Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Cessna 182H Skylane, N1839X: Fatal accident occurred December 26, 2016 in Gatlinburg, Sevier County, Tennessee

Three people died in a plane crash headed from north Florida to Tennessee just after Christmas last year. Now, the Federal Aviation Administration may be found culpable in their deaths, if a recent suit filed against them is found to have merit.

David Starling, 41, his 8-year-old son Hunter and 42-year-old Kim Smith died when the Cessna 182H Skylane aircraft Starling was flying crashed into an unnamed ridge in the Great Smoky mountains. The trio is from Bradford County and they were going on vacation.

First Coast News has learned surviving family members have filed papers with the Federal Aviation Administration arguing air traffic controllers failed to monitor the flight and are to blame for the crash.

Reports released since the crash say weather conditions in the area were poor and suggest the pilot wasn't flying with the correct instrumentation. The family was flying in a Cessna 182H Skylane aircraft when they went down. They were headed from Keystone Heights to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the day after Christmas.

Kim Smith's adult son says he didn't like the idea.

"Mom told me they were thinking about it," says Garrett Smith. "I told her I wished they'd just drive."

In new documents filed with the Federal Aviation Administration, Smith claims the air traffic controllers failed to monitor the plane's altitude. The claim says when the plane went off radar it was below the minimum allowed altitude - flying at 5,400 feet abeam Mounte Conte, which was almost 1,200 feet higher.

It says an air traffic controller failed to ask the pilot if he could see the terrain in sight or had appropriate flight instruments for the conditions and was required to do so. This matters because the pilot wasn't using a radar. Starling was instead flying under Visual Flight Rules - permissible when weather conditions are good and a pilot can fly a plane with the naked eye.

The filing says after the plane disappeared from radar - and had likely crashed in the Great Smokey Mountains - an air traffic controller asked the plane to switch to the local airport frequency.

It says the tower never got a response from the plane and made no additional attempts to contact it. The first hint of disaster came from an emergency locator beacon.

Lieutenant Colonel Evan Gardner runs the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, a small but important group that coordinates efforts to find lost civilian planes all over the country.

"The g-force of the crash caused [the emergency beacon] to go off and the satellite picked it up," Gardner says.

When trying to find the lost plane, Gardner says his group uses any tool they can get their hands on. "Our primary tool is actually Google Earth," he explains. "We go in and make overlays so we can track all of the resources."

From a small room, a group of four to six airmen activate and coordinate planes, helicopters and search teams anywhere in the U.S. They work multiple cases at the same time.

Last year, this unit investigated 8,000 emergency beacons - only 10 percent end up with someone in distress.

Major Sarah Hendrick worked the Starling case. "Our radar forensics and our cell phone forensics were our most useful pieces of information for this particular investigation," she says. Hendrick combined the final radar blip of the plane with signals from Smith and Starling's cell phones.

"It was a very dangerous location too because of the terrain," she explains. "It was mountainous and there were no trails that led directly to where we believed the aircraft to be."

She dispatched a civil air patrol surveillance plane and specially trained park rangers. New reports filed with the Federal Aviation Administration say a helicopter ultimately found the crash site.

"I wish I would have known so we could have fished one more time or I could have talked to her a little bit more," Garrett says of his mother. He traveled to Tennessee after the plane went missing and he hadn't heard from his mother.

In his filings with the FAA, he says failures by controllers to provide radar assistance and keep the plane clear of the mountain caused or contributed to his mother's death.

"Not a day goes by I don't think about her or talk to her," he says. "Mom and I were best friends by far."

The National Transportation Safety Board has not released their final report on the crash. We reached out to the Federal Aviation Administration for a comment on the claim filed but they haven't gotten back to us. The plane was taken from the mountainside for further investigation.

Source:  http://www.firstcoastnews.com

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office: Nashville, Tennessee

Continental Motors, Inc.; Mobile, Alabama

Joseph D. Starling:   http://registry.faa.gov/N1839X

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report  -  National Transportation Safety Board:  https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

NTSB Identification: ERA17FA073
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, December 26, 2016 in Gatlinburg, TN
Aircraft: CESSNA 182, registration: N1839X
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. 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 December 26, 2016, about 1602 eastern standard time, a Cessna 182H, N1839X, was destroyed when it collided with mountainous terrain during descent for landing to Gatlinburg Pigeon Forge Airport (GKT), Sevierville, Tennessee. The private pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight, which was conducted under the provisions of Title14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The airplane departed Keystone Airpark (42J), Keystone Heights, Florida, about 1300.

Preliminary information from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed the airplane was receiving visual flight rules flight-following services and was at 9,500 feet when the pilot requested a descent for landing at GKT. At 1554, the controller approved the descent and issued an altimeter setting. Radar data depicted a descent on a ground track of about 340 degrees, directly toward GKT, between 130 and 150 knots groundspeed.

