Sunday, May 21, 2017

Beech 36 Bonanza, N999CJ: Fatal accident occurred January 20, 2015 in Mountain Pass, San Bernardino County, California

Van Michael Pray and his wife Alberta Sukquan Pray



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

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Las Vegas, Nevada
Textron Aviation; Wichita, Kansas
Continental Motors; Mobile, Alabama

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

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:   https://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms

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

http://registry.faa.gov/N999CJ

NTSB Identification: WPR15FA088
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, January 20, 2015 in Mountain Pass, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/16/2017
Aircraft: BEECH 36, registration: N999CJ
Injuries: 2 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 commercial pilot and one passenger departed on a cross-country flight in dark night visual meteorological conditions to return to their home airport. The pilot established contact with air traffic control (ATC) and climbed the airplane to a cruise altitude of 7,500 ft mean sea level (msl) over sparsely-populated, desert terrain. About 40 minutes into the flight, an ATC controller advised the pilot that the airplane would be passing through an area of known poor radar coverage and that radar contact would be reestablished in several minutes. The pilot acknowledged. Radar data indicated that radar contact was lost for about 7 minutes then was reestablished for about 1 minute before contact was lost again at an altitude of 7,400 ft msl. About 10 minutes after the final loss of radar contact, the ATC controller attempted to advise the pilot that radar contact had not yet been restored; however, the pilot did not respond, and subsequent attempts to contact the pilot were unsuccessful. Despite the loss of radar contact, the pilot would have been able to contact ATC via radio throughout this area; there were no distress calls from the accident airplane. The wreckage was located the next day about 0.4 nm from the airplane's last radar return.

The wreckage was heavily fragmented, consistent with a high-speed impact. Examination of the airframe and engine revealed no anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.

A family member reported that the pilot had an appointment scheduled at home the next day, so he likely felt some pressure to make the flight even though he typically did not fly at night. Although the pilot was instrument-rated, review of his personal logbook revealed no evidence of recent night or instrument flight experience. 

Autopsy and toxicology testing did not reveal any evidence of a medical condition that would have affected the pilot's ability to operate the airplane safely. The dark night conditions, lack of ground lighting in the area of the accident site, and the pilot's lack of recent night and instrument flight experience would have increased the pilot's susceptibility to spatial disorientation, which could have contributed to a loss of control; however, based on the lack of available information about the airplane's final moments of flight, a reason for the loss of control could not be determined.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
An in-flight loss of control for reasons that could not be determined based on available information.

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On January 20, 2015, about 2005 Pacific standard time (PST), a Beech 36, N999CJ, departed cruise flight and impacted desert terrain near Mountain Pass, California. The commercial pilot and one passenger were fatally injured; the airplane was destroyed by impact forces. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot as a 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal cross-country flight. Night visual meteorological (VMC) conditions prevailed in the area, and no flight plan had been filed. The flight departed California City Municipal Airport (L71), California City, California, about 1910 with a planned destination of Henderson Executive Airport (HND), Henderson, Nevada.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control (ATC) radar and voice communication information indicated that the airplane contacted ATC at 1911 after departure from L71. The flight proceeded on course, and climbed to a cruise altitude of 7,500 ft mean sea level (msl). About 1954, an ATC controller advised the pilot that the airplane was passing through an area of poor radar coverage and that they should regain radar contact in several minutes. The pilot acknowledged. About 2001, radar contact was reestablished for about 1 minute before contact was lost again at an altitude of about 7,400 ft msl. At 2014, the controller called the pilot to advise that radar contact had not yet been reestablished; however, the pilot did not respond, and subsequent attempts to contact the pilot were unsuccessful. An Alert Notice (ALNOT), was issued, and a search for the airplane was initiated by the Civil Air Patrol and local law enforcement agencies.

The pilot was carrying a personal GPS locator, which reported its location every 10 minutes until manually turned off or until its battery was depleted. The locator was activated on the night of the accident at 1910. Its signal followed the route of flight, sending GPS locations every 10 minutes until 2001. The following day, the GPS locator sent out two signals, at 1433 and 1713; the wreckage was subsequently located at the location of the signals at an elevation of 3,335 ft msl, about 0.4 nautical miles (nm) northwest of the airplane's last radar return.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

A review of FAA airman records revealed that the 71-year-old pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, single-engine sea, multiengine land, instrument airplane, and glider. The pilot held a third-class FAA medical certificate issued on February 20, 2013, with a limitation that he must wear corrective lenses. The pilot did not report his total flight experience on his application for the medical certificate. On his previous medical certificate application, dated February 2011, the pilot reported 15,000 total hours of flight experience.

A review of the pilot's logbook entries from May 19, 2014, until the time of the accident revealed that his last logged flight before the accident flight was on September 4, 2014. The pilot's most recent flight review was completed on April 25, 2014. There were no entries for night flights or for actual or simulated instrument flight. The pilot had owned the airplane since November 25, 2008; however, his total flight time in the accident airplane make and model could not be determined.

The pilot's son reported that the pilot did not normally fly at night, and he was concerned when he received notification from the GPS locator of the flight departing later than its planned afternoon departure. He further stated that the pilot needed to be in Henderson for a doctor's appointment the next morning.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The airplane was manufactured in 1968, and was equipped with a Continental Motors IO-520 series reciprocating engine. Review of the airplane's maintenance logbooks revealed a total airframe time of 5,009.3 hours at the airplane's most recent annual inspection on June 16, 2014. The tachometer read 5,100.2 hours at the accident scene.

