Sunday, November 24, 2019

Aircraft Structural Failure: Van's RV-12, N262WS; fatal accident occurred January 22, 2018 in Bonita Springs, Lee County, Florida

This ain't Hell, but you can see it from here:

Daniel A. Bernath

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

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Tampa, Florida
Van's Aircraft; Aurora, Oregon

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Bonita Springs, FL
Accident Number: ERA18FA064
Date & Time: 01/22/2018, 1214 EST
Registration: N262WS
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Defining Event: Aircraft structural failure
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On January 22, 2018, about 1214 eastern standard time, an experimental light sport Van's Aircraft, Inc., RV-12, N262WS, was destroyed when it collided with terrain near Bonita Springs, Florida. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was privately owned and operated by the pilot as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. Day, visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which originated at Page Field (FMY), Fort Myers, Florida, about 1148 and was destined for Everglades Airpark (X01), Everglades City, Florida.

According to air traffic control (ATC) voice communications and radar data obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), at 1146, the pilot contacted the FMY local controller and requested flight following to X01. At 1158, the pilot was instructed to fly runway heading and was cleared for takeoff. At 1200, the FMY controller instructed the pilot to contact departure control. The pilot did not respond. The controller repeated the instructions and the pilot again did not respond. The controller then called the departure controller, who reported that the pilot had not contacted them after departure. The controller called the pilot a third time and he did not respond.

At 1201, the pilot contacted the Southwest Florida International Air Traffic Control Tower east radar controller. The controller directed the pilot to turn right to a heading of 170º and maintain 2,500 ft mean sea level (msl). At 1202, the pilot asked the controller to repeat the instruction. The controller repeated the instruction, and at 1202:03, the pilot responded, "course one two zero stay at twenty-five hundred." The controller responded, "November two six two whiskey sierra I don't have time to talk to you four times per control instruction cause there's a lot going on please listen up…"

At 1203, the pilot climbed the airplane to 2,900 ft and then was instructed to return to 2,500 ft; the pilot acknowledged without using the airplane's call sign. The controller reminded the pilot to use his call sign when responding to instructions. At 1209, the controller instructed the pilot to contact approach control. The pilot responded that he could hear the controller, "but I can't understand you can you say it slower?" At 1210:39, the pilot contacted Fort Myers approach. At 1213:49, the approach controller stated to the pilot, "November two whiskey sierra traffic twelve to one o'clock six miles northeast bound altitude indicated two thousand six hundred." The pilot responded that he was looking for the traffic. Six seconds later, the pilot transmitted, "Mayday, mayday." No additional calls were received from the pilot and radar and radio contact were lost shortly thereafter.

The airplane was equipped with a Dynon FlightDEK D180 wide screen display mounted in the cockpit, which recorded various flight, aircraft systems, and engine data throughout the accident flight. The display was recovered and the data was downloaded by NTSB Vehicle Recorders Laboratory specialists. During the cruise portion of the flight, the indicated airspeed exceeded 108 knots on several occasions, and frequently fluctuated between 108 and 116 knots.

Interpolation of radar and recorded data revealed that the airplane descended out of 2,500 ft at 1210, about the same time that the pilot contacted the departure controller. The airplane continued to descend for about 4 minutes, and the airspeed stayed generally between 108 and 120 knots and engine rpm remained between 5,500 and 5,700 (red line rpm was 5,800). About the time the pilot reported that he was looking for traffic (1213:58), there was a small increase in pitch and the airplane slowed to about 103 knots. Over the next 7 seconds, the airplane pitched down from 5.25º nose low to 44.75º nose low, the right roll increased to 37.5º, and the airspeed increased from 104 to 136 knots; the pilot then made the "mayday" call. The airplane continued to roll right past inverted, and the airspeed increased to 169.25 knots before the end of the recording. During the final 10 seconds of recorded data, the engine speed varied between 4,550 and 5,950 rpm. The elapsed time from the mayday call to the end of the recording was about 8 seconds. 

Pilot Information

Certificate: Sport Pilot
Age: 68, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used:
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present:No 
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Sport Pilot None
Last FAA Medical Exam:
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 01/06/2017
Flight Time: 530 hours (Total, all aircraft), 130 hours (Total, this make and model) 

The pilot, age 68, held a sport pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land privileges. According to the FAA, the pilot never held an FAA medical certificate, nor was he required to as a sport pilot.