At 1558, about 20 miles from GKT, the airplane descended below the minimum vectoring altitude of 8,000 feet. The airplane continued its descent on the same ground track and about the same speed. At 1602, the radar target was at 5,400 feet, and abeam the peak of Mt. Conte (elevation 6,500 feet) when the radar target disappeared.

At that time, the controller issued the airplane a radio frequency change to the GKT common traffic advisory frequency and terminated radar services. No reply was received from the accident airplane and no further attempts to contact the airplane were made.

The wreckage was located by helicopter at an elevation of 5,400 feet in steep, mountainous terrain about the same position as the last radar target.
The wreckage was examined at the accident site by an FAA inspector. All major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene; however, because of the hazardous conditions at the site, a brief photo-documentation of the wreckage was performed before it was recovered by helicopter for a detailed examination at a later date.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. He was issued a third-class medical certificate on December 3, 2013, and he reported 12 total hours of flight experience on that date.

The pilot was issued his private pilot certificate on April 1, 2014, with 45.3 total hours of flight experience. On April 27, 2016, the pilot reported to his insurance carrier that he had accrued 272 total hours of flight experience, 219 hours of which were in the accident airplane.

The four-seat, single-engine, high-wing, fixed-gear airplane was manufactured in 1964, and equipped with a Continental O-470-R series, 230-horsepower reciprocating engine. According to the airplane's maintenance records, the most recent annual inspection was completed on October 5, 2015, at 2,595 total aircraft hours.

At 1615, the weather reported at GKT; located 15 miles north of the accident site, included few clouds at 4,600 feet and calm wind. The temperature was 18 degrees C, the dew point was 13 degrees C, and the altimeter setting was 30.30 inches of mercury.

Airmen's meteorological information (AIRMET) Sierra was in effect along the airplane's route of flight for mountain obscuration. Satellite imagery showed instrument flight rules conditions with cloud tops between 6,000 and 7,000 feet in the area surrounding the accident site and southward.

At 1545, about the time the airplane passed overhead, the weather reported at Macon County Airport (2,034 feet elevation), Franklin, North Carolina, about 25 miles south of the accident site included scattered clouds at 700 feet, a broken ceiling at 1,200 feet, and an overcast cloud layer at 2,400 feet. The visibility was 4 statute miles in fog.

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email eyewitnessreport@ntsb.gov, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email assistance@ntsb.gov.

The pilot of the local plane that crashed in the Tennessee mountains on Monday did not have the proper license to make the low-visibility flight he was attempting.

The crash killed all three people on board: the pilot David Starling, his 8-year-old son Hunter Starling and Starling’s girlfriend Kim Smith.

The Tennessee Army National Guard discovered the wreckage on Tuesday in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

“This is, unfortunately, a classic case of a pilot who is in weather conditions and in terrain for which he is not really licensed,” said aeronautical expert Wayne Ziskal.

A retired American Airlines captain and military pilot with decades of experience, Ziskal is now an assistant professor of aeronautics at Jacksonville University.

According to FAA records, Starling had a private pilot’s license for a single engine plane, but was not “instrument rated.”

That means he was licensed to fly and navigate using visual references in good visibility conditions; he was not licensed to fly in poor visibility conditions where he would need to rely solely on instruments on board to navigate.

“When you are searching for an airport and you don’t have an instrument rating, which means you can fly an instrument approach in weather that you can’t see the ground, you have a tendency…to get lower and lower trying to see the airport and maintain visual contact with the ground. And unfortunately the clouds sometimes hide the terrain,” said Ziskal.

The Action News Jax First Alert Weather team said it was overcast with low hanging clouds and mist during Starling’s flight over the mountains on Monday afternoon.

Starling did not file a flight plan with the FAA.

“The threat in this case would be a cross-country flight into marginal weather, without an instrument rating, with high terrain, in the winter time. All the threats are there,” said Ziskal.
NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said investigators will spend the next three-to-five days at the crash site gathering information.

“They’ll try to preserve what we call perishable evidence. That would include non-volatile memory, electronic devices such as GPS units or phones. They’ll document the wreckage scene and accident area for any physical clues,” said Weiss.

Weiss said investigators will also interview any witnesses and examine radar data, air traffic control recordings and weather data.

The full investigation could take more than a year.

“The NTSB does a very, very thorough and lengthy investigation into finding out what happened, to prevent accidents like this from happening in the future and come up with any safety recommendations,” said Weiss.

The Tennessee Army National Guard began recovery operations at the crash site on Wednesday morning.

The wreckage of the plane is on a very steep mountain side and could be at risk of sliding. That’s why the National Guard is using teams that specialize in high-angle recoveries.

Since then, a GoFundMe account has been created for the son's mother while she and the family make funeral arrangements for the son. 