The engine total time at the last annual inspection was 1,492.81 hours, and time since major overhaul was 239.41 hours.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

The nearest weather reporting station was a Bureau of Land Management and National Interagency Fire Center weather station located about 17 nm north-northwest of the accident site. At 1951, the station recorded a temperature of 46° C, dew point 32° C, and wind from 131° at 3 knots with gusts to 8 knots.
Review of weather radar imagery revealed that the accident site was located in an extensive area of light reflectivity values, with small, isolated areas of moderate reflectivity values. Infrared satellite imagery identified cloudy conditions at the accident location that corresponded to cloud layers located about 19,200 ft and 26,400 ft. A model sounding for the accident location about the time of the accident indicated that the freezing level was likely about 9,000 ft msl. An AIRMET for moderate ice was valid in the area of the accident site between the freezing level and 22,000 ft. There were no SIGMET advisories valid for the area of accident site at the time of the accident.
About 2020, the pilot of a Cessna 172 flying near the accident site reported strong downdrafts at 10,000 ft msl.
The extent to which the pilot had familiarized himself with the forecast weather conditions for the flight could not be determined, since there was no record of the pilot obtaining a weather briefing from an official, access-controlled source. Earlier on the day of the accident, the pilot contacted Lockheed Martin Flight Service to request information about a potential temporary flight restriction at the destination airport; however, no weather information was discussed, and no flight plan was filed at this time.

Astronomical Data

Astronomical data obtained from the United States Naval Observatory for the location of the accident, indicated that on the evening of the accident, sunset occurred at 1658, and the end of civil twilight occurred at 1726. Moonset occurred at 1737.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

Investigators examined the wreckage at the accident scene. The terrain was mostly flat, sandy desert. The first identified point of contact was a ground scar. The debris field was 1,000 feet long, oriented on a magnetic heading of 160°.

The airplane impacted terrain in a left-wing-low attitude. The wingtip slid along the ground until the nose contacted the ground in an approximate 45° nose-low attitude. The airplane was highly fragmented. Major structures observed were the outboard half of the right wing with an attached aileron, the cabin roof, the lower aft cabin and rear fuselage, and tail assembly without elevators. There was no evidence of fire. The separated fuel selector valve was positioned to the left-wing tank. The 406-MHz emergency locator transmitter (ELT) was separated from it mounting plate and was fragmented during the accident sequence.

The engine was separated from the airframe and was found upright next to a small dirt mound about 545 ft from the initial impact crater. The engine crankshaft propeller mounting flange was separated, but remained attached to the propeller. All cylinders remained attached and in place. The alternator face gear was exposed. The engine-driven alternator was separated. The propeller governor was separated, and the governor case was open, exposing the flyweight assembly. The induction air and exhaust systems were impact-separated and not observed.

The 3-bladed propeller was found near the initial impact crater. All three blades remained attached to the damaged propeller hub, and each blade was marked with either an A, B, or C to identify each blade. Blade A was the least damaged and displayed chordwise scratching on the blade face. Paint transfer was noted, and several gouges were noted on the leading edge. Blade B displayed reverse bending along its length. The end of Blade C was separated about 22 inches from the blade shank. The separated portion was not located. Deep scratching was evident across the blade face, and a deep gouge was noted on the trailing edge approximately 12 inches from the blade shank. Rearward bending began about 12 inches from the blade shank.

The wreckage was recovered to a secure storage facility and was examined in further detail on March 10, 2015. Examination revealed no mechanical malfunctions or anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

The San Bernardino County Coroner's office completed an autopsy; the cause of death was listed as massive blunt trauma. 

The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing of specimens of the pilot. Testing was positive for amlodipine, a calcium channel blocker, in lung and muscle tissue; metoprolol, a beta blocker, in lung tissue; and valsartan, an antihypertensive, in lung tissue. The pilot had reported the use of these medications on his most recent FAA medical certificate application.

NTSB Identification: WPR15FA088
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, January 20, 2015 in Mountain Pass, CA
Aircraft: BEECH 36, registration: N999CJ
Injuries: 2 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, 2015, about 2005 Pacific standard time (PST), a Beech 36, N999CJ, impacted desert terrain near Mountain Pass, California. The owner/pilot was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The commercial pilot and one passenger were fatally injured; the airplane was destroyed by impact forces. The cross-country personal flight departed California City, California, about 1910, with a planned destination of Henderson, Nevada. The flight was being operated under night visual meteorological (VMC) conditions, and no flight plan had been filed.

The airplane dropped from radar coverage while flying level at 7,400 feet mean sea level (msl) at 2001. Air traffic controllers had advised the pilot that at his altitude they would lose his flight tracking for 10 to 15 minutes. When the controllers attempted to re-establish communications, they were unsuccessful. The FAA issued an Alert Notice (ALNOT) and a search was initiated by the Civil Air Patrol and local law enforcement agencies.

The pilot was carrying a personal GPS "Spot" locator, which was set to send its location every 10 minutes until turned off or until the battery was depleted. On January 20, 2015, at 1910, the "Spot" locator was activated. Its signal followed the route of the flight, sending GPS locations every 10 minutes until 2001 when the signals ceased. The last location was 6.2 NM southwest of the accident site.

On January 21, 2015, at 1433 and 1713, the spot locator broadcast two new locations. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Aero Bureau was contacted and dispatched a helicopter to the reported location and found the accident site. The accident site was located at the reported "Spot" location at an elevation of 3,335 feet msl. The accident site was .4 NM northwest of the last recorded radar location.

The accident site was located near the Mojave National Preserve, in the Shadow Valley, which is west of the Clark Mountain Range. The site was located on the flat desert terrain 6 NM north of Interstate 15.

Investigators examined the accident site and wreckage at the accident scene. The first identified point of contact (FIPC) was a ground scar and a crater. The debris field was 1,000 feet in length and 65 yards wide, and the path was along a magnetic heading of 160 degrees.  

The wreckage was recovered for further examination.

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