Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cessna 172, N84754: Fatal accident occurred July 20, 2014 in Littlefield, Mohave County, Arizona

Daulton Whatcott, 19, and Jaxon Whatcott, 16 


Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office: Las Vegas, Nevada

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/N84754

“We were watching the plane and made the comment that it was flying really low and it looked like they were trying to get the plane stable,” Dawn Brents said in an email. “The wind was gusting. … ” Virgin River Gorge, about 4.7 miles north of Littlefield, Arizona, July 20, 2014



NTSB Identification: WPR14FA302
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, July 20, 2014 in Littlefield, AZ
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/03/2017
Aircraft: CESSNA 172K, registration: N84754
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 newly certificated private pilot and his passenger, who was the pilot's brother, were making a personal cross-country flight in a rented airplane. The pilot's parents were making the trip along the same route via automobile and were expecting to meet their sons at the destination. The group was communicating via cell phone and text messaging. The parents, who were ahead of the flight, received a message that, due to wind, the airplane had landed. Although the parents offered to drive back and pick up their sons, the pilot asked that they wait and see if the wind abated. A short time later, the pilot reported that the wind had abated and that he was en route to the destination. 

Along the route to the destination, the highway that the pilot was following passed through a narrow, winding, steep-walled river canyon. A motorist reported seeing the airplane low overhead in the canyon following the highway. As the airplane approached the southwest (exit) end of the canyon, the witness saw the airplane make an abrupt left roll to an inverted position and impact a steep canyon wall. 

Examination of the accident site indicated that the airplane impacted the canyon wall about 100 ft above the level of the highway. Postaccident examination of the airplane confirmed flight control continuity, and signs consistent with the engine producing power at the time of impact were noted. No mechanical anomalies were found. 

The closest weather station, located about 20 miles from the accident site, reported that, near the time of the accident, the wind varied between 200º and 240º at 9 to 17 knots gusting to 27 knots with a peak gust of 31 knots reported about 15 minutes before the accident. It is likely that, as the airplane neared the canyon exit, it encountered high winds entering the narrow canyon from the desert, which rolled the airplane to the left and inverted as the pilot was turning left to follow the highway. Because the pilot was operating the airplane at low altitude and in close proximity to terrain, he was unable to recover before the airplane impacted the canyon wall.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot's failure to maintain airplane control when the airplane encountered high gusting wind while conducting low altitude flight in a narrow canyon, which resulted in an inflight collision with terrain.

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On July 20, 2014, about 1830 mountain standard time, a Cessna 172K airplane, N84754, collided with terrain about 4 miles northeast of Littlefield, Arizona. The airplane was destroyed by impact and a postcrash fire, and the private pilot and the passenger sustained fatal injuries. The airplane was owned by D & G Aircraft Leasing LLC, Bountiful, Utah, and operated by the pilot as a personal cross-country flight under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The airplane departed Beaver Municipal Airport (U52), Beaver, Utah, about 1715, bound for the Mesquite Airport (67L), Mesquite, Nevada, about 140 miles to the southwest. 

According to the pilot's father, the family had planned a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, and the pilot, who had recently obtained his private pilot certificate, wanted to fly the rented club airplane on the trip. The pilot and his brother (the passenger) were going to fly from Bountiful, Utah to Mesquite by following I-15 south, where they would meet both parents, who were driving to Las Vegas. During the trip, the passenger, who was communicating with the parents by cell phone and text messages, informed the parents that, due to the increasing wind, the pilot was landing at U52. Once on the ground, a telephone call was initiated, and the parents, who were ahead of the flight, stated that they would drive back to Beaver and pick up the brothers. The pilot requested that they wait and see what the wind did. The parents said they would wait in Mesquite for further information. A short time later, the pilot called and said that the wind had abated and that they were heading to Mesquite. The airplane did not arrive, and there were no additional communications.

A section of I-15, about 100 miles south of U52 and between St. George, Utah, and Mesquite, follows a canyon cut by the Virgin River. Traveling southwest through the gorge along I-15 toward Mesquite, the steep-walled canyon turns left and then right, just before exiting onto an open high desert plain. A motorist traveling south on I-15 nearing the canyon's end reported that the airplane passed low overhead in the canyon traveling in the same direction as the motorist. The airplane made a left turn following the highway, suddenly rolled inverted, and impacted the canyon wall. The airplane impacted on the south side of the highway about 100 ft above the highway on a steep west-facing canyon wall. 

