Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Loss of Engine Power (Total): Sonex Trainer, N543SX; fatal accident occurred February 05, 2018 near Carrabelle-Thompson Airport (X13), Franklin County, Florida

Greg Newman

Front View of Airplane Wreckage
Federal Aviation Administration

Left Front View of Airplane Wreckage
Federal Aviation Administration

Right Front View of Airplane Wreckage
Federal Aviation Administration

Top of Engine Cowling
Federal Aviation Administration

Federal Aviation Administration

Right Side View of Vertical Stabilizer and Rudder
Federal Aviation Administration

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

Additional Participating Entity:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Tampa, Florida

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Location: Carrabelle, FL
Accident Number: ERA18LA083
Date & Time: 02/05/2018, 1125 EST
Registration: N543SX
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Loss of engine power (total)
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On February 5, 2018, at 1125 eastern standard time, an experimental, amateur-built Sonex Trainer airplane, N543SX, sustained substantial damage when it collided with terrain following a loss of engine power after takeoff from Carrabelle-Thompson Airport (X13), Carrabelle, Florida. The private pilot, who was also the owner and builder of the airplane, was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed near the airport and no flight plan was filed for the local flight, which was originating at the time of the accident.

A witness, who was also a friend of the pilot, stated that the pilot had been having some mechanical issues with the engine and that the purpose of the flight was to test the engine. On the morning of the accident, the witness heard the pilot start the airplane's engine and taxi to runway 5. He did not hear the pilot perform any engine run-up or test run on the ground before departure, but the engine sounded "normal." The airplane then departed. When it was about halfway down the 4,000-ft-long runway, the witness heard the engine lose power. He stated that there was no sputter or sound of a rough-running engine, "the rpm just decelerated." The witness looked up and saw the airplane about 100 ft above the runway. Instead of landing on the remaining runway, the pilot made an "aggressive bank" to the left and the airplane stalled and descended "straight down" toward the ground.

The airplane came to rest upright in heavily wooded, swampy terrain about 250 yards north of the airport. There was no postimpact fire. Both wings and the fuselage sustained substantial damage. The airplane was not recovered or examined.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 68, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Front
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used:
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 3 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 05/03/2016
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time: 571 hours (Total, all aircraft) 

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land and an airframe and powerplant certificate. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third-class medical certificate was issued on May 3, 2016, at which time he reported 571 total hours of flight experience. The pilot's logbook was not available for review. The witness described the pilot as a "known risk taker."

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N543SX
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 2014
Amateur Built: Yes
Airworthiness Certificate: Experimental
Serial Number: 0543
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 04/07/2015, Condition
Certified Max Gross Wt.:
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 43.3 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Aero Conversions Inc
ELT: Not installed
Engine Model/Series: Aerovee 2180
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power:
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

The witness stated that the pilot had purchased the airplane about 2 years before the accident when it was almost completely built. The pilot finished building the airplane, which was equipped with a Volkswagen engine. The witness said that the pilot had experienced "constant" problems with the engine, and the current engine was the second one he had installed on the airplane. The witness stated that, at one point, the wrist pins had failed. The pilot was known to take apart the engine, fix something, and reassemble it, only to have another problem. The witness thought that the pilot had recently replaced some gaskets and that he wanted to see how the engine was working.

The witness stated that the pilot was not known for "writing things down" regarding maintenance on the airplane or engine. A review of the engine logbook revealed that the pilot had removed the engine twice in 2016 and rebuilt it. After the second rebuild, the pilot zero-timed the engine and conducted a successful test flight. The last entry in the engine logbook was on August 10, 2017, at a total time of 95.23 hours and 21.23 hours-in-service. The logbook indicated that the oil was changed/added, and the tappets were adjusted.

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: AAF, 19 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 18 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 1053 EST
Direction from Accident Site: 270°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility:  10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling:  
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 9 knots /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None / None
Wind Direction: 50°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 30.23 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 15°C / 8°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Carrabelle, FL (X13)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Carrabelle, FL (X13)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1125 EST
Type of Airspace: Unknown

The 1053 recorded weather at Apalachicola Regional Airport-Cleve Randolph Field (AAF), Apalachicola, Florida, located about 18 miles west of the accident site, included wind from 050° at 9 knots, clear skies, temperature 15°C, dew point 8°C, and an altimeter setting of 30.23 inches Hg.

Airport Information

Runway Surface Type: Asphalt
Airport Elevation: 20 ft
Runway Surface Condition: Vegetation; Wet
Runway Used: 05
IFR Approach:None 
Runway Length/Width: 4000 ft / 75 ft
VFR Approach/Landing: None  

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: 29.841944, -84.701111 (est) 

Medical And Pathological Information

The pilot was taken via helicopter to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. An autopsy was conducted by the Office of the Medical Examiner, Tallahassee, Florida, and the cause of death was "multiple blunt force trauma." The pilot's admission blood was submitted by the medical examiner for toxicology and the results were negative for all items tested.

Toxicology testing performed at the FAA Forensic Sciences Laboratory on postmortem specimens identified ketamine and its metabolite, norketamine; midazolam and its metabolite, hydroxymidazolam; etomidate; and fentanyl in cavity blood. In addition, sildenafil and its metabolite, desmethylsildenafil, were found in cavity blood, diphenhydramine was found in cavity blood (0.265 ug/ml) and liver, and zolpidem was found in kidney but not blood.

According to the postaccident treatment records, the pilot was intubated during transport to the hospital. The hospital records did not contain a list of medications given to enable that procedure, but the most common choices would have been ketamine, etomidate, and fentanyl. The records reflect the pilot was given midazolam during his initial resuscitation in the hospital.
Sildenafil (commonly known as Viagra) is used to treat erectile dysfunction and is not considered impairing. Diphenhydramine, commonly marketed as Benadryl, is a sedating antihistamine, used to treat allergy symptoms and as a sleep aid. It can be impairing. Zolpidem is a short-acting sleep aid often marketed with the name Ambien, available by prescription as a Schedule IV controlled substance.


  1. So sad. Checklists (so you don't skip run up) and pre-takeoff briefing (even if it's just yourself) so you're ready for engine failure and know what you're going to do before it happens are so important as proven by this unfortunate accident. We all have to be vigilant. Blue skies my friend.

  2. Don't try the 180 (or 225) back to the runway. A simple rule that can save a lot of people.

    1. It is drilled in us in training and refresher training over and over and we know not to do it. But some of we pilots do it anyway as if in an invincible/denial "it won't happen to me and I'll make it" mentality. I've never been in that position and hope I never am in my flying life ever since getting my ticket at 19 some three decades ago,. That said, an engine failure at the worst time is always on my mind during each and every takeoff in a single engine aircraft and what's ahead in options if it happens.