Friday, September 11, 2020

Zenith CH 750 Cruzer, N656BN : Fatal accident occurred September 10, 2020 in Boaz, Alabama

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.

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

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Birmingham, Alabama
Air Accident Investigation Unit; Brussels
Zenith Aircraft Company; Mexico, Missouri

Location: Boaz, AL 
Accident Number: ERA20LA314
Date & Time: September 10, 2020, 12:43 Local 
Registration: N656BN
Aircraft: Zenair CH750 CRUZER
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On September 10, 2020, about 1243 central daylight time, an experimental amateur built, Zenair CH750 Cruzer airplane, N656BN, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Boaz, Alabama. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

On the day of the accident, the pilot planned to fly from Tom B David Field Airport (CZL), Calhoun Georgia, to Tupelo Regional Airport (TUP), Tupelo, Mississippi, to Northeast Alabama Regional Airport (GAD), Gadsden, Alabama, and then return to CZL. According to a family member, this was a “test run” for a flight he planned to conduct on September 14, 2020 to Cantrell Field Airport (CXW), Conway, Arkansas.

The pilot had never flown to CXW, and the pilot thought the flight to TUP would be a good test, as the flight leg to TUP approximated half the distance to CXW. During the flight, the pilot texted a family member that he had reached TUP and was on his way back. She believed that the pilot texted her during the flight and that he had not landed at TUP.

Later that day, when the family member did not hear from the pilot and learned that the airplane had not returned, she asked the airport manager at CZL to call the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

At 1804 the FAA issued an alert notice for the overdue airplane. The airplane was subsequently located on September 12, 2020, about 1030, by a first responder.

Examination of preliminary radar and automatic dependent surveillance data by the NTSB revealed that about 0917 on the day of the accident, a target consistent with the airplane was first identified as it departed runway 25 at CZL, and then turned westbound until it was about 6 nautical miles (nm) east of Tupelo, Mississippi (around the area of Mooresville, Mississippi); the airplane then reversed course and flew east-southeast in the general direction of GAD at varying altitudes during cruise between about 2,500 to 5,400 mean sea level (msl). As it passed Nectar, Alabama, the airplane turned to the north, until reaching the area of Cleveland, Alabama, and then turned to the east-northeast in the direction of CZL. Then about 22 nm later, when the airplane was about 10 nm north-northwest of GAD (about 1.7 nm from the accident site) the airplane descended through 2,325 feet, and radar contact was lost. 

The pilot obtained a weather briefing the evening before the accident flight. He did not file a flight plan and there was no contact with air traffic control during the accident flight.

Examination of the accident site and wreckage by an FAA inspector revealed that the airplane had impacted about 45° nose down, after striking treetops in a heavily forested area. There was no indication of an inflight fire or explosion. The left wing was bent downward at the wing root, and a corresponding bend was visible on the lift strut for the left wing. The right wing displayed crush and compression damage, and the right aileron was separated from its outboard attachment fitting but was still attached to the inboard attachment fitting. The engine was pushed back into the firewall. The throttle control was at idle, and the fuel selector was selected to the left tank.

The wreckage was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Zenair
Registration: N656BN
Model/Series: CH750 CRUZER No Series 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: Yes
Operator: On file 
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Unknown
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: GAD,569 ft msl 
Observation Time: 12:56 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 10 Nautical Miles 
Temperature/Dew Point: 28°C /23°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 2100 ft AGL
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 3 knots / ,
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 2700 ft AGL
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.18 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Calhoun, GA (CZL)
Destination: Gadsden, AL (GAD )

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 34.166942,-86.134445 

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 

William E. McClain, a pilot killed in a plane crash in Etowah County, Alabama is shown in a photo released by the sheriff's office.

Search crews this morning found the body of 76-year-old pilot William Elliot McClain at the site of a plane crash in Etowah County, officials said.

McClain’s body was found at the crash site in a thick, wooded area off Old Baker Gap Road in the Aurora community, about 15 miles northwest of Gadsden. McClain was from Acworth, Georgia.

The crash will be investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. McClain’s body will be autopsied at the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences.

“There does not appear to be (any) foul play and the incident appears to be a tragic accident,” Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton said in a press release.

McClain built the Zenith CH750 aircraft over the past couple of years and was certified to fly, his brother Gary told the authorities. McClain planned to fly from Georgia to visit his brother in Arkansas and celebrate their birthdays this week.

The plane went off radar Thursday afternoon in the west end of Etowah County in Alabama. The plane left Calhoun, Georgia earlier that day headed for Tupelo, Mississippi, where it was supposed to refuel. Instead, the plane circled the airport in Tupelo and headed back east.

The sheriff said McClain was doing a test flight to Tupelo — the halfway point between his departure point in Georgia and landing location in Arkansas.

Search teams and helicopter crews had been looking for the plane since Thursday evening near Aurora Lake. The area has rugged terrain with ridges, valleys and thick woods around various farms, ponds, lakes and homes, the authorities said.

The crash site was discovered around 10:30 a.m. today.

Etowah County Sheriff's Office
The Missing Aircraft was located this morning in a wooded area in the Aurora Community.  Many thanks to the countless organization and volunteers. Please keep the family in your thoughts and prayers as it appears to be a tragic accident. Once family and appropriate notifications are made more information will be available.

North Alabama Authorities are searching for a missing plane in Etowah County.

According to a spokesperson with the Etowah County Sheriff's Office, a Zenith STOL CH750 disappeared from radar Thursday afternoon around 12:45 with one person onboard.

At 8:15 last night, the missing plane was reported to Etowah County authorities.

Search crews are focusing on a three mile radius in the area near Aurora Lake, along Lawson Gap Road and Baker Gap Road. That's about 6.5 miles northeast of Gadsden.

According to the flight plan, the pilot left Calhoun, Georgia and was headed to Tupelo, Mississippi for a fuel stop. A spokesperson for the Etowah County Sheriff's Office told WAAY 31, the pilot made it to Tupelo, circled the airport, but never landed and headed back.

Marshall County Sheriff's Office and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) deployed their helicopter to assist with search efforts. There are also a number of volunteer fire departments assisting on the ground.

ETOWAH COUNTY, Alabama (WIAT) — On Friday morning, crews continued the search for a plane that disappeared from radar over Etowah County the night before.

Helicopters searched the Aurora community Friday. This is the area in which the pilot’s phone pinged before the plane went off the radar.

At this point, it has been confirmed there was one man on the plane. According to law enforcement, the plane was flying back to Calhoun, Georgia when it disappeared from the radar.

The Etowah County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the pilot, an unnamed man from Mississippi, was flying an experimental plane that he had built.

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