The pilot did not use any air traffic control services. He did not report any precedent mechanical anomalies to family members when he spoke with them before the airplane departed U52.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot, age 19, held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single engine land rating. The pilot received a first-class medical certificate on December 20, 2012, with no limitations or waivers. No personal flight records were discovered for the pilot, and his aeronautical experience was estimated to be less than 100 total hours.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The airplane was manufactured in 1969 and equipped with a Lycoming O-320 reciprocating engine. A review of maintenance logbooks revealed that the airplane had accrued 11,507 flight hours since new. The airplane had undergone a 100-hour inspection on July 16, 2014. The review of the logbooks revealed no evidence of any airplane maintenance anomalies. 

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

The closest official weather reporting station to the accident site was at the St. George Airport, about 20 miles east of the accident site. Observations taken between 1700 and 1900 showed that the sky was clear, the temperature was in excess of 100° Fahrenheit, and the wind varied between 200º and 240º at 9 to 17 knots with gusts to 27 knots. A peak gust of 31 knots was recorded about 1815.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The airplane impacted near the south end of the Virgin River canyon on a steep west-facing canyon wall on the south side of I-15. The wreckage was about 100 ft above the level of I-15 on a steep rock face with a steep scree slope below.

Examination of the wreckage revealed that the damage signatures were consistent with the airplane impacting the steep slope in a nose-down, wings-level, inverted attitude. The right wing had rotated 180°, had folded over the fuselage, and had come to rest atop the underside of the left wing. The flaps, ailerons, horizontal stabilizer, elevator, vertical stabilizer, and rudder were damaged but intact. The flaps were in the retracted (up) position. All the flight control surfaces had control continuity to the fuselage. The fuselage was consumed by a postcrash fire. 

The engine was separated from the airplane and laid inverted pointed down the slope. The exhaust manifolds showed extreme hot metal folding and bending. The two-bladed fixed pitch propeller had fractured at the hub leaving the engine crankshaft flange intact on the engine. The propeller hub and both blades had fragmented and were scattered about the area. The blade fragments showed extreme torsional twisting and leading edge gouging. 

On August 6, 2014, the airplane was reexamined at a wreckage recovery facility. Flight control continuity was reconfirmed, and no anomalies were noted.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

A postmortem examination of the pilot was completed under the authority of the Mohave County Medical Examiner, Lake Havasu City, Arizona. The pilot's cause of death was attributed to multiple blunt force injuries. 

The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, completed a toxicological examination. No toxicological anomalies were found.
Jaxon Whatcott, 16

Daulton Whatcott, 19




NTSB Identification: WPR14FA302 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, July 20, 2014 in Littlefield, AZ
Aircraft: CESSNA 172K, registration: N84754
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 July 20, 2014, about 1830 mountain standard time, a Cessna 172K Airplane, N84754, was destroyed by a collision with terrain and a postcrash fire, about 4 miles northeast of Littlefield, Arizona. The airplane was owned by D & G Aircraft Leasing LLC, Bountiful, Utah, and operated by the pilot as a visual flight rules (VFR) personal cross-country flight under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and the pilot and sole passenger received fatal injuries. The airplane departed Beaver Municipal Airport (U52), Beaver, Utah, about 1715, bound for Mesquite Airport (67L), Mesquite, Nevada, about 140 miles to the southwest.

The accident site was on a steep northwest facing canyon wall, in the Virgin River gorge. The gorge was cut by the Virgin River, and was the path followed by U. S. Interstate Highway 15 between St. George, Utah, Littlefield, AZ, and the airplane's destination of Mesquite to the southwest. The airplane impacted a canyon wall, about 100 feet above the Highway. Traveling southwest through the gorge along Highway 15 toward Mesquite, the steep-walled canyon turned left and then to the right, just prior to exiting the gorge onto an open high desert plain, east of Littlefield.

The closest official weather reporting station to the accident site was at St. George Airport, about 20 miles east of the accident site. Observations taken between 1800 and 1900 showed that the temperature was in excess of 100 degrees F, and the winds were from 220 degrees true at 16 to 19 knots, with gusts to 23 knots.

A motorist traveling southwest bound on Highway 15 reported that the airplane passed low overhead in the canyon, traveling in the same direction as the motorist. The airplane made a left turn following the highway, and suddenly rolled inverted and impacted the canyon wall. The motorist said the conditions in the canyon were very windy.

On July 21, the accident airplane was examined at the accident site by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC) accompanied by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Safety Inspector. All of the major airframe components and flight controls were present at the site. The wreckage was re-examined at the site on July 22, and removed to a storage facility for further examination at a later time.

The accident airplane was not utilizing any air traffic control services, and no pre-accident mechanical anomalies were reported to family members who were monitoring the flight, and spoke with the pilot prior to the airplane departing Beaver Municipal Airport.

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