Sunday, September 30, 2018

Piper J3C-65 Cub, registered to a family partnership and operated by the pilot, N35132: Fatal accident occurred May 24, 2017 in Chetek, Barron County, Wisconsin

Owen Knutson, Pilot
February 15, 2000 ~ May 24, 2017 (age 17)

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

Additional Participating Entity:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Minneapolis, Minnesota

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/N35132


Location: Chetek, WI
Accident Number: CEN17FA196
Date & Time: 05/24/2017, 1830 CDT
Registration: N35132
Aircraft: PIPER J3C
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Loss of control in flight
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On May 24, 2017, about 1830 central daylight time, a Piper J3C 65 airplane, N35132, crashed into a river 3.5 mile southwest of Chetek, Wisconsin. The private pilot was fatally injured, and the passenger was seriously injured. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The airplane was registered to a family partnership and operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight plan had been filed for the flight. The local personal flight departed a private airstrip near Chetek about 1800.

According to the passenger, he met the pilot at the private airstrip about 1750. When he arrived, the pilot was pulling the airplane out of the hangar for the flight. The passenger sat in the front seat and the pilot helped him to secure his lap belt. The pilot then sat in the rear seat.

The passenger reported that after taking off, they "looped around the house" and then headed towards a pond where several friends were fishing. They flew over the pond and waved at their friends. The pilot stated that they would "go around" and fly over their friends again. The airplane started to turn and then went straight down. The passenger did not recall hearing anything abnormal with the engine. Just before the impact with the river the pilot stated, "This isn't good."

According to two witnesses who were fishing on a pond near the river, the airplane flew overhead to the north. One witness reported that the door of the airplane was open and that the two occupants were waving at them. This witness stated that the "engine rpms sounded low but smooth" as the airplane flew over him. The airplane continued to the north and then started a turn to the right. Both witnesses stated that they heard a "pop" noise from the engine which they characterized as a backfire. After the "pop," the airplane descended out of sight below the tree line, and the witnesses heard the crash.

Two other witnesses, located to the west of the accident location, observed the airplane flying to the north over the river, about 60 to 80 ft above the tree tops. The airplane flew over a boat on the pond and then started to climb while flying to the east. The airplane then "went straight down," and the witnesses heard the impact. When asked, neither witness reported hearing any abnormal noises from the engine before the accident. 

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 17, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Rear
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: None
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 3 Without Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 12/27/2015
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 02/15/2017
Flight Time:  (Estimated) 175 hours (Total, all aircraft), 17.1 hours (Total, this make and model), 24.7 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 3.6 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft) 

The pilot's most recent FAA third-class airman medical certificate was issued on December 27, 2015, without limitations. At that time, the pilot reported no chronic medical conditions and no medication usage.

The last page of the pilot's logbook contained 14 logged flights between March 25, 2017, and May 7, 2017. Six flights, including the last 3 flights, were logged in a Cessna 172. The remaining 8 flights were in the accident airplane. The pilot's total logged flight time was 177.8 hours; of which 17.1 hours were logged in the same make and model as the accident airplane. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: PIPER
Registration: N35132
Model/Series: J3C 65
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1941
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 6144
Landing Gear Type: Tailwheel
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 05/15/2016, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.:
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 205.22 Hours at time of accident
Engine Manufacturer: Continental
ELT: C91A installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: C85-12F
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 85 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

The airplane, a Piper J3C-65 (serial number 6144), was manufactured in 1941. It was registered with the FAA and held a standard airworthiness certificate for normal operations. The airplane was not equipped with shoulder harnesses when it was manufactured. A Continental C85-12F engine, rated at 85 horsepower at 2,575 rpm, powered the airplane. The engine was equipped with a McCauley 2-blade propeller.

The airplane was equipped with two tandem seats and dual flight controls. The instrument panel was just forward of the front seat. When the pilot was the sole occupant, the pilot would fly from the rear seat. With a passenger, it was typical for the pilot to fly from the rear seat.

The airplane was maintained under an annual inspection program. A review of the maintenance records indicated that an annual inspection had been completed on May 15, 2016, at an unknown airframe total time and a tachometer time of 205.22. The airplane had flown approximately 40.54 hours between the last inspection and the accident.

Restraint Systems

The airplane was equipped with four-point restraint systems for both the front and rear seat positions. The front and rear seat shoulder harnesses had a data tag that read "Hooker Custom Harness, Inc." The model number was 2Y482430-3D and the date of manufacture was August 4, 2015. The front and rear seat lap belts had a data tag that read "Hooker Custom Harness, Inc". The model number was 2062340 and the date of manufacture was August 4, 2015.