The pilot's logbook contained entries from February 12, 2015, through January 10, 2017. No flight times were forwarded from a previous logbook. There was an endorsement for a flight review dated January 6, 2017. According to information provided by the pilot's insurer, the pilot reported, as of January 12, 2018, 530 total hours flight experience, including 130 hours in the RV-12, and 10 hours in the preceding 12 months.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N262WS
Model/Series: RV-12 NO SERIES
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 2011
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Experimental Light Sport
Serial Number: 120262
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 07/24/2016, Condition
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 1320 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 95 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Rotax
ELT: C126 installed, activated, did not aid in locating accident
Engine Model/Series: 912 ULS
Rated Power: 100 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

The all-metal, two-place, low-wing, single-engine, experimental light sport airplane incorporated a fixed tricycle landing gear. The airplane was equipped with a Rotax 100-horsepower reciprocating engine, and a Sensenich ground-adjustable composite propeller. The removable wings were built around a main spar that connected to the center section bulkhead. The wings were secured with two removable pins. The airplane was built in 2011 and the pilot purchased it in 2017. The total airframe time was 190.4 hours. A condition inspection was completed on July 24, 2016, at 95.0 hours total time.

The mechanic who performed the 2016 condition inspection continued to perform maintenance on the airplane until about 3 months before the accident. At that time, he was at the pilot's hangar, escorted there by the pilot's wife, to perform another condition inspection. During the inspection, he noted a crack near the trailing edge of the elevator. He was on the phone discussing the crack with Van's Aircraft personnel when local law enforcement officers arrived and demanded that he leave the premises. He complied and did not complete the inspection nor did he make a logbook entry for the work in progress. He did not know why the officers asked him to leave. He attempted to find someone to finish the inspection, but he was unsuccessful.

According to the Pilot's Operating Handbook, the maximum structural cruise speed (Vno) was 108 knots, the caution band was 108 to 136 knots, and the never exceed speed (Vne) was 136 knots.

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: FMY, 17 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 18 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 1153 EST
Direction from Accident Site: 325°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility:  8 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 9 knots /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: / None
Wind Direction: 140°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 30.11 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 26°C / 18°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Fort Myers, FL (FMY)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Everglades City, FL (X01)
Type of Clearance: VFR Flight Following
Departure Time: 1148 EST
Type of Airspace:

FMY was located about 18 nautical miles (nm) northwest of the accident site. The FMY weather at 1153 included wind from 140º at 9 knots, 8 statute miles visibility, clear sky, temperature 26°C, dew point 18°C, and altimeter setting of 30.11 inches of mercury. 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:N/A 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 26.338611, -81.663611 (est) 

The airplane impacted a forested area about 33 nm northwest of X01. There was no fire. The wreckage debris field was oriented in a south-to-southwest direction and measured about 715 ft long and about 100 ft wide. All components of the airplane were accounted within the wreckage debris field.

The first piece of wreckage found along the debris path was the left wing. Adjacent to the left wing were fragments of the cockpit canopy. The left wing was located about 670 ft north-northeast of the main wreckage. The flaperon separated into three sections. The inboard section remained attached to the wing. The center and outboard sections were found in close proximity to each other, about 410 ft south-southeast of the left wing. The main wing spar was fractured at the wing root. The spar was bent in an upward direction at the area of fracture. All fracture surfaces of the left wing spar exhibited characteristics of overload. No areas of corrosion were found on or near the fracture surfaces.

The main wreckage consisted of the fuselage, the inboard half of the right wing, and the empennage. These sections came to rest against trees and were highly fragmented. The engine and propeller were separated and found within the fuselage debris. The empennage was adjacent to the fuselage and the vertical stabilizer was still partially attached. The rudder was separated and found adjacent to the vertical stabilizer.

The outboard section of the right wing was found about 55 ft northeast of the fuselage. The aft section exhibited impact signatures consistent with tree contact.

The right stabilator was impact-separated and found about 137 ft northeast of the main wreckage. The left stabilator was impact-separated and found about 83 ft northeast of the main wreckage. The painted surfaces of the right stabilator exhibited brown transfer marks consistent with tree impact.

The wreckage was recovered to a storage facility for additional examination.

Flight control continuity was confirmed from all flight control surfaces to the cockpit controls. All separations and fractures to cables and control rods exhibited overload signatures or were cut by recovery personnel. The flap handle was found in the retracted position.

The autopilot pitch servo was located intact in its mount beneath the right seat pan. The servo arm remained connected to the control column, with no deformation of bolts or rod end bearings at either the servo or the control column attach points, and the servo rod was undamaged along its entire length. The servo linkage was disconnected from the control column, and the pitch servo moved freely in rotation. The shear pin on the servo was intact. All associated wiring was examined for fraying or rubbing, and for loose connections. None were found.

