Friday, July 6, 2018

Harmon Rocket II, N729PS: Fatal accident occurred March 24, 2016 near Cheraw Municipal Airport (KCQW), Chesterfield County, South Carolina


Walker Jeter Hester, 59, a beloved father, son, brother, Veteran Naval Aviator, and devout Christian, passed away in an accident while test-flying his newest airplane. 

Born in New England but a true son of the south, he graduated from Germantown High School in 1974. After completing a degree in Journalism at the University of Memphis, he served in the United States Navy as a Naval Aviator, call sign “Boxer.” Following an honorable discharge in 1987, he joined Delta Airlines as a First Officer, progressing rapidly to Captain. Walker’s greatest passions were his work in evangelical prison ministries, cheering on the University of Tennessee Volunteers, and traveling to Charleston, SC to spend time with his beloved daughter, Laine. A daredevil at heart, Walker pursued adrenaline pumping adventures from aerial-acrobatics, to motorcycle racing, to powered paragliding. We celebrate his life as he is welcomed into the Kingdom of God and is joyously reunited with loved ones.


The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; West Columbia, South Carolina
Lycoming Engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania 

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

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

http://registry.faa.gov/N729PS


Location: Cheraw, SC
Accident Number: ERA16LA139
Date & Time: 03/24/2016, 0748 EDT
Registration: N729PS
Aircraft: HALL, WENDALL W HARMON ROCKET II
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Controlled flight into terr/obj (CFIT)
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On March 24, 2016, about 0748 eastern daylight time, an experimental, amateur-built Harmon Rocket II, N729PS, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain near Cheraw, South Carolina. The airline transport pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was owned and operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local personal flight, which departed Cheraw Municipal Airport (CQW), Cheraw, South Carolina, about 0710.

Witnesses observed the airplane flying at or near treetop height at several locations in and around the town of Cheraw on the morning of the accident. One witness, who was working alongside the Pee Dee River, stated that, just before the accident, the airplane was flying along the river about treetop level when it struck a power line.

An electronic primary flight display and engine monitor system were recovered from the accident site and forwarded to the NTSB Vehicle Recorder Laboratory for examination. Review of the downloaded GPS data revealed a low-level flightpath consistent with witness statements. During the 7 minutes before the accident, the airplane overflew an airport and the Pee Dee River at altitudes as low as 50 ft above ground level. Review of the engine monitor data did not reveal any preimpact mechanical malfunctions.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single- and multi-engine land as well as a flight engineer certificate. His most recent FAA first-class medical certificate was issued February 25, 2016, at which time he reported 13,289 total hours of flight experience and 31 hours in the previous 6 months. A witness reported that the pilot had accrued about 35 hours flight experience in the accident airplane make and model.

The tandem, two-seat, low-wing, fixed tailwheel airplane, serial number 414, was assembled from a kit and issued an FAA experimental airworthiness certificate on January 21, 2016, which was when its most recent condition inspection occurred. It was powered by a 250-horsepower Lycoming O-540 engine and equipped with a Hartzell two-blade, fixed-pitch propeller. Review of the airplane's logbook revealed that, at the time of the condition inspection, the airframe had 0 hours of operation and the engine had accrued 590.5 hours since major overhaul. Additional maintenance was performed on March 8, 2016, due to a propeller strike. At the time of that maintenance, the airframe and engine had accumulated 12 hours since the condition inspection.

The 0755 recorded weather at CQW about 3 nautical miles west of the accident site, included wind calm, visibility 5 miles in mist, and a clear sky.

Examination of the accident scene by an FAA inspector revealed that two power line cables were found severed about midspan between two towers, one on each side of the Pee Dee River. The airplane came to rest on a wooded island about 150 yards north of the power line crossing and about 50 yards west of the river bank. Damage to the trees surrounding the wreckage was consistent with a near-vertical descent. The airplane came to rest in a nose-down, inverted attitude.

The upper surface of the engine cowling and canopy were crushed, both wings exhibited leading edge damage consistent with several tree impacts, and the left main landing gear was separated at the fuselage. The empennage was partially separated from the fuselage and bent upward and forward with severe crushing in the aft direction. One section of power line cable was found next to the fuselage, and another was found wrapped around the engine cowling. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the control stick and rudder pedals to the ailerons and rudder, and from the control stick through an overload fracture in the push-pull tube to the elevator. Examination of the wreckage did not reveal any preimpact mechanical malfunctions.

The engine crankshaft was fractured in overload just aft of the flywheel. The flywheel, propeller, spinner, and hub remained attached to one another and were found near the rear of the main wreckage. The propeller exhibited gouge marks in the leading edge consistent with the diameter of the power line, as well as scrape marks on the leading edge and rear of the blade that were consistent with impact with the cable. Both blades exhibited s-bending.

