Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Starduster Too, N5462: Fatal accident occurred September 03, 2007 in Verona, Kentucky

NTSB Identification: NYC07LA212
The docket is stored in the Docket Management System (DMS). Please contact Records Management Division
Accident occurred Monday, September 03, 2007 in Verona, KY
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/26/2008
Aircraft: Schrack Starduster Too, registration: N5462
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot/owner was giving rides in the experimental amateur-built airplane and the accident flight was the third flight of the day. The witnesses remarked that during the passenger swap after the second flight, the engine sounded "rough," and was "popping" and "sputtering." and "almost stalled," before it ran smoothly again. Another witness communicated with the pilot by hand-held radio, and they both believed the sputtering was the result of a fouled spark plug. The pilot announced he would "burn it off," then "blackish/grey smoke puffed" from the exhaust during taxi. The pilot then performed a magneto check prior to takeoff, announced that the airplane "sounds good" over the radio, and began the takeoff roll. During liftoff the airplane pitched up, followed by a sharp left descending turn into trees. Examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical anomalies.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot's failure to maintain airspeed during initial climb. Contributing to the accident was the inadvertent stall.

History of the Flight

On September 3, 2007, at 1534 eastern daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Starduster Too, N5462, was destroyed during collision with trees and a postcrash fire after takeoff from Ryan Field (7KY2), Verona, Kentucky. The certificated commercial pilot/owner and passenger were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local personal flight that was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

During interviews with a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, several witnesses said the pilot was giving rides to members of a wedding party that had gathered for a rehearsal dinner event, and that the accident flight was the third flight performed by the pilot.

The witnesses remarked that during the passenger swap after the second flight, the engine sounded "rough," and was "popping" and "sputtering." One witness said that as the airplane began its taxi for takeoff, the engine "sputtered again and almost stalled," before it ran smoothly again. Another witness communicated with the pilot by handheld radio. He also heard the popping sound and discussed it with the pilot. They both believed the sputtering was the result of a fouled spark plug, and the pilot announced he would "burn it off."

The witness said a "blackish/gray smoke puffed" from the exhaust during taxi, and that the pilot performed a magneto check prior to takeoff. The pilot announced that the airplane "sounds good" over the radio and began the takeoff roll.

The description of the takeoff, and a sharp, left descending turn into trees was fairly consistent among all of the witness statements. One witness stated that the airplane started to turn left before the engine stopped running, and the airplane "nosed over" into the trees. Another said, "...the nose suddenly pitched 90 degrees straight up..." then the airplane rolled left, hung in the air, and then "plunged" straight down and out of view.

One of the guests was a critical care nurse who responded immediately to the scene. As she administered first aid, the pilot stated that the airplane "started to veer to the left and then inverted, [and] while inverted veered right and crashed into the woods." The pilot only described the event, he did not explain it.

Personnel Information

The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with a rating for airplane multi-engine, and a commercial pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land. According to FAA records and a union representative for the pilot's employer, the pilot had accrued an estimated 8,700 total hours of flight experience, of which 50 hours were in the same make and model as the accident airplane. His most recent first-class FAA medical certificate was issued in July 2007.

Airplane Information

According to FAA records, the airplane was manufactured in 1972, but a determination of total aircraft hours could not be made. The aircraft logbooks were reportedly onboard the airplane at the time of the accident and were consumed by fire. FAA records further showed that at various times throughout its early history, the airplane was restricted from aerobatic flight in the Operations Limitations published by the FAA for the airplane.

A previous owner of the airplane said it was a "one-off," that there were no others like it, and he estimated that the airplane had accrued 950 total aircraft hours at the time of the accident. He further stated that the airplane was later certified by the FAA for "unlimited" aerobatic flight, and was "certified" plus or minus 12 g's.

Meteorological Information

At 1552, the weather reported at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, 15 miles north, included visibility 10 miles, clear skies, and winds from 320 degrees at 5 knots. The temperature was 34 degrees Celsius, and the dew point was 7 degrees Celsius. The density altitude was about 3,200 feet.

Wreckage and Impact Information

The FAA inspector examined the airplane at the site on September 4, 2007, and all major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene. The initial impact point was in treetops above the wreckage. The wreckage was contained at the point of ground contact, and was completely consumed by fire. Control cable continuity was established from the cockpit area to the flight control surfaces. The engine and propeller were mostly intact. One propeller blade was bent aft, and the other was mostly undamaged.

The Lycoming IO-360-A4A MOD engine was examined under the supervision of the FAA inspector. The engine was "experimental" due to modifications that were made after it left the Lycoming Engine factory. The crankshaft could only be rotated through approximately 15 degrees of travel due to impact damage. Disassembly of the engine revealed no evidence of preimpact anomalies or deficiencies. All rotating parts were intact and showed nominal wear. The magnetos were destroyed by fire, as were the fuel tank and fuel selector.

Medical and Pathological Information

The pilot received serious injuries and died 30 days after the accident, The pilot was unable to give any additional information to investigators other than what was said to initial responders to the accident scene.

The passenger received fatal injuries.

Additional Information

According to FAA Advisory Circular AC-20-27D, Certification and Operation of Amateur-Built Aircraft:

"…..FAA inspections of amateur-built aircraft have been limited to ensuring the use of acceptable workmanship methods, techniques, practices, and issuing operating limitations necessary to protect persons and property not involved in this activity."

