Aviation Accident Summaries

Aviation Accident Summary WPR13LA385

Bakersfield, CA, USA

Aircraft #1

N31683

ROBERT GOLDING TBIRDII

Analysis

The private pilot, who was interested in purchasing the airplane, met the seller at a dirt airstrip adjacent to the sellers property. For the flight, the seller, who only held a student pilot certificate, was in the left seat, and the buyer, who held a private pilot certificate, was in the right seat. The seller conducted the takeoff and the initial portion of the flight, which were both uneventful. He then turned control of the airplane over to the buyer. After some airwork to get the feel of the airplane, the buyer flew a low southbound pass along the airstrip. The airplane then struck power lines just beyond and perpendicular to the south end of the airstrip and then impacted in a cornfield. The airplane was substantially damaged by the impact and postimpact fire. Postaccident examination of the wreckage revealed that the impact, fire, and recovery damage precluded the determination of any relevant preaccident airplane condition or operability information. The seller stated that he had warned the buyer about the power lines, but the buyer stated that the only power lines that the seller warned him about ran parallel to the airstrip. The buyer reported that, near the end of the low pass, the engine failed to respond to his command for more power and that he then relinquished airplane control to the seller because he was not familiar with the airplane. Although the seller reported the loss of engine power, he did not report taking or being given control of the airplane near the end of the flight. He further reported that the buyer told him that he (the buyer) had mistakenly reduced power on the engine because of confusion. Based on the lack of information provided by the pilots regarding the preflight briefing, the buyers unfamiliarity with the surroundings and the airplanes throttle operation, and postflight statements from the seller, it is likely that the flight was not well planned or briefed, particularly regarding the participants roles and responsibilities and the presence of potential flight hazards. The limited pre- and inflight coordination between the two pilots resulted in the buyer being unaware of the power lines at the south end of the airstrip and his uncertainty regarding throttle operation, which resulted in the airplane striking those power lines.

