Thursday, November 19, 2020

Cirrus SR22 GTS, N621JE: Accident occurred August 19, 2019 in Tappahannock, Essex County, Virginia

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

Additional Participating Entities:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Richmond, Virginia
Cirrus Aircraft; Duluth, Minnesota
Continental Motors; Mobile, Alabama

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Location: Tappahannock, Virginia 
Accident Number: ERA19FA251
Date & Time: August 19, 2019, 03:43 Local
Registration: N621JE
Aircraft: Cirrus SR22 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Fire/smoke (non-impact) 
Injuries: 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal


The pilot reported that, during a cross-country flight in night visual meteorological conditions, he noticed fumes in the cockpit upon reaching a cruise altitude of 3,500 ft mean sea level. He reported the fumes to air traffic control and diverted to the nearest airport. Shortly thereafter, he noticed smoke in the cockpit and attempted to land at the diversion airport, but the airplane was too high to land, and he performed a go-around. After the first landing attempt, he turned off the air conditioner and electrical system and attempted to land again but was unable to do so due to the darkness and smoke in the cockpit. He subsequently decided to deploy the airframe parachute system. The pilot did not recall anything else due to his injuries.

Examination of the wreckage and the airplane's non-volatile memory did not reveal any preimpact electrical or mechanical anomalies that would have resulted in smoke in the cabin; therefore, the reason for the reported fumes and smoke could not be determined.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's inability to land on the runway in dark night conditions with reported smoke in the cockpit, which necessitated the deployment of the airplane's parachute system.


Environmental issues Air quality/dust/smoke - Effect on operation
Environmental issues Air quality/dust/smoke - Decision related to condition
Environmental issues Dark - Effect on operation
Personnel issues Aircraft control - Pilot

Factual Information

History of Flight

Enroute Fire/smoke (non-impact) (Defining event)
Enroute Miscellaneous/other
Emergency descent Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

On August 19, 2019, about 0343 eastern daylight time, a Cirrus SR22, N621JE, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Tappahannock, Virginia. The pilot was seriously injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

The pilot departed Richmond International Airport (RIC), Richmond, Virginia, about 0327. According to radar and communication data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), at 0335, the airplane was in cruise flight at 3,500 ft mean sea level (msl) when the pilot reported to air traffic control that he was diverting to Tappahannock Essex County Airport (XSA), Tappahannock, Virginia, due to an electrical smell in the cabin. The controller acknowledged the transmission and attempted to confirm that it was an electrical smell in the cabin, to which the pilot replied that he did not know what the smell was, but he was going to start a descent for XSA. At 0336, the pilot reported XSA in sight and the controller advised the pilot that he could switch radio frequencies to the common traffic advisory frequency for XSA, which the pilot acknowledged. No further radio communications were received from the accident airplane.

According to the pilot, he noticed smoke and attempted to land at XSA but performed a go-around because the airplane was too high to land. He then turned off the air conditioner and electrical system and attempted to land again, but it was dark and hard to see and breathe due to the smoke. At 0343, the pilot entered an emergency transponder code and the controller attempted to contact the pilot three times with no success. At that time, the airplane was at 600 ft msl and the airspeed began to decrease. The pilot deployed the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) and did not recall anything else except waking up in a hospital 3 days later.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 25,Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): None 
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 1 Without waivers/limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: October 26, 2017
Occupational Pilot: No 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time: 330 hours (Total, all aircraft), 165 hours (Total, this make and model), 296 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 100 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 65 hours (Last 30 days, all
aircraft), 5 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft) 

The pilot's logbook was not recovered.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cirrus 
Registration: N621JE
Model/Series: SR22 Undesignated
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 2006
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 2168
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 4
Date/Type of Last Inspection: April 1, 2019 
Annual Certified Max Gross Wt.: 3600 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: 81 Hrs
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 614 Hrs as of last inspection 
Engine Manufacturer: Continental
ELT: C91A installed, activated, aided in locating accident
Engine Model/Series: IO-550
Registered Owner: 
Rated Power: 310 Horsepower
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Pilot school (141), Commercial space transp. experimental permit

