Thursday, November 23, 2017

Mooney M20C Ranger, N6894N: Fatal accident occurred November 23, 2017 in Starke, Florida

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

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Orlando, Florida
Lycoming; Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Mooney; Kerrville, Texas

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Herman Eugene Steele:

Location: Starke, FL
Accident Number: ERA18FA030
Date & Time: 11/23/2017, 1515 EST
Registration: N6894N
Aircraft: MOONEY M20C
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On November 23, 2017, about 1515 eastern standard time, a Mooney M20, N6894N, impacted terrain near Starke, Florida. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight from Ocala International Airport-Jim Taylor Field (OCF), Ocala, Florida to Cecil Airport (VQQ), Jacksonville, Florida. The airplane was destroyed by impact forces. The private pilot was fatally injured. The flight originated about 1500 eastern standard time from OCF.

According to a friend of the pilot, earlier on the day of the accident flight she flew as a passenger with the pilot in the accident airplane to OCF. She said that the flight was uneventful, up until they approached OCF. Prior to landing at OCF, the weather became "very turbulent" as the pilot tried to remain on course. The pilot mentioned that he was trying to maintain altitude as he was preparing for landing. After he landed she said that it was "very windy and raining very hard." They went inside the FBO where the pilot mentioned that he had to get to VQQ for his daughter's birthday and Thanksgiving. The witness said that he should "wait it out", and he agreed. According to the witness, he waited about 45 minutes before he departed.

According to FBO personnel, as the pilot waited for the weather to clear up he asked them to top off his fuel tanks. They advised the pilot that the weather was very bad, and he should wait for the fuel. The pilot said that he needed the fuel now because he was trying to get to his daughter's house for Thanksgiving, and requested the line personnel wipe his fuel caps with a towel. After about 45 minutes, the pilot said that he was "heading out;" and was asked if he found a break. The pilot laughed and said he was "gonna go for it." They advised him to be safe and have a good flight.

Review of preliminary air traffic control radar and voice communication information from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center revealed that as the pilot was on approach to VQQ, controller cleared him for the ILS Runway 36R instrument approach. While on final, the radar controller advised the local controller that the pilot was making erratic turns. Shortly after, the pilot executed a missed approach while on a 5-mile final. The controller cleared the pilot to 3,000 feet and asked if he would like to go to Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), Jacksonville, Florida, where the weather was better; the pilot replied affirmative. The controller asked the pilot if he was able to climb and make turns, the pilot replied "affirmative." Shortly after the last communication, radar contact was lost with the airplane and an alert notice (ALNOT) was issued.

The local authorities were notified, and a search ensued. The airplane was located at 1600 in a field near the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center.

The pilot, age 73, held a private pilot certificate with a rating for single engine land airplane and instrument airplane. He also held an FAA third-class medical certificate issued July 11, 2016. A review of the pilot's logbook revealed that the last entry was dated September 8, 2017. The total time entered was 3,146 flight hours. His total actual instrument time was recorded as 527 flight hours. The pilot accumulated 400 flight hours in the accident airplane make and model, and 4 hours within the last 90 days. Further review revealed a total accumulation of 27 flight hours and 8 hours of instrument time for the year of 2017.

At 1511, the recorded weather at VQQ included winds from 030 at 12 knots, 2 statute miles visibility in mist, and overcast clouds at 900 feet above ground level. The temperature was 63°Celsius (C), the dew point was 63° C, and the altimeter setting was 29.87inches of mercury.

The wreckage came to rest on 314° heading about 20 miles from VQQ. Examination of the accident site revealed the fuselage was broken into two parts. The cockpit and empennage separated aft of the rear seat at the wing spars. All flight control surfaces were located at the accident site along the debris path.

All flight controls were destroyed, and respective control tubes were impact-damaged. Movement of the flight control tubes could not be established, but the tubes from the yoke mounts to the wing roots were present. Engine and propeller controls were impact damaged and did not reveal useful information. The fuel selector was noted in the left wing tank position and 10 gallons of AVGAS was defueled from the tank. Flight control tubes in the left wing were attached to the left aileron and the aileron remained attached to the wing surface. The flap remained attached to the wing and the flap control tubes were damaged. The position of the flaps could not be established.

Examination of the right wing revealed that it was fragmented along the debris path. All flight control surfaces were accounted for and were impact damaged. The flight surface control tubes were located throughout the debris path and were fragmented.

