Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Government advice sometimes is good for everyone, including government

An Air Force Staff Sergeant who had been the weather forecaster for the exercise said he began to prepare for the 6:30 p.m. flight group briefing at about 3 p.m. He told investigators that "...conditions looked to be on track with relatively clear skies." He recalled that, before the briefing, mid-level cloud cover increased at around 7,000 to 8,000 feet with some scattered clouds to the south at about 4,000 feet. He noted some weak returns on the radar to the south, but felt that they would "die out relatively quickly" with the loss of heating as the evening progressed. His overall assessment of the weather on the night of the accident was that "...there was no significant weather event during the operation other than a brief heavy shower." He also stated that the showers didn't occur until after communication was lost with the accident airplane.

The weather briefer said that between 7:30 and 8:00, he continued to monitor weather to the south and could see showers continuing to "back build" on radar to the southwest, tracking northeast. He notified exercise command of a possible recall of light and medium fixed-wing aircraft, and requested a pilot report from the south ROZ controller, but there was no response. About 8:10, the briefer received a pilot report of 3,000-foot ceilings and rain to the south. Between 8:15 and 8:30, he contacted the tower to recommend a recall of VFR aircraft due to worsening conditions with rain and lowering ceilings. He reported that, at 8:35, tower recalled light and medium-fixed wing aircraft. From 8:40 to 8:50, he continued to monitor the weather conditions, and from 8:50 to 8:55, a brief, heavy shower moved through, reducing visibility to between one and two miles.

A helicopter pilot reported that between 8:30 and 9:00, the weather was "worse than briefed." He stated that his aircraft flew through numerous rainshowers with visibilities between one and two miles. Earlier at 8:15, while arriving at AGR, they experienced "zero zero" conditions over the field. After slowing the aircraft, he was able to regain contact with the ground and land.

The pilot of another support aircraft told investigators there was no mention of any precipitation or convective activity during the evening's weather briefing. During the mission, the weather "...began to change rapidly and deteriorate, with weather moving from south to north." He aborted his mission and, after maneuvering to avoid weather for about 30 minutes, landed at Avon Park Executive Airport (AVO). He told investigators that he didn't "...receive any additional weather information throughout the flight" and didn't "...receive a weather recall."

A witness who said he lived one to two miles north of the accident site said he heard the accident airplane at "full throttle," but didn't see it. He heard a "thud" and called 911. He said that immediately after the accident, it started raining hard. He was drenched because he needed to be outside to get good reception on his phone.

Doppler radar images at 8:52 depicted the accident site under the leading edge of an area of echoes located about 1⁄2 mile east of the accident site. At 8:57, echoes were over the accident site with the edge of a strong core located about 1⁄8 mile east of the accident site. This core corresponded with level 5 "intense" echoes capable of producing severe turbulence and strong outflow winds.

The main wreckage was found adjacent to a retention pond and swamp that were located on a farm pasture. Two sections of the right wing were found northwest of the main wreckage-impact crater, one about 800 feet away and the other about 330 feet away.


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