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC)
Condition of Light: Night
Observation Facility, Elevation: XSA,135 ft msl 
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 03:35 Local
Direction from Accident Site: 270°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility: 10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: None 
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 3 knots /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None / None
Wind Direction: 230°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 29.97 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 24°C / 24°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Richmond, VA (RIC )
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Easton, MD (ESN ) 
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 03:27 Local 
Type of Airspace:

Airport Information

Airport: Tappahannock-Essex County Airport XSA
Runway Surface Type:
Airport Elevation: 135 ft msl
Runway Surface Condition:
Runway Used: 
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width:
VFR Approach/Landing: None

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries:
Aircraft Fire: Unknown
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Serious 
Latitude, Longitude: 37.86,-76.884719

The wreckage was located in swampy terrain at the bottom of a ravine about 600 ft from the approach end of runway 28 at XSA. It came to rest in a near-vertical, nose-down position in deep mud. The
empennage had separated from the airplane; there was no damage to the vertical stabilizer, horizontal stabilizer, rudder, or elevator. The deployed CAPS parachute remained attached to the airframe. The entire wing structure remained intact but had separated from the fuselage. The left wing exhibited leading edge impact damage. The right wing was fractured outboard of the outer aileron attach point. 

The left fuel tank was breached while the right fuel tank remained intact and contained fuel. The wing flaps and ailerons remained attached; the flaps were in the fully-extended position.

The nose section remained buried in mud and water up to the instrument panel. The pilot's four-point harness was cut by rescue personnel. Initial examination of the primary flight display (PFD), multifunction display (MFD), integrated flight display, autopilot unit, circuit panel, switch panel, and their associated wires did not reveal any evidence of electrical arcing or burning. A data card from the Avidyne MFD and the Avidyne DFC-90 autopilot unit were retained and forwarded to the National Transportation Safety Board Vehicle Recorders Laboratory, Washington, DC, for data download. The wreckage was retained for further examination.

The airframe and engine were examined again at a recovery facility by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator, an NTSB Fire & Explosion Specialist, and an investigator from the
airframe manufacturer.

None of the wires in the instrument panel or on the engine exhibited any chafing, sooting, melting or evidence of electrical arcing. The PFD, MFD, Avidyne 540, Avidyne 440, blower motor, avionics cooling fan, XM receiver, enhanced ground proximity warning system, ADS-B receiver, data acquisition unit, heat sync, turn coordinator, directional gyro, and Mode S transponder were all opened for examination. None of their circuit boards exhibited any evidence of arcing, sooting, melting, or electrical damage. Additionally, the cockpit switches and circuit breakers were examined and no anomalies were noted.

Examination of the engine revealed that the three-blade propeller remained attached to the crankshaft. Two propeller blades exhibited chordwise scratches and tip curling, and one of those blades was also twisted. The third propeller blade was bent aft. The Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 intake tubes were separated from the top of their respective cylinder. The top spark plugs were removed and their electrodes were intact, with the exception of the No. 4 spark plug, which exhibited impact damage. The electrodes exhibited corrosion consistent with submersion in the water at the bottom of the ravine. The engine driven fuel pump was removed and its drive coupling was intact. Due to impact damage, the crankshaft could only be rotated about 90°; however, camshaft and crankshaft continuity was established to the rear accessory section of the engine.

Flight recorders

Data were successfully downloaded and plotted from the MFD and autopilot. The data ended consistent with the pilot's report that he shut off the electrical system before CAPS deployment. Review of the data did not reveal any mechanical or electrical anomalies that would have resulted in smoke in the cabin.


  1. This is a strange accident, I believe the pilot, when he stated that there was smoke in the cockpit. But open examination of all the electrical, and mechanical components, no evidence of arching, melting, or scorching was found at all, very weird.


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