Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Clues From Survivors

Survivors can provide new information or confirm what came from another source

An NTSB meteorologist did a comprehensive study of the weather conditions around the accident site. Results of the study were consistent with the description from the survivor. The forecast for the area included increasing instabilities over the region that were expected to produce rain showers, fog and reduced visibility. Satellite images captured about the time of the accident showed low clouds, light rain, drizzle, fog and instrument meteorological conditions in the area around the accident site.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot's decision to continue VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in an in-flight collision with mountainous terrain.

Mooney M20J
The surviving passenger who was on board a Mooney M20J that hit trees and crashed after a nighttime takeoff from Spring Hill Airport (70N), Sterling, Pa., was able to tell investigators a lot about what happened before the accident flight. The commercial pilot and a pilot-rated passenger were killed. The survivor received serious injuries. The pilot had filed an IFR flight plan. The planned destination was Republic Airport (FRG), Farmingdale, N.Y.

The surviving passenger told investigators he arrived at FRG earlier on the day of the accident for the flight with the pilot and the other passenger. He said he was in the back and the pilot-rated passenger was in the right front seat. He said the right front-seat passenger didn't fly the airplane at any time. He recalled the pilot commenting that they were a little overweight when they took off from Farmingdale. The flight went to Lancaster, Pa., where the pilot had the fuel tanks topped off. He didn't recall the pilot performing any weight-and-balance calculations, nor did he observe him using a checklist at any time.

The survivor told investigators that the pilot decided they'd proceed to 70N since it was closer to the other passenger's parents, who were picking up the group for dinner. He said that the pilot hadn't flown into 70N before. On the first attempt at landing, the airplane was too high, and the pilot executed a go-around. The pilot was able to land the second time.

After dinner, the group returned to 70N for the return flight to FRG. According to the survivor, the pilot was aware of the hill at the departure end of runway 23, since it was still light when they arrived and they could see the terrain. The survivor reported that the pilot didn't back-taxi to utilize the full length of the runway, but began the takeoff roll from an intersection. The hill, about 29 feet high, was located about 201 feet beyond the runway 23 departure end. Runway 23 was 2,478 feet long, including a 400-foot displaced threshold at the departure end, and had a 2.4% upslope.

The intersection of the taxiway and runway where the takeoff roll was initiated was about 200 feet from the approach end of runway 23.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot's decision to take off on an uphill slope without utilizing the entire available runway, and his failure to abort the takeoff when he realized he wasn't going to lift off in time to clear the trees at the end of the runway.


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