The Chesterfield County Coroner's Office, Chestertown, South Carolina, performed an autopsy on the pilot. The autopsy report noted the cause of death as "multiple blunt force injuries."

The FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology testing on specimens of the pilot. Review of the toxicology report revealed cyclobenzaprine, norcyclobenzaprine, and diclofenac in blood and urine, 0.004 µg/ml zolpidem in blood and 0.005 µg/ml in urine.

Cyclobenzaprine (of which norcyclobenzaprine is a metabolite) is a prescription muscle relaxant with potentially impairing mental and physical effects. The laboratory was unable to determine the amount present in the specimen. Diclofenac is a prescription analgesic and is not considered to be impairing. Zolpidem is a potentially impairing prescription sleep aid with a therapeutic range of 0.025 to 0.30 µg/ml. 



Pilot Information

Certificate: Airline Transport; Flight Engineer
Age: 59, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Multi-engine Land; Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Front
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 1 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 02/25/2016
Occupational Pilot: Yes
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time:  13289 hours (Total, all aircraft), 35 hours (Total, this make and model)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: HALL, WENDALL W
Registration: N729PS
Model/Series: HARMON ROCKET II
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 2016
Amateur Built: Yes
Airworthiness Certificate: Experimental
Serial Number: 414
Landing Gear Type: Tailwheel
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 01/21/2016, Condition
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2000 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 0 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Lycoming
ELT:
Engine Model/Series: O-540-A1D5
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 250 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 



Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KCQW, 240 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 3 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 0755 EDT
Direction from Accident Site: 264°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility:  5 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: Calm 
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None
Wind Direction:
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A
Altimeter Setting: 30.13 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 9°C / 9°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: Mist; No Precipitation
Departure Point: CHERAW, SC (CQW)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: CHERAW, SC (CQW)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 0710 EDT
Type of Airspace:

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: 34.722778, -79.882778 (est)



NTSB Identification: ERA16LA139
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Cheraw, SC
Aircraft: HALL, WENDALL W HARMON ROCKET II, registration: N729PS
Injuries: 1 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 may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On March 24, 2016, about 0750 eastern daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Harmon Rocket II, N729PS, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain near Cheraw, South Carolina. The airline transport pilot was fatally injured. The flight departed Cheraw Municipal Airport (CQW), Cheraw, South Carolina, about 0715. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local personal flight, which was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

Witnesses observed the airplane flying at or near "treetop height" at several locations in and around the town of Cheraw on the morning of the accident. One witness, who was working alongside the Pee Dee River, stated that just prior to the accident the airplane was flying along the river at tree top level when it struck a power line.

Examination of the accident scene by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed that two power line cables were found severed about mid-span between two towers, one on each either side of the river. The airplane came to rest on a wooded island about 150 yards north of the power line crossing, and about 50 yards west of the river bank. Damage to the trees surrounding the wreckage was consistent with a near vertical descent. The airplane came to rest in a nose down, inverted attitude.

The upper surface of the engine cowling and canopy were crushed, both wings exhibited leading edge damage consistent with several tree impacts, and the left main landing gear had separated at the fuselage. The empennage was partially separated from the fuselage and bent upward and forward with severe crushing in the aft direction. One section of power line cable was found next to the fuselage, another was found wrapped around the engine cowling. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the control stick and rudder pedals to the ailerons and rudder, and from the control stick through an overload fracture in the push-pull tube, to the elevator.

The engine crankshaft was fractured in overload just aft of the flywheel. The flywheel, propeller, spinner, and hub remained attached to one another and were found near the rear of the main wreckage. The propeller exhibited gouge marks in the leading edge that were the size of the power line diameter, as well as scrape marks on the leading edge and rear of the blade that were consistent with impact with the cable. Both blades exhibited S-bending.

According to FAA records, the pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land, airplane multiengine land, as well as a flight engineer certificate. His most recent FAA first-class medical certificate was issued February 25, 2016. He reported 13,289 total hours of flight experience, and 31 hours in the six months prior to that date. A witness reported that the pilot had accrued approximately 35 hours in accident airplane make and model.

An electronic primary flight display and engine monitor system was recovered from the accident site and forwarded to the NTSB Vehicle Recorder laboratory for examination.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lets take muscle relaxers and go flying, wtf.

Anonymous said...

old pilot, bold pilot? take your pick.

Jim B said...


This same scenario happens repeatedly every week.

I am sure flying low is a lot of fun but the probability of hitting a power line above 400 feet agl is nearly zero unless you are in the mountains.

Another preventable aviation death.