Factual Information

HISTORY OF FLIGHTOn August 24, 2013, about 1215 Pacific daylight time, an experimental amateur-built TBird II aircraft, N31683, was substantially damaged when it impacted power lines and a corn field following a low pass over a private airstrip in Bakersfield, California. The student and private pilot on board received minor injuries. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight. According to both persons on board, one person was interested in purchasing the aircraft, and had contacted the other person in order to arrange a site visit so that he could examine the aircraft. They agreed on a date, and the potential buyer, who was a private pilot, and his two friends flew to an airport near the sellers location, and were picked up and driven to the sellers property by the seller. A dirt strip, which could be used for takeoffs and landings, was located adjacent to the sellers property, and was oriented north-south. According to the sellers written statement provided to the NTSB, while they were examining the aircraft, he asked the buyer whether he wanted to fly it. The seller "made it clear" to the buyer that he was not a licensed pilot. One of the buyers friends, who was a flight instructor, then informed the buyer that he (the buyer) would have to be pilot-in-command of the flight, since the seller only held a student pilot certificate. The buyer and seller agreed to that arrangement. The seller reported that he then "pointed out the hazards," which "were mainly the power lines surrounding" his property. Although he did not include it in his written report, the seller first conducted a solo takeoff and landing to the north from the left seat. After that landing, the seller remained in the left seat, and the buyer took the right seat. An onboard intercom system enabled verbal communications between the two occupants. According to the seller, he conducted the takeoff and initial portion of the flight with the buyer on board. The seller took off to the north, climbed to about 1,000 feet, and flew about 1 mile to the west, where the buyer took control, and performed some flight maneuvers, including shallow and steep turns, slow flight, and stalls. The buyer then flew back to the property, and there informed the seller that "he wanted to fly over" his friends on the ground. The aircraft then flew south down the centerline of the strip, approximately 10 to 20 feet higher than the powerlines that ran parallel to the strip, and passed over the buyers friends. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft struck powerlines that were at the south end of, and perpendicular to, the strip. The aircraft impacted in the adjacent cornfield. A fire immediately broke out, and the buyer helped extricate the seller from the wreckage. Both the seller and the buyer were interviewed by first responders, and those reports, plus written statements from both the buyer and seller, were provided to the investigation. Review of those materials revealed that there were multiple discrepancies between the information provided by the buyer and the seller. The buyer reported that the seller stated that he had "several hundred hours in ultra-light or light sport aircraft," and "50 hours" towards his private pilot certificate. In contrast, the seller did not provide any information regarding any previous flight experience, and in his written statement, the seller stated that he informed the buyer that he "was not a pilot." The buyer reported that the seller first flew the aircraft solo before the buyer boarded it, whereas the sellers statements did not contain any references to that solo flight. The buyer made no mention of any preflight discussion about power lines, and reported that the seller only cautioned him about the powerlines that ran parallel to the strip when they were beginning the southbound low pass along the strip. In contrast, the seller reported that he warned the buyer about all the powerlines prior the flight, and again during the flight. The buyer reported that near the end of the low pass, he advanced the throttle, but that the engine did not respond. Since the buyer was unfamiliar with the aircraft, and was uncertain of the proper direction to move the throttle to increase power, he "relinquished" control to the seller. The buyer did not know if the seller attempted to advance the power, and he recalled that the seller pushed the nose down in an effort to pass under the second set of power lines. In contrast, the seller reported that the engine "lost power," and he (the seller) did not make any mention of taking or being given aircraft control near the end of the flight. The sellers written statement reported that, just after the accident, the buyer admitted that he (the buyer) "pulled the power" off because "he was confused." The buyer stated that he was unaware of the powerlines at the south end of the strip until the aircraft encountered them. PERSONNEL INFORMATIONSeller The seller did not list any pilot certificates or flight time in his written report to the NTSB. In that report, he designated the buyer as "Pilot A," and himself as a "passenger." Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records indicated that he held a student pilot certificate, which was issued June 17, 2013, in conjunction with his third-class FAA medical certificate. According to the buyer, the seller stated that he had sold "six or seven" other similar aircraft, and that the seller represented himself as the owner of the accident aircraft. Buyer The buyer held a private pilot certificate, with an airplane single-engine land rating. He reported a total flight experience of 423 hours. His most recent flight review was completed in June 2012, and his most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued in February 2013. In his written report to the NTSB, the buyer designated the seller as "Pilot A," and himself as "Pilot B." He also noted that several communication and coordination aspects related to planning and conducting the flight would possibly have helped prevent the accident. AIRCRAFT INFORMATIONFAA information indicated that the aircraft was manufactured by Mr. Robert Golding in 2001, and was equipped with a Rotax 912UL series engine. FAA records indicated that at the time of the accident, the aircraft was registered to "Business & Pleasure Air Charter LLC," with Mr. Paul Sturgeon listed as that companys manager on the registration documents. The aircraft was first registered to that company in 2010. After the accident, when contacted by the FAA inspector assigned to the accident, the registered owner informed the FAA inspector that he had sold the aircraft to the person who was acting as the seller at the time of the accident flight. Subsequent discussions revealed that the seller was an employee of the registered owner, in a business unrelated to aviation, and that the two had only a verbal agreement for the sale of the aircraft. The aircraft was not insured. METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATIONThe 1154 automated weather observation at Meadows Field Airport (BFL), Bakersfield, located about 14 miles north of the accident site, included winds from 290 degrees at 8 knots, visibility 10 miles, clear skies, temperature 32 degrees C, dew point 8 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.82 inches of mercury. AIRPORT INFORMATIONFAA information indicated that the aircraft was manufactured by Mr. Robert Golding in 2001, and was equipped with a Rotax 912UL series engine. FAA records indicated that at the time of the accident, the aircraft was registered to "Business & Pleasure Air Charter LLC," with Mr. Paul Sturgeon listed as that companys manager on the registration documents. The aircraft was first registered to that company in 2010. After the accident, when contacted by the FAA inspector assigned to the accident, the registered owner informed the FAA inspector that he had sold the aircraft to the person who was acting as the seller at the time of the accident flight. Subsequent discussions revealed that the seller was an employee of the registered owner, in a business unrelated to aviation, and that the two had only a verbal agreement for the sale of the aircraft. The aircraft was not insured. WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATIONThe aircraft came to rest inverted in a cornfield approximately 75 feet south of the powerlines that it struck. One wood power pole was fracture-separated near its base and toppled, which downed all the wires attached to it. Some of those wires remained ensnared by the aircraft wreckage. Since the aircraft was not insured, it was transported back to the sellers property by acquaintances of the seller for safekeeping. An FAA inspector examined the aircraft after it was recovered from the cornfield. Fire consumed many non-metallic components in the cockpit and central portion of the aircraft, and damaged much of the aircraft and engine. The outboard portions of the propeller blades were fractured, consistent with engine rotation at impact. However, fire, impact, and recovery damage precluded any relevant determination of the pre-accident condition and operability of the aircraft.

Probable Cause and Findings

The failure of the two pilots to adequately planflight, particularly regarding their roles and responsibilities, which resulted in their failure to maintain sufficient altitude to clear power lines during a low pass.

 

Source: NTSB Aviation Accident Database

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