Aviation Accident Summaries

Aviation Accident Summary ERA21LA322

Hiddenite, NC, USA

Aircraft #1




The flight instructor and private pilot working towards a multiengine rating reported that during a practice single-engine emergency descent, they received a primary flight display data failure. The student attempted to recover from the rapid descent and despite both of their efforts to apply back pressure on the flight controls, they could not arrest the descent. The flight instructor took over the flight controls and restored power to the engine that had been intentionally shut down; however, he believed that neither engine was producing full power. The descent continued despite their efforts to pull back on the flight controls. An off-airport landing was made in an open field. Postaccident examination and tests of the airplane’s flight control system revealed no evidence of preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures. Flight control continuity and elevator trim continuity was confirmed, and the full range of movement was observed for all controls. The variable elevator stop system was observed to function without abnormalities when tested. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) airplane performance study found that a rapid descent was entered. However, the data revealed that throughout the loss of altitude in the final minutes of the flight, the rate of descent was arrested, and pitch attitude increased in the final minute of flight before decreasing again. The airspeed throughout the descent likely remained above the aerodynamic stall speed. The investigation was unable to determine any reason why the pilots were unable to recover from the emergency descent. Although the airplane sustained substantial damage to the right wing, the airplane’s nose section, cockpit, fuselage, and empennage sustained minimal damage. The lack of damage to the airplane and an NTSB airplane performance study indicated that the airplane’s pitch likely remained somewhat controllable throughout the descent. The elevator trim position was found slightly nose forward, and neither pilot adjusted the trim wheel to relieve control pressure during their attempts to arrest their descent. It is possible that their lack of action in adjusting the trim wheel contributed to the sensation that they could not increase the pitch of the airplane. The autopilot circuit breaker had been pulled and collared prior to the flight, which also deactivated the electric elevator trim, thus the electric trim did not contribute to the accident.

Factual Information

On August 9, 2021, about 1335 eastern daylight time, a Diamond Aircraft DA-42-L360 airplane, N906ER, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Hiddenite, North Carolina. The flight instructor and private pilot were not injured. The airplane was operated by Academy of Aviation as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 instructional flight. The flight instructor and private pilot had completed several maneuvers and simulated emergency procedures during the multiengine instructional flight. Following a simulated single-engine approach and landing into Wilkes County Airport (UKF), North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the instructor attempted to simulate a right-engine failure during the takeoff roll; however, the engine lost power. The instructor restarted the right engine and performed a “quick run up” on the runway in which “everything was functioning normally.” The student continued the takeoff and climb. Upon reaching 5,000 ft mean sea level (msl), the student performed an emergency descent maneuver while also simulating a left engine fire. As part of the simulated left engine fire, the left engine was shut down with the full reduction of the throttle, propeller, and mixture. During the maneuver after descending about 500 – 1000 ft, the Attitude and Heading Reference System (AHRS) failed, and the flight instructor directed the student to recover “gradually and easily” at 3,500 ft msl and maintain 90 knots. The AHRS displayed a message that it was aligning/ calibrating and to keep the wings level. The flight instructor subsequently noticed that airspeed had increased through 100 knots and altitude had decreased to about 3,000 ft, and about this time, the student stated, “I can’t pitch up” and then the sole operating right engine began to sputter. The flight instructor took the flight controls and, on both engines, applied full-forward mixture, propeller, throttle, and ensured the landing gear and flaps were up; however, he was unable to increase the pitch and stop the descent as well. The flight instructor noticed that the manual elevator trim was near the takeoff position. Neither the flight instructor, nor student, adjusted the elevator trim in the descent. The flight instructor reported that “it felt as if we were unable to fully pull the control stick back, as if it were restricted preventing full movement.” He added that both engines regained power, however, it felt as if they “were not producing normal operation power.” He reported that the airspeed increased to over 100 knots during the descent, so he reduced power, and turned toward an open field. Throughout the descent, the flight instructor reported that “We both were pulling back as hard as we could but could not get the nose to come up.” About 500 ft above ground level, the flight instructor kept his hands on the control stick and the student moved the landing gear down and added full flaps for landing. Subsequently, the airplane touched down in an open soybean field, impacted a ditch, and skidded to a stop. During the landing, the nose gear collapsed, and the right main landing gear partially collapsed, which resulted in substantial damage to the right wing. Postaccident examination of the airplane and engines revealed no evidence of preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures. Flight control continuity was established from the flight controls to each control surface, which moved freely and correctly through the full range of motion. The manual elevator trim wheel indicated a slight nose down setting. The autopilot circuit breaker was found pulled and collared. When electrical power was turned on, the electric elevator trim switch did not move the elevator trim as expected. According to the airplane flight and maintenance manual, the airplane was equipped with a variable elevator stop system which is an electrically operated actuator that limits the elevator up travel depending upon engine and flap settings. This system was evaluated according to the operational test in the maintenance manual and no abnormalities were observed with the flight controls. An NTSB airplane performance study was performed utilizing automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) data and weather modelling. Review of the data in the final few minutes of the flight found that a rapid descent was initiated from about 5,000 ft msl. Within the initial phase of the descent, the airplane pitched down 30° and banked right to about 45°. A maximum of about 155 knots indicated airspeed and a 6,000 foot per minute descent was obtained before a momentary leveling off was observed. The descent then continued but at a lower rate. Within the final minute of data, the pitch increased to about a positive 5° angle, which was followed by a pitch down of about 10°. Subsequently, airspeed increased from about 80 knots to about 140 knots and the descent rate reached 4,000 feet per minute (fpm). Within the final 20 seconds of data, airspeed decreased rapidly from about 140 knots to a minimum observed 70 knots, the rate of climb increased momentarily to 1,000 fpm, and pitch increased to positive 10° before decreasing to negative 5° near the end of data. The airspeed throughout the descent likely remained above the aerodynamic stall speed. A weight and balance calculation performed by the operator found that the airplane was within the normal envelope range. An attempt was made to download flight data from the Garmin G1000 SD cards installed, however, no data had logged to the cards.

Probable Cause and Findings

The flight instructor’s inability to stop the descent following a practice emergency descent for reasons that could not be determined.


Source: NTSB Aviation Accident Database

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