Aviation Accident Summaries

Aviation Accident Summary ERA21LA283

Charlestown, NH, USA

Aircraft #1




The pilot was in the airport’s traffic pattern receiving mentoring and airplane familiarization from the passenger in the rear seat, who had been a private pilot but had his airmen and medical certificates revoked about 4 years before the accident. The pilot reported that, during the third landing, the airplane was too high while on final approach and the passenger told the pilot to perform a go-around. A witness who saw the airplane on the subsequent downwind described the airplane as being “slower and lower” than normal. Near the end of the downwind leg, at an estimated altitude of 400 ft above ground level, the passenger yelled “something about power” according to the pilot and assumed control of the airplane. When abeam the runway threshold, with an engine speed about 3,200 rpm which was about 300 rpm below normal cruise speed, the passenger turned onto the base leg. The pilot later reported that although the airplane’s altitude was “low,” it seemed sufficient to clear the power lines located several hundred feet to the west of and nearly parallel to the runway. The pilot reported that a partial loss of engine power occurred about the same time the passenger turned the airplane onto the base leg. The airplane banked “hard” to the left, pitched nose down, and descended into one of the power lines. After the airplane impacted the ground, the engine continued to operate until the pilot shut it down. Because the previous pattern circuit was too high on final approach and resulted in a go-around maneuver, the pilot may have overcompensated and flown the accident pattern at too low of an altitude given the power line obstruction on the base leg. The passenger was likely concerned about the approach when he took over the controls. His subsequent turn to the base leg suggests that he intended to continue in the normal traffic pattern over the power lines. Given the low altitude at the time, this decision involved significantly greater risk than extending the downwind and correcting whatever condition(s) that caused the passenger to take control. The pilot described a partial loss of engine power about the same time the passenger made the turn to base leg, which was followed by a sharp turn to the left and a nose-down attitude just before impact with the power lines. The investigation could not determine if the reduction in engine power was due to a failure or malfunction or was intentionally commanded by the passenger in an attempt to avoid the power lines. Postaccident examination of the engine did not reveal any anomalies that would have resulted in a partial loss of engine power. Toxicology testing for the passenger, who was flying the airplane at the time of the collision with the power line, was positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive chemical in cannabis and hashish and its metabolites. The levels detected may have been sufficient to cause significant impairing effects; however, they do not indicate the severity of THC-related impairment or whether such impairment contributed to the accident. Therefore, whether impairing effects of the passenger’s THC use contributed to the accident could not be determined.

Factual Information

On July 10, 2021, at 1730 eastern daylight time, an experimental light-sport Bailey Moyes Dragonfly, N346FL, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Charleston, New Hampshire. The pilot sustained minor injuries and the passenger 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 commercial pilot seated in the front seat was receiving “mentoring” and airplane familiarization from the passenger in the rear seat. The passenger had been a licensed private pilot but had his airmen and medical certificates revoked in 2017. They were flying in the traffic pattern, using the northerly runway at Morningside Flight Park, a private airfield, when the accident occurred. According to the pilot, before the accident flight, both he and the passenger performed a preflight inspection together. After the inspection, the passenger flew the airplane solo and performed three touch-and-go landing maneuvers. The passenger then landed the airplane and moved to the rear seat, and the pilot sat in the front seat and performed one touch-and-go landing and one full-stop landing. During the third circuit in the traffic pattern, while on final approach, the airplane was too high and the passenger told the pilot to perform a go-around, which he did. During the downwind leg, the engine power was set at 4,200 rpm. Witnesses reported that the downwind leg was “lower and slower” than normal. According to the pilot, while near the end of the downwind leg, about 400 ft above ground level, the passenger shook the control stick “violently” and yelled “something about power.” He shook the controls again and yelled “my airplane” and assumed control of the airplane. When the airplane was abeam the runway threshold, the passenger began a turn toward the base leg of the airport traffic pattern. At that time the pilot noticed that the engine speed was about 3,200 rpm, slightly below the typical setting of 3,500 rpm for cruise flight. The pilot noted that the airplane was “low”; however, he thought the altitude was sufficient to clear the power lines. The pilot reported that a partial loss of engine power occurred about the same time the passenger turned the airplane onto the base leg. The airplane then banked “hard” to the left, pitched nose down, descended into power lines, and impacted the ground. The engine continued to operate, and the pilot attempted to shut down the engine with the magneto switches, but the engine continued to run. He then located the master switch, turned it off, and the engine stopped. The power lines were oriented north/south (5° magnetic) and located about 350 - 500 ft west of the runway, which was oriented about 14° magnetic. The utility line towers were about 350 ft apart, and the highest wire was equipped with two visibility marker balls. With the designated left traffic pattern and all takeoffs and landings to the north, a typical traffic pattern involved crossing over the power lines on the base leg. Figure 1 - Wreckage / Runway and Power line Location Examination of the airplane by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed that the airplane came to rest adjacent to one of the utility towers supporting the power lines. All major components of the airplane were present at the accident site. An electrical arcing mark was present on the left wingtip. The forward fuselage was fractured aft of the front pilot station and was mostly separated from the remainder of the fuselage. The airplane was mostly intact from the rear pilot station to the tail. The aileron and rudder controls were continuous from the rear pilot station to their respective control surfaces. The elevator controls were continuous from the rear pilot station though a fracture in the elevator push-pull tube (which remained attached to its fixtures at both ends), to the elevator. The airplane was equipped with an airframe parachute, which was not deployed. The “safety pin” which prevents accidental deployment while on the ground was removed, which is appropriate for flight. The fuel tank was about 1/2 full, and a sample taken upstream of the fuel filter appeared and smelled consistent with automotive fuel, which is the engine manufacturer’s recommended fuel type. The tips of all three composite propeller blades were frayed/damaged. The engine throttle control cable was fractured in several locations. Postaccident examination of the engine revealed that the left side carburetor’s throttle arm was slightly bent, which allowed it to contact a bracket when the arm was positioned at a partial throttle setting. The impingement did not prevent moving the arm to the full throttle setting; however, it intermittently prevented the arm from returning to the idle position. No other anomalies were found that would have precluded normal operation. Toxicological samples from the passenger were tested by the FAA’s Forensic Sciences Laboratory, which detected Delta-9-THC at 11.5 ng/mL, 11-hydroxy-delta-9-THC at 3.4 ng/mL, and carboxy-delta-9-THC at 39.7 ng/mL in femoral blood. Those three substances were also detected in urine. Delta-9-THC, commonly known as THC, is the primary psychoactive chemical in cannabis and hashish, which are derived from cannabis plants. THC is commonly smoked or ingested recreationally by users seeking mind-altering effects. It may also be used medicinally to treat illness-associated nausea and appetite loss. Psychoactive effects of THC vary depending on the user, dose, and route of administration, and may include relaxation, euphoria, disinhibition, disorientation, altered perception of time and space, impaired concentration and memory, altered thought formation and expression, sedation, panic, paranoia, heightened senses, emotional lability, psychosis, and dulled attention with the illusion of increased insight. THC can impair motor coordination, reaction time, decision making, problem solving, and vigilance. According to FAA records, before the passenger’s airman and medical certificate were revoked in September 2017, he had held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. His most recent medical application date was June 7, 2016.

Probable Cause and Findings

The passenger’s decision to continue an unstable approach while at low altitude and in proximity to a known obstacle, which resulted in a collision with power lines.


Source: NTSB Aviation Accident Database

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