Story and video:   http://www.actionnewsjax.com

Hunter Starling

Hunter Starling and his mom

After hearing of the deadly plane crash in the Great Smoky Mountains, a Tennessee couple that heard the crash is speaking out.

Authorities said they found the wreckage Tuesday.

“When I first heard the motor, it freaked me out,"  said Victoria Kay, who heard the plane before it crashed.  "It didn’t sound like a helicopter. It sounded like a small engine aircraft."

Little did Kay know at the time, the small aircraft was the same one that David Starling, his 8-year-old son Hunter Starling and his girlfriend Kim Smith were in.

The plane left Lawtey in Bradford County Monday and later lost all communication near Tennessee. Kay and her boyfriend Sam Rue were hiking the Great Smoky Mountains when they first saw the plane.

“In the distance, I said, 'Look, that might be a fire out there.' Because there were so many different clouds, I thought maybe it was just fog. I didn’t see black smoke, but some white smoke,” Rue said.

On Wednesday, Action News Jax spoke exclusively to the couple who recorded a video of the area where they last saw the plane.

“It was strange to hear an aircraft and the timing. It just seems like we heard them as they were going down,” Kay said. Crews searched and found the plane's for the wreckage with no survivors. 

Action News Jax learned Wednesday that David Starling didn’t have the proper license to make the low-visibility flight he was attempting,

“The clouds were really rolling in and it was blowing hard," Kay said. "If they were trying to clear that and then try to get over those mountains, they were going to have a hard time."

The couple said they contacted Action News Jax to reach Hunter’s mother so they could answer any questions she may have. They hoped to provide some closure.

Story and video:  http://www.actionnewsjax.com

 David Starling, his 8-year-old son Hunter, and Kim Smith.

LAWTEY, Fla. - A search for a single-engine plane with a man, woman and an 8-year-old boy from Bradford County, Florida, believed to be on board ended in tragedy Tuesday when the plane's wreckage was found with no survivors, according to a report from WATE in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

The plane, which disappeared Monday afternoon in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, was found Tuesday on an unnamed ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch, WATE reported.

Officials told WATE that paramedics were hoisted down to the scene and found that no one had survived. The identities of the victims have not been confirmed.

Authorities said recovery efforts would begin Wednesday. There is no word on the cause of the crash.

According to the Florida Aviation Administration, the Cessna 182 aircraft was expected at Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport, and when family members notified the FAA that the flight never arrived, an alert notice was issued at 7:35 p.m. A reconnaissance flight with the Civil Air Patrol focused on an area in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, about 15 miles south-southeast of the airport, but nothing was found.

The National Park Service said Tuesday that a signal from the plane's emergency locator transmitter led ground searchers to the area of Bearpen Hollow Branch, where the wreckage was later located by a Blackhawk helicopter, WATE reported.

Because no flight plan was filed, authorities didn't know which airport the plane left from Monday morning, but News4Jax learned from family members that David Starling, Kim Smith and Hunter Starling took off about noon Monday.

"Just waiting and not knowing anything is what's really hard right now," said Samantha Hodges, Smith's cousin, before reports surfaces that the plane had been found.

Family said David Starling is a pilot who served in the Air Force and went into the logging business when he returned to Bradford County. News4Jax found a record of a Cessna 182H owned by a Joseph Starling in Lawtey.

Hodges said Smith spoke to her family moments before the flight went missing.

"They were about 13 minutes away from landing. That was the last time they spoke to her, and she hasn't been heard from since," Hodges said. 

Aviation expert Ed Booth said the plane would have been flying about 155 mph at about 8,000 feet because of the mountains, and north Florida to Tennessee is within the plane's 700-mile range, if it was fully fueled. About 15 to 20 miles from his destination, the pilot would make preparations for a landing.

“He would be descending towards the airport in mountainous terrain. This is a little more challenging," Booth said. "He would be slowing the airplane down; he would be checking the checklist, such as: assuring the aircraft was configured for the landing in terms of the fuel systems, in terms of the flaps, lighting, communicating on the radio to aircraft in the area.”

Booth said that the forest canopy makes wreckage hard to spot from above.

“We don’t know how much experience this pilot had in mountain flying," Booth said. "The disappearance may be explained by a mechanical malfunction. That can be a mechanical failure of the engine, (it) could have run out of gas, any number of explanations here."

Family members said the couple goes to Tennessee every year after Christmas. According to a Facebook post, they were planning this trip to help victims of the recent fires in the Gatlinburg area.

Hunter attends third grade at Northside Christian Academy in Starke.

Members of the Starling family did not want to give an interview, but said they were concerned about David and his son. 

Kim Smith’s family held a prayer vigil at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in High Springs.

Source:   http://www.news4jax.com

GATLINBURG (WATE) – Officials say they have located the wreckage of a plane that went missing over the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and there were no survivors.