A single, 20-gallon fuel tank was installed. The fuel shutoff handle/valve assembly was separated during the impact sequence and a pre-accident position could not be determined. The fuel tank was breached and no fuel was present. All recovered fuel lines were clear and unobstructed. Fuel tank filler cap was in place and secure. The filler neck and sheet metal surrounding the filler neck were separated during the impact sequence. The fuel pump/strainer was opened for examination. There was no fuel in the bowl; however, there was an odor of fuel on the filter. A small amount of organic matter, identified as a fragment of pine straw, was found inside the bowl.

The engine was examined at the wreckage recovery facility. Both carburetors separated from the engine during the impact sequence. One carburetor was impact-damaged and its fuel bowl was separated and found loose in the wreckage; it was dry and clean inside. The floats were missing. The other carburetor's fuel bowl was intact and secure; when removed, it contained no fuel and was clean and dry. The composite floats were intact. The engine-driven fuel pump was separated from the engine due to impact forces. The pumping mechanism operated when the pump actuator was pushed in manually. No fuel pumped from the unit when actuated. The Nos. 2 and 4 cylinder valve covers exhibited impact damage; the No. 4 cover was broken open from impact forces, exposing the internal components. The four top spark plugs were removed for examination. The electrodes were normal in wear and color when compared to a Champion Check-A-Plug chart. The engine contained an undetermined amount of oil. Due to impact damage, the engine could not be rotated manually and internal continuity could not be established.

The propeller separated from the engine with the splined shaft still attached to the propeller hub. One composite blade was separated at the hub; the other remained mostly intact and the tip was separated.

The pilot was wearing a five-point harness. The anchors were separated from the cockpit structure during the impact sequence. The buckle and clips were found connected and operated normally. The seat and harness were found outside the area of main wreckage, about 30 ft south of the fuselage. 

Medical And Pathological Information

The Office of the State of Florida, District 21 Medical Examiner performed the autopsy of the pilot. The cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries. The heart was enlarged and thickened; it weighed about 60 grams more than that of an average man of his weight. There was significant coronary artery disease with about 50% to 75% narrowing of both the left main and left anterior descending coronary arteries.

The FAA Forensic Sciences Laboratory performed toxicology testing on specimens from the pilot. Testing was negative for carbon monoxide and ethanol. Naproxen was identified in the urine. Atenolol was identified in the liver. Citalopram, its metabolite N-desmethylcitalopram, mirtazapine, and trazodone were detected in cavity blood and in the urine.

Naproxen is an analgesic available over-the-counter or by prescription, often with the names Aleve® and Naprosyn®. Atenolol is a blood pressure medication that may also be used to reduce the risk of recurrent heart attacks. Neither of these are considered impairing.

Citalopram is an antidepressant often sold under the name Celexa® that carries a precaution for patients that it impairs mental and/or physical ability required for the performance of potentially hazardous tasks (e.g., driving, operating heavy machinery). It has not been shown to degrade performance in psychological testing experiments using healthy volunteers.

Mirtazapine is another prescription antidepressant commonly marketed with the name Remeron®. It is well known to cause somnolence (sleepiness) in the majority of people using it and carries the precaution, "Mirtazapine may impair judgment, thinking and particularly, motor skills, because of its prominent sedative effect. The drowsiness associated with mirtazapine use may impair a patient's ability to drive, use machines, or perform tasks that require alertness. Thus, patients should be cautioned about engaging in hazardous activities until they are reasonably certain that mirtazapine therapy does not adversely affect their ability to engage in such activities."

Trazodone is another antidepressant that is sedating enough that it is often prescribed as a sleep aid. It carries this information for prescribers: "Antidepressants may impair the mental and/or physical ability required for the performance of potentially hazardous tasks, such as operating an automobile or machinery; the patient should be cautioned accordingly. Trazodone hydrochloride may enhance the response to alcohol, barbiturates, and other central nervous system depressants."

Major depression itself is associated with significant cognitive degradation, particularly in executive functioning. The cognitive degradation may not improve even with remission of the depressed episode, and patients with severe disease are more significantly affected than those with fewer symptoms or episodes. Thus, depression is a disqualifying condition for pilot medical certification. According to the Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners, an aviation medical examiner should not issue a medical certificate to a depressed pilot. The FAA will consider a special issuance of a medical certificate for depression after six months of treatment if the applicant is clinically stable on one of four approved medications.

