Fatal plane crash (1984)

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  1. sunny91

    sunny91 Video Extraordinaire

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    #1 sunny91, Oct 10, 2009
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2009
    Document #1 -- The tragic tale of the missing Cessna L-19E

    Cessna serial number 24527 - FAA Reg. Number N4584A - January, 2009 Intended Flight Route: Granby, Colorado to (Jeffco County) Denver, Colorado. Lost: August 10th, 1984 More.. at approx. 13:00 hours Found: August 23rd, 1987, near Tabernash, Colorado

    It’s a very tragic tale – unwittingly caught on film by the gentleman who died in the crash along with a friend riding in the back seat. It was first shown to me (along with many others) at an FIRC (Flight Instructor Renewal Clinic) over 20 years ago.

    Here’s what happened: The gentleman flying this aircraft (a restored single-engine Cessna L-19E “Bird Dog” - commonly used by the US Army (beginning in 1962, it was also known as the “O-1” during the Vietnam War – the last one retiring from active service in 1974) the USAF in Korea Vietnam for general spotting (F.A.C.) liaison duties as well as a basic training airplane in the US) had been offered a contract by the Colorado Dept. of Forestry to videotape a particularly nasty type of beetle infestation that had been ravaging hundreds of acres of Colorado forest in and around some of the higher-elevation foothills surrounding some of the Rockies. One thing that was unique about this particular flight was that the pilot had mounted a VHS video camcorder atop the instrument panel for the purpose of visually recording any beetle infestation that was observed along the flight route. The pilot started the camera shortly after takeoff and it ran until the aircraft crashed down through the trees – approx. 6-1/2 minutes later.

    The problem, as you’ll see in this (approx.) 6-1/2 minute video, was that he was flying into what can be clearly seen as gradually ever-ascending terrain altitude. However, because of the density altitude conditions which existed at the time of the accident (remember, this was in August), he was already at or above the airplane’s effective “service ceiling” – the point at which a plane cannot maintain at least a minimum of a 100 foot-per-minute rate of climb – in this case, he was flying a normally-aspirated (meaning no turbocharger or supercharger on the engine) single-engine plane at or above it’s normal level of (density) altitude for which it was capable of maintaining – again, considering the abrupt bank angle attempted at the end of the flight which culminated in the crash itself.

    As he flew along – with his friend in the back seat (this being a “tandem-seat” aircraft - fore-and-aft seating – like a Piper Super Cub), you can see the terrain continually slowly increase in altitude, until right at the very end of the tape, when he makes his second – and fatal – error. He makes a moderately steep turn to the right (in excess of 45 to 50 degrees angle of bank) in an attempt to turn around quickly – the plane loses considerable lift and initially stalls twice; then on the 3rd stall (with the stall warning horn blaring in the background), enters the traditional “stall/spin” syndrome and flips upside down as the left (up-wing) wing stalls completely and the plane, flipping over on it’s back, plunges straight down through the trees – but not before capturing the pilot’s last mournful cry to his friend in the back seat: “Damn, hang on Ronnie!!”; the plane smashes downwards through the thick tree branches (you can hear the heavy “thuds” as the plane’s wings smash into these while heading for the ground); it crashes burns – killing both the pilot and back-seat passenger.

    There is a small fire which consumes some of the wreckage but no forest fire is started and since the plane plunged straight down through the trees to the ground, there was no visible tree damage for any would-be rescuers to use to spot the wreckage or crash location. One additional important factor that added to the delay of the discovery of the wreckage was the fact that the fuselage (the main body) of the plane came to rest upside down – on top of the ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter) antenna, effectively silencing its emergency signal to satellites and other would-be rescue aircraft.

    Note: The above photo text is wrong in that it was just over three (3) years from the crash date of Aug. 10th, 1984 until its initial discovery on Aug. 23rd, 1987.

    The wreckage laid there for approximately 3 years (Aug. 10th, 1984 to Aug. 23rd, 1987) until it was found by a pair of backpackers hiking through that particular location. The wreckage was removed and after the NTSB the FAA released their findings (based on both crash evidence as well as lack of prior logged maintenance problems with the plane); the wreckage was then released to the family of the deceased pilot as the plane had belonged to him. The family kept what they wanted and gave the rest to a scrap yard for final disposition.

    Dale Wood, a Colorado deputy sheriff investigating the wreckage and the crash scene, discovered the shattered video recorder within the wreckage and “rebuilt” the tape (which was in pieces and had been exposed to the elements for 3 years – some of it hanging from tree branches during that 3 year period of time!!) and turned it over to the NTSB for final review. The end result was what you see here – the pilot had recorded, on video tape, his “…continued flight into rising terrain – combined with a high density altitude condition existing at that time – along with an abrupt maneuver (approx. 45 - 50+ degrees angle of bank) resulting in a fatal “stall/spin” accident…” – he had unwittingly recorded his own death.

    The fire had warped and partially melted the VHS recorder into a misshapen hunk of plastic that no one at the NTSB or FAA could recognize, so they initially passed on a closer examination – thinking it was apparently some sort of item that could not be attributed to playing any conceivable role in the accident.

    Sunny
     

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