WALTON – Nearly seven years ago, experienced airline pilot Rod Tarter took off in his own personal stunt plane, giving a passenger a ride over the nearby countryside on Labor Day – one day before a big family wedding. 

Less than 30 seconds later, the Starduster Too plane was a pile of flaming wreckage, Tarter's passenger Evan Ryan was dead and Tarter himself was burned over 80 percent of his body. After fighting to hold on for 30 days, Tarter died, leaving behind his wife, Ginny, and two small daughters.

But to this day, no one is really sure what brought down the biplane that Tarter purchased the previous year for about $35,000 – closing the deal while in the hospital following the birth of his second daughter. And Ginny Tarter is resigned to the fact that it will probably remain that way.

"I've absolutely had nagging doubts, but now I am convinced that it was engine failure," said Tarter, who is now raising the couple's two young daughters alone. "But I'm not going to go back and do anything to prove it. ... I've moved on and needed to put it all behind me."

The Sept. 3, 2007, crash's unresolved status is not uncommon among small plane crashes nationally, according to small plane/helicopter crash data compiled by USA TODAY as part of a national investigation.

In fact, the data show that the National Transportation Safety Board actually visited a crash scene or did "a significant amount of investigative work" in only 15 percent of the 64,000 general aviation crashes between 1982 and 2013. That was the case for the Tarter crash; the investigation was actually done by an official from the Federal Aviation Administration and not the NTSB as is the case with most small plane crashes.

The USA TODAY report also found that the NTSB seeks little information about the cause of injuries, thereby ignoring "crashworthiness" (or how a plane protects occupants during a crash) and issues such as improper fuel tank placement or fuel tanks that rupture too easily.

In addition, the investigation found that there are often conflicts when it comes to reporting the causes, as well as disclosing unknown manufacturing flaws in many small planes. And finally, investigators listed "pilot error" as the main or contributing cause in 86 percent of the crashes nationally, but that a wide array of defects persisted for years as manufacturers covered up problems, lied to federal regulators and failed to remedy known malfunctions.

Some defective parts remained in use for decades because manufacturers refused to acknowledge or recall suspect parts, or issued a limited recall. Manufacturers involved have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements that have been sealed or received no public attention. They do not have to be disclosed to all regulators, the USA TODAY study found.

Ginny Tarter said she had too much to deal with with two small children, battling for life insurance settlements and what she calls "family issues" following the crash to have considered pursuing such a lawsuit or getting to the bottom of what happened to her husband and his passenger.

"I had a baby and an 8-year-old and my husband was in the hospital for 30 days before he died," Ginny Tarter said.

Tarter's crash was one of only three local incidents listed in the USA TODAY data, which found that nearly 45,000 people have died in such crashes, nearly 10 times the number who have died in airline crashes. In addition, there were two lawsuits filed against aircraft makers stemming from crashes elsewhere that killed Cincinnati natives. Both occurred in 1997, with one crash taking place in California and the other in Hillsboro, Ohio.

Overall, 20 crashes of homemade planes occurred in Ohio since 1978, including one fatal crash in Middletown in 1994. Nine more occurred in Kentucky during that time, including the Verona crash. And 15 occurred in Indiana, but none locally in either state.

There were four medical helicopter crashes in Ohio since 1978, including one nonfatal incident in Cincinnati in 2000. Kentucky saw four such incidents, while there were five in Indiana – none were local in either state. The USA TODAY data also included helicopter fires: There was one in Kentucky and two in Ohio since 1978, but none were local.

One reason Ginny Tarter remains convinced engine failure caused her late husband's crash is the large hole she says she saw in the engine wreckage. But no description of such damage was included in the final NTSB report, which also did not include a final cause for the accident.

"I never did get an explanation about (the engine damage), or any acknowledgment that anyone else saw what I saw," she said.

The report only listed eyewitness accounts and interviews with the plane's previous owner. There was a report of smoke and a rough-sounding engine prior to the fateful takeoff – although Rod Tarter apparently checked the plane's magneto and radioed that it was just oil that needed to be burned off the spark plug. The fateful flight was Tarter's third of the day, and immediately after takeoff, the plane veered to the left and the engine cut out and plunged into a grove of trees. The plane took off from a private runway in Verona, right next to where the Tarters had just built a new home.

The NTSB report did cite an FAA regulation stating that FAA inspections of such private "amateur-built" aircraft are only limited to "ensuring the use of acceptable workmanship methods, techniques, practices, and issuing operating limitations necessary to protect persons and property not involved in this activity."

Ginny Tarter said she has no regrets about her husband's purchase of the plane. Her husband had been a commercial airline pilot for now-defunct Comair for 10 years prior to the crash and had logged about 8,700 hours of flight time, according to the final NTSB report. He also logged 50 hours in the model of the plane he was flying at the time, the report said.

"He just loved to fly ... and I knew he knew what he was doing," Ginny said. "I wasn't going to deny him that."

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1 comment:

  1. Did the writer of the last article really question the widowed woman about trying to bring some kind of litigation to something or someone???? Are you kidding me? This was a experimental airplane with a experimental lycoming engine. Not that being a experimental had anything to do with the crash, most are as good and some better than certified airplanes.Is the question "who am I going to sue" a automatic question that is required after every airplane accident the last 40 years? Men and women pilots do make mistakes and sadly sometimes they are fatal.


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