Records from the pilot's usual source of care, the Veterans Administration, for the period between January 2015 and the accident date were obtained and reviewed. The records documented that the pilot had hypertension, high cholesterol, obstructive sleep apnea, neurogenic bladder, cataracts, peripheral neuropathy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At the time of his last annual exam (March 2017), he was prescribed atenolol and lisinopril to treat his blood pressure, simvastatin for his cholesterol, use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine for his sleep apnea, and citalopram and trazodone for his psychiatric disease.

Records indicated that the pilot complained of worsening symptoms from PTSD, including nightmares and intrusive thoughts, during the end of 2016 and early 2017. This was apparently brought on by legal issues. The underlying issue was that the pilot had been discovered misrepresenting his military service, which had been revealed on the internet by a group he considered "terrorists." The pilot was facing charges for repeatedly breaking the conditions of a restraining order regarding threatening the wife of the individual who revealed his misrepresentation. The pilot's wife told investigators that she was unaware that her husband was being treated for mental health issues.

Daniel A. Bernath, came to the military community’s attention when someone noticed that he had declared himself to be a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy, claiming that he had been honorarily promoted by the National Association of Naval Photographers (NANP) to that rank. The NANP replied that they never bestowed that rank on anyone in their organization – that only the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy can bestow that honor.  

The picture above of Mister Bernath was on his VFW Posts’ website (that Mr. Bernath made for them). A reverse search on the photo turned up the portrait of Photographer Mate 1st Class John Sheppard. Bernath, who had been accused years earlier of claiming some of Sheppard’s photos for himself, photoshopped his head onto PH1 Sheppard’s portrait and added a rocker to his rank. Bernath also appropriated the badges and medals of PH1 Sheppard. Including the Navy Aircrew Wings, the Navy Expeditionary Medal, and the Navy Good Conduct Medal along with hash marks on his sleeve for twenty years of service – none of which appear in Bernath’s records.


  1. Another stolen valor phony. Nice photoshop job, however.

  2. Agree ... Really nice work on Photoshop.

    I guess this guy really showed the mechanic who was in charge.


  3. The part about the mechanic sounds a bit strange. If police escorted me from a job I would at least find out why. Then send them an invoice.

  4. Maybe the headline should have read "Pilot Structural Failure". Sorry for the flip attitude but this is a strange story. This is a classic pilot error rather than anything mechanical.

  5. Vans pilots need to stick together and get their story straight on this one.

  6. Whew, if you click the link at the very beginning of the article and then read the comments... it gets sadly interesting? I guess. I don't think I've ever read anything like the comments... the pilot left ??? something ??? behind... just not sure what.

  7. "Anonymous said...
    The part about the mechanic sounds a bit strange. If police escorted me from a job I would at least find out why. Then send them an invoice."

    Not really strange. It happens from time to time. A mechanic or IA finds a defect on an airplane that needs to be addressed. The owner disagrees. The mechanic attempts to resolve the situation my providing documentation/evidence that the defect is an issue and needs fixing. Sometimes an issue requires a call to the manufacturer for determination or solution. If the owner disagrees he usually just ask the mechanic to leave or if at the mechanis shop, the owner just takes his ball and goes home.

    Add a bit of mental illness and maybe the cops get a phone call from the owner.

    Mechanic could file a mechanics lean on the plane but then word would get around on that. I always figured I didn't need the money that badly and just let it go.



  8. Looks like he got caught by Don Shipley.

  9. Here is the encounter with Don Shipley

  10. Just watched the videos. The mental case needed serious professional help. And he had a firearm. We have GOT to get funding back to bring back mental health institutions. If you are not fit to be in society it is not against your civil rights to be locked away from it as the ACLU argued which forced states to start defunding and closing them. Thank God this lunatic didn't kill anyone on the ground. Plane or gun.

  11. His head is just a little too big in the photo-shopped picture, but it's way too big in real life.

    The two videos show a narcissistic and desperate man that has it all figured out, and is now attempting to make it easy for the rest of us to understand. Nice try dude!

    I hope both Vans and the U.S Navy can forever be separated from this work in progress.

  12. No fire, unlike many previous RV-12 crashes.

  13. Mr.Bernath had no business operating any mechanical device whether it be an airplane or automobile. He was suffering from severe depressive and psychiatric conditions. It is always sad when an individual loses his life, but on the other side of the coin no other lives were lost by his bizarre behavior.

    He should have been in a mental health facility.

  14. Anonymous said he wouldn't file a Mechanic's Lien. For me, that would depend upon how large the debt was. Since the lien process involves several legal steps, I would forget about any small amount owed, however, if the amount due was substantial, I would definitely start the process, up to including filing the legal Mechanic's Lien.