The National Park Service says the plane was found Tuesday afternoon on an unnamed ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch. Paramedics were hoisted down to the scene and discovered no one on the plane had survived. The identities of the victims have not been confirmed. Recovery efforts are set to begin Wednesday.

A release from park officials says they received a report around 7:35 p.m. that a missing single-engine airplane might have gone down southwest of Mount LeConte Lodge. The Federal Aviation Administration issued an alert notice during the night saying that the plane was a Cessna 182 fixed wing single-engine aircraft.

There were three people on board. Family members tell WATE 6 On Your Side David Starling, 41; Kim Smith, 42; and Hunter Starling, 8, left on the plane at noon on Monday.

The FAA says the flight was heading to Gatlinburg–Pigeon Forge Airport from Jacksonville, Florida.

The FAA alert was issued after a family member notified the agency that the flight didn’t arrive. Information from McGhee Tyson Airport’s tower radar and the plane’s emergency locator transmitter was used to find the area. The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center says the plane was in contact with air traffic controllers at McGhee Tyson. There is no more information on the conversations.

Ground teams searched the area near Bearpen Hollow Branch and southwest of the Bullhead Trail on Tuesday. The wreckage was finally spotted from a single Blackhawk helicopter.

Source:   http://wate.com

Crews are searching for three people from the Jacksonville area including an 8-year-old boy after their plane apparently crashed near the Great Smoky Mountains.

Hunter Starling, 8, his father David Starling and his girlfriend Kim Smith were on board a small aircraft that was reported missing Tuesday in Tennessee.

Hunter's mom asked for prayers for the three of them on Facebook. 

"Please pray for my baby. He is missing and his dad and girlfriend also! Please pray..." she wrote.

Smith has one son, who is helping search for his mother and the Starlings, friends told Action News Jax.

Smith's friends said they are planning a prayer event Tuesday night at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it issued an Alert Notice Monday night advising public safety agencies and the U. S. National Park Service that the Cessna-182 aircraft was about 15 miles south-southeast of Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport.

The National Park Service confirmed its search for the missing plane in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The flight was headed to Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport from Jacksonville, FAA said. The plane is registered to David Starling, according to the FAA registry.

The FAA issued the search alert when a concerned family member notified the agency that the flight didn't arrive as expected. 

The National Park Service released a statement saying the single-engine plane probably went down somewhere in the ridges southwest of Mount LeConte Lodge on Dec. 26.

Civil Air patrol conducted an aerial search Monday, but had no success.

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center was able to use information from McGhee Tyson Airport tower radar and the plane’s emergency locator transmitter to determine a specific area where the plane is most likely located, the National Park Service said in the statement.  

The flight had originated out of Florida and was bound for the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport.

The AFRCC has reported that the plane was in conversations with air traffic controllers at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, but there is no additional information on these conversations at this time. Information on passengers on board has not been confirmed.

Source:  http://www.actionnewsjax.com

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK - East Tennessee authorities are working to locate a missing plane that potentially went down in the ridges southwest of Mount LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Park officials said Tuesday that the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center has determined a specific area where the plane is most likely located.  

Ground search teams were deployed on Tuesday to Bearpen Hollow Branch and areas southwest of the Bullhead Trail to search for signs of the plane. 

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the Cessna 182 about 4:30 p.m. Monday as it flew about 15 miles south-southeast of Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA issued an alert after a family member notified the agency that the flight, from the Jacksonville, Fla. area, didn't arrive as expected. 

According to family friends, David Starling, his 8-year-old son Hunter and Kim Smith were on the flight and are all missing. 

Officials said the Civil Air Patrol conducted an aerial recon flight late Monday to try and locate the plane using its emergency locator transmitter, but couldn't find any transmissions from the aircraft. 

The park is coordinating with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to do a reconnaissance flight over the search area, once weather allows. 

No evidence of the plane has been found within the national park.

The fact that controllers lost contact doesn't mean the plane crashed. It's possible the plane had a technical problem and continued on its way and made a safe landing.

Source:   http://www.wbir.com


Anonymous said...

This is a tragedy that didn't need to happen. A low time pilot flying into mountainous terrain in winter conditions without an instrument rating. His medical was over a year expired, and the plane was more than a year out of annual. None of those items may have contributed to the accident, but they are an indication of this pilots preparation and attitude towards flying. Sad for the innocent involved.

Anonymous said...

I was flying a similar route as the accident plane, on the same day at the same time. As I descended into KGKT, the weather wasn't marginal enough that I needed to shoot the RNAV into the airport. I cancelled with Knoxville approach once I had the airport in sight, about 10 miles south. I never saw the accident aircraft, or heard them on the CTAF. When I landed, the family members were waiting for the accident aircraft at the FBO, which at the time no one knew it had just crashed. Sad situation for all.