In a telephone interview with the pilot's father, who was a member of the family partnership that owned the airplane, he stated that he had replaced the shoulder harnesses in the airplane in June 2016. There was no logbook entry for this replacement nor was a specific supplemental type certificate (STC) referenced. According to a representative with Hooker Custom Harnesses, Inc, they do not sell an STC specific to the Piper J3 airplane.

There were no logbook entries identifying when the shoulder harnesses were first installed in the airplane or who performed the work. In addition, a review of the FAA airworthiness records did not contain any paperwork showing that this major alteration was done. In a follow-up email, the pilot's father stated that the airplane was rebuilt in 2013. He vaguely recalled being asked by the mechanic who rebuilt the airplane to order F Atlee Dodge fittings for the shoulder harness. A review of the F Atlee Dodge website revealed that they do not sell an STC for shoulder harnesses specific to the Piper J3 airplane.

In September 2000 the FAA issued Policy Statement ACE-00-23.561-01 "Issuance of Policy Statement, Methods of Approval of Retrofit Shoulder Harness Installations in Small Airplane." This document presented the guidelines for approval of retrofit shoulder harness installations. According to the document, a retrofitted shoulder harness installation in a small airplane may receive approval by STC, field approval, or as a minor change. An STC was identified as the "most desirable and most rigorous" approval method. A field approval would be "appropriate for alterations that involve little or no engineering." Approval as a minor change that would have no "appreciable effect" on the structural strength or airworthiness of the airplane. All three methods required a logbook entry and, for the STCs and field approvals, the completion of an FAA for 337 "Major Repair and Alteration". 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KY23, 1056 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 35 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 1835 CDT
Direction from Accident Site: 45°
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Visibility: 10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 4100 ft agl
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 3 knots /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: / None
Wind Direction: 50°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 29.7 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 15°C / 9°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Chetek, WI
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Chetek, WI
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1800 CDT
Type of Airspace: Class G

According to a sun position calculator, the sun was at an azimuth of 280° and an inclination of 21° above the horizon at the time of the accident.



Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Latitude, Longitude:  45.279444, -91.709167 

The accident site was located in the Red Cedar River at an elevation of about 1,040 ft mean sea level (msl). The airplane impacted on a magnetic heading of about 200°. The main wreckage included the fuselage, the left wing, the right wing, the empennage, and the engine and propeller assembly.

The right wing remained partially attached to the airframe at the forward attach point. The aft spar separated at the root with signatures consistent with impact and overload. The right aileron remained attached and was unremarkable. The leading edge of the right wing exhibited accordion crushing along the entire span and the fabric was torn. The control cable and the balance cable from the aileron inboard to the cockpit flight yoke were continuous.

The left wing remained partially attached to the airframe at the forward attach point. The aft spar separated at the root with signatures consistent with impact and overload. The left aileron remained attached and was unremarkable. The leading edge of the left wing was crushed and wrinkled along the entire span and the fabric was torn. The control cable and the balance cable from the aileron inboard to the cockpit flight yoke were continuous.

The empennage included the horizontal and vertical stabilizer, elevator, rudder, and tail wheel. The forward lower portion of the vertical stabilizer, at the fuselage, was wrinkled. The horizontal stabilizer, elevators, tail wheel, and rudder were unremarkable. The control cables for the rudder were continuous from the flight controls in the cockpit, aft to the rudder. The push tube for the elevator was continuous from the elevator control forward to the aft yoke and continuous from the aft yoke forward to the forward yoke. The separation point between the push tube and the aft yoke was consistent with impact and overload.

The crush angle on the nose and forward fuselage was about 45°. The instrument panel exhibited impact damage on both the upper and lower portions of the panel. The ELT was found selected in the "off" position.

The front seat remained attached to the floor of the airplane. The lower seat cushion for the front seat was not recovered. The lap belt for the front seat was latched at the center buckle; the shoulder harnesses were wrapped around structural tubing above the seat and were not latched at the center buckle. The seat back of the front seat was bent forward about 45°. The floor of the forward fuselage was crushed up and aft, between 7 and 10 inches, into the lower portion of the cabin's occupiable space.

The right side of the front lap belt was tied in a knot to a wire bracket that was attached to the seat. The wire bracket was stock to the original airplane design. The left side of the front lap belt was not secured to its wire bracket after the accident. The wire bracket was present and intact in its normal location on the seat frame. There was no visible damage to the seatbelt webbing; however, the left end of the seatbelt webbing was creased in a manner consistent with the webbing having been previously knotted.

The rear seat remained attached to the floor of the airplane. The forward frame of the seat pan was bowed down. The lap belt for the rear seat was latched at the center buckle; the shoulder harnesses were not latched at the center buckle. The floor of the aft fuselage was crushed up into the fuselage.