The empennage was buckled with both horizontal stabilizers and elevators remaining attached. The control tubes remained attached and were broken at the separation point. The vertical stabilizer was separated and located along the debris path. The rudder was separated from the vertical stabilizer and located along the debris path. The rudder and elevator control tubes were located within the empennage and buckled, but could not be manipulated.

Examination of the engine revealed that it was impact-damaged. The engine was partly dissembled for examination. The engine accessories were removed for examination. During examination of the engine; rotation of the crankshaft produced thumb compression and valve train movement on all four cylinders. The spark plugs were removed and were gray in color. The oil sump screen was removed and was free of debris. During the examination of the accessories it was noted that both ignition magnetos were impact damaged. The ignition leads were broken and not attached to the spark plugs. The magneto drive gear was rotated on both magnetos and produced spark on all ignition leads. The vacuum pump was disassembled and revealed all internal blades were intact. The internal drive coupling was intact and not damaged. Examination of the carburetor revealed it was separated from the engine and impact damaged. The carburetor was disassembled, and examination revealed that the bowl was free of debris. Examination of the fuel screen revealed insignificant amounts of debris. The throttle and mixture cable were separated from the carburetor and impact damaged.

Examination of the propeller revealed all 3 blades were damaged and remained attached to the hub and the hub remained attached to the crankshaft. The blades were labeled A, B and C. Blade A was bent aft and had chordwise scoring. Blade B remained relatively straight with scoring on the blade. Blade C exhibited "S" bending and scoring throughout the blade span.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: MOONEY
Registration: N6894N
Model/Series: M20C NO SERIES
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No 
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Instrument Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: VQQ, 79 ft msl
Observation Time: 1511 EST
Distance from Accident Site: 17 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 17°C / 17°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Unknown
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 12 knots, 30°
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 900 ft agl
Visibility:  2 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.87 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Departure Point: OCALA, FL (OCF)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal

Latitude, Longitude:  29.951944, -81.979444

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

Herman Steele

Mooney M20C Ranger wreckage being towed from Camp Blanding.

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - Authorities on Friday confirmed the identity of the pilot killed when a single-engine plane went down Thursday afternoon inside Camp Blanding.

The Clay County Sheriff's Office confirmed pilot, Herman E. Steele, 49, of Tennessee died in the crash. 

Steele was the only person on board, according to a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman.

FAA officials said they were notified that a Mooney M20C Ranger went down at Camp Blanding in Clay County about 3:15 p.m. Thursday. Clay County deputies said it was a private plane, not a military aircraft. Camp Blanding is off State Road 16 near Kingsley Lake.

Authorities said Steele had taken off from Cecil Field in Jacksonville and dropped off three passengers in Ocala. He was on the return flight to Cecil Field when he sent a distress call to the tower at the Jacksonville International Airport, reporting some sort of problem. 

Officials with JAI said they never heard from Steele again. 

Officials said Steele had intended to continue flying to Tennessee. 

It is unclear what caused the plane to crash, but investigators are not overlooking weather conditions as a potential factor because it was raining and there may have been limited visibility.

Steele crashed near Avenue B and Tampa Street on Camp Blanding about 200 feet short of one of the base’s runways. 

News4Jax spoke with aviation expert Randy Reep about flying in uncertain weather conditions.

"Any event that occurs in bad weather makes that event more difficult," Reep said. "You can’t fly in reference to the ground and (the pilot) is having to rely on his sensations to maneuver the airplane via instruments. It can very difficult, which is why the air traffic control system is designed the way it is."

Reep also mentioned that if Steele filed a flight plan, there will be more evidence to collect because he would have been controlled through radio communications with the ground.

The FAA will investigate and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the probable cause of the crash.

The Florida Highway Patrol is assisting in the investigation.

Story, video and comments ➤

Officials have identified a 73-year-old man who was killed in a plane crash at Camp Blanding.

A Clay County Sheriff's Office spokesperson said Herman Eugene Steele, 73, of Tennessee, was killed after crashing his plane at Avenue B and Tampa Street on Thursday.

Authorities notified the Federal Aviation Administration that a Mooney M20C Ranger went down at 3:15 p.m. Steele was the only person on the plane, officials said.

Steele’s daughter tells Action News Jax he was down visiting family and friends in Florida. She said he dropped two friends off in Ocala, before his final flight.

She tells us he was on his way to Cecil Airport in Jacksonville to visit her for her birthday, when his plane tragically went down.

She said she was happy that he at least died “doing what he loved.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is working to determine the cause of the crash.

Story and video ➤

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