters, the owner of Penobscot Island Air, disputes pilot error.

"I do not concur that Don was careless," said Waters. "It was a windy day, but Don had been in and out of Matinicus that day. Microbursts are rare, but they do happen. If you are 2,000 feet up, you have time to recover. If you are 80 feet up, you don't."

According to the NTSB report, a witness who was at a house near the runway saw the plane approach in a normal position for landing, then a "queer gust of wind" hit, knocking plants off the porch. The witness reported that the wind had been gusty all day, but the one that hit as the plane approached was strong and abrupt.

Campbell was alone in the plane when it crashed.

Waters said he would not have been able to do anything different if he had been piloting the plane.

Pilot error was also cited by the NTSB in a report they issued last year on another Penobscot Island Air accident that occurred just after takeoff from Matinicus. After the plane climbed 200 feet it began losing power. Pilot Robert Hoffman switched to auxiliary fuel with no results, then turned into the wind and ditched the Cessna 206G in the ocean.

The NTSB report concluded that the "physical evidence indicates that the engine lost power as a result of fuel starvation due to the position of the fuel selector on the empty right tank." Their conclusion was based on the evidence that the right fuel tank was filled with sea water and one pint of fuel, while the left tank had about 27 gallons of fuel. The caps on both tanks were secure when the plane was recovered five days after the accident on the ocean floor in 80 feet of water.
Waters again disputes the NTSB conclusion that the right fuel tank was empty, noting that Hoffman had refueled the plane before takeoff and that the NTSB did not inspect the plane themselves, but relied on information submitted remotely.

In fact, the accident report states at the beginning that NTSB inspectors may not have traveled to investigate the accident, instead relying on data supplied by others.

Waters said the reason the right fuel tank was full of water, not fuel, was likely because it was damaged, noting that Hoffman, who was a retired commercial airline pilot with over 25,000 hours of flight experience, did precisely the right thing when the plane failed: he turned the nose into the wind and landed or "ditched" the plane in the ocean. Hoffman and the three passengers escaped the aircraft and waited for rescue, which was initiated by Penobscot Island Air when the Cessna pilot did not do a routine 15-minute check-in.

One passenger was seriously injured in the crash.

The NTSB report agrees with Waters that Hoffman and Penobscot Island Air followed standard procedures during the rescue, but states that the captain had failed to do a standard safety talk prior to takeoff or inform passengers that personal flotation devices were onboard the aircraft.

Since the accidents occurred in 2011, Penobscot Island Air has implemented several changes to their general operating procedures, according to the NTSB, including modifying all planes with emergency location devices that will contact the base in an emergency and mandating that all pilots attend an offshore survival training course in addition to their usual flight training for operating what are essentially bush planes out to the islands, where variable winds and short and unpaved runways are standard. Passengers are now also offered the opportunity to wear an inflatable personal flotation device while en route.

Waters said he has no plan to appeal the NTSB report issued last week, noting that the cost to do so was prohibitive.



NTSB Identification: ERA12FA007
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Wednesday, October 05, 2011 in Matinicus Island, ME
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/29/2013
Aircraft: CESSNA 207A, registration: N70437
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.

About the time of departure, the wind at the departure airport was reported to be from 330 degrees at 13 knots with gusts to 22 knots. The pilot departed with an adequate supply of fuel for the intended 15-minute cargo flight to a nearby island. He entered a left traffic pattern to runway 36 at the destination airport and turned onto final approach with 30 degrees of flaps extended. Witnesses on the island reported that, about this time, a sudden wind gust from the west occurred. A witness (a fisherman by trade) at the airport estimated the wind direction was down the runway at 35 to 40 knots, with slightly higher wind gusts. After the sudden wind gust, he noted the airplane suddenly bank to the right about 80 degrees and begin descending. It impacted trees and powerlines then the ground. The same witness reported the engine sound was steady during the entire approach and at no time did he hear the engine falter. About 30 minutes before the accident, a weather observing station located about 6 nautical miles south-southeast of the accident site indicated the wind from the north-northwest at 24 knots, with gusts to 27 knots. About 30 minutes after the accident, the station indicated the wind from the northwest at 30 knots, with gusts to 37 knots.

Postaccident examination of the airplane, its systems, and engine revealed no evidence of preimpact failures or malfunctions that would have precluded normal operation. The evidence is consistent with the airplane’s encounter with a gusty crosswind that led to the airplane’s right bank and the pilot’s loss of control, resulting in an accelerated stall.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot’s failure to maintain airplane control during the approach after encountering a gusty crosswind, which resulted in an accelerated stall and uncontrolled descent.

NTSB Identification: ERA11LA405
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Sunday, July 17, 2011 in Matinicus Island, ME
Probable Cause Approval Date: 11/07/2012
Aircraft: CESSNA U206G, registration: N910TA
Injuries: 1 Serious,3 Minor.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
After takeoff from the island airport for the air taxi flight, the pilot made the initial power reduction when the airplane was at an estimated 200 feet above the ocean. At that time, the engine lost total power, and the pilot ditched the airplane. The pilot and the three passengers were able to exit the airplane before it sank. For about 1 hour until rescuers reached them, they held onto a section of the airplane’s belly cargo pod that had separated during the water impact. At the time of the wreckage recovery, the left and right fuel tank filler caps were found securely installed. The fuel selector was found in the right fuel tank position. About 25 gallons of sea water and 1 pint of aviation fuel were drained from the right fuel tank. About 27 gallons of aviation fuel and 2 gallons of sea water were drained from the left tank. Examination of the wreckage did not reveal any discrepancies that would have prevented normal operation of the airplane. The physical evidence indicates that the engine lost power as a result of fuel starvation due to the position of the fuel selector on the empty right tank.

The operator required the pilot to provide the passengers a safety briefing before takeoff. However, none of the passengers were briefed or were aware that life vests were onboard the airplane. If a piece of wreckage had not been available for the passengers to hold on to, the failure of the pilot to notify the passengers of the availability of life vests could have increased the severity of the accident. As a result of the accident, the operator made numerous safety changes including mandating that the pilot read out loud a pre-takeoff briefing referencing the onboard passenger briefing guide card and offering all passengers a personal flotation device to wear during flights.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot’s improper fuel management, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation.

(Courtesy of: Fields Dive Service )
The plane’s damaged nose and landing gear in 92 feet of water. 

The plane is lifted clear of the water.
(Courtesy of: Fields Dive Service) 

The plane's landing gear and engine compartment had the most apparent damage.

At Prock Marine's North End facility in Rockland, Investigator Rich Eilinger of the Federal Aviation Administration's Flight Standards District Office in Portland discusses the plane with members of the Prock Marine crew.  

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