The right side of the aft lap belt was connected to the seat through a wire bracket. The wire bracket was stock to the original airplane design. The wire bracket on the left side of the aft lap belt was fractured leaving that side of the lap belt unsecured to the airframe. A portion of the wire bracket separated entirely and was not recovered. There was no visible damage or creasing to the seatbelt webbing.

The right lower door was crushed and bent. Plexi glass on the upper right door was bowed but was otherwise unremarkable. The left side windscreen and left aft windscreen remained intact. The forward windscreen was fragmented and separated from the airplane.

The engine and propeller remained attached to the fuselage. The engine mounts were bent, and the firewall was wrinkled. The magneto P-leads were impact damage and could not be functionally tested. The upper spark plugs and valve covers were removed. The spark plugs exhibited signatures consistent with recent exposure to water but were otherwise normal when compared to a Champion Spark Plug Chart. The engine rotated through at the propeller. Continuity to the accessory gears and valve train was established and tactile compression was noted on all cylinders.
Engagement of the impulse coupling was detected. The carburetor separated and was impact damaged. The lower portion of engine and oil pan were crushed upward.

The two propeller blades were labeled "A" and "B" for identification purposes. Blade A was unremarkable. Blade B was bowed aft and exhibited scoring on the blade face. The propeller spinner was crushed aft with circular/rotational scoring. 

Medical And Pathological Information

The Sacred Heart Hospital, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, performed the autopsy on the pilot on May 25, 2017, as authorized by the Barron County Medical Examiner. The autopsy report listed the pathologic diagnosis as "fresh water drowning secondary to aircraft accident" The autopsy listed blunt force trauma to the head including facial lacerations and abrasions which "likely [led] to a loss of consciousness.".

The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological tests on specimens collected during the pilot's autopsy. Results were negative for all tests conducted.

The passenger was hospitalized for 22 days following the accident. He sustained a broken left ankle, a broken lower spine, multiple facial fractures, a collapsed lung, and a concussion. 

Survival Aspects

According to the passenger he was not wearing a shoulder harness and did not recall seeing one in the airplane.

An image from a Snap Chat video taken by the passenger and shared with law enforcement officers following the accident showed that the passenger was not wearing a shoulder harness when the video was taken. The pilot was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and it was not clear whether he was wearing a shoulder harness when the video was taken.

The passenger stated that after the airplane hit the water, he could not feel the seatbelt, and he never took it off or unlatched it. He recalled being underwater and feeling like he was drowning. He was able to get to the surface and swim to the bank of the river.

The pilot was ejected from the airplane and found face down in the water when first responders arrived.

The pilot's father stated that when flying from the rear seat, using the shoulder harnesses was often cumbersome and he and the accident pilot had a bad habit of not using the shoulder harnesses. The rear shoulder harness was mounted to the ceiling of the airplane, aft of the pilot's head, using bolts and a bracket that was secured around the tubing structure under the fabric skin of the ceiling.

The front shoulder harness was mounted to the ceiling of the airplane, directly above the front seat, using bolts and a bracket that was secured around the tubing structure under the fabric of the ceiling. The pilot's father stated that the shoulder harness for the front seat occupant, was mounted in such a way that it impaired the vision of the pilot when seated in the rear seat. 

Tests And Research

The left mounting wire bracket for the aft lap belt was sent to the National Transportation Safety Board Materials Laboratory for further examination. The wire was consistent in size and dimension with the original design from Piper Aircraft. There were no entries in the logbook indicating that the wire brackets had been changed or replaced. A portion of the mounting bracket separated and was not recovered. The features of one fracture surface were consistent with overload. The other fracture surface exhibited features consistent with both rubbing and overload.


Owen Knutson 

NTSB Identification: CEN17FA196

14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, May 24, 2017 in Chetek, WI
Aircraft: PIPER J3C, registration: N35132
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious.

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 May 24, 2017, about 1830 central daylight time, a Piper J3C 65 airplane, N35132, crashed into a river 3.5 miles southwest of Chetek, Wisconsin. The private pilot was fatally injured and the passenger was seriously injured. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight plan had been filed for the flight. The local flight departed a private airstrip near Chetek, Wisconsin, about 1800. 

According to several witnesses in the area, the airplane flew over the witnesses who were fishing on a pond near the river. One witness remarked that the door of the airplane was open and the two occupants were waving at them. The airplane continued to the north and then started a turn to the right. Both witnesses stated that they heard a "pop" noise from the engine which they characterized as a backfire. One witness stated that the engine was at a lower rpm as the airplane flew over him. After the "pop" the airplane descended below the tree line and the witnesses heard the crash.

The airplane wreckage was located in the Red Cedar River. The wreckage included both wings, the empennage, fuselage, and the engine and propeller assembly.

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