Crash victim had 40 hours of solo time
PENN YAN--The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released their preliminary findings Wednesday, May 13, on the fatal crash at Penn Yan Airport earlier this month. The crash killed Steven P. Seely, 55, of Stanley May 3 after a failed takeoff attempt. The report indicated Seely had been cleared for solo flights for six to seven months prior to the crash and had logged some 40 hours of flight time.
According to the report, Seely held a student pilot certificate and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third-class medical certificate, which was issued Jan. 20, 2014. According to the FAA, a medical certificate is required when flying solo in any airplane, helicopter, gyroplane or airship. A first-class certificate is generally issued for airline transport pilots, with second-class for the commercial pilot and third-class for the student, recreational or private pilot. The pilot's flight instructor said Seely had been endorsed for solo flight around October, 2014, and had accumulated an estimated 40 total hours of flight experience.
The report claims the aircraft -- a Cessna 172G -- impacted the ground and a perimeter fence during climb after a "touch-and-go landing" around 11:34 a.m. at the Penn Yan Airport. The student pilot was fatally injured during the crash. No flight plan was filed for the flight, which departed from Finger Lakes Regional Airport in Seneca Falls at about 11:15 a.m.
A pilot-rated witness observed the airplane in the traffic pattern for runway 19 prior to the accident. He stated as the airplane turned left from onto the base leg of the traffic pattern, it was in a "very aggressive slip." About the same time, he observed the windsock and estimated the winds to be "greater than 10 knots." He stated that while on final approach, the airplane appeared to be "high and fast," estimating its height to be about 100 to 150 feet above the ground as it crossed over the runway threshold. He said it then appeared to "float" down the runway. The witness then lost sight of the airplane behind terrain and obstructions, and realized the airplane had crashed when he saw first responders arriving at the airport several minutes later. He noted that during the landing approach, the flaps appeared to be fully extended, the propeller was rotating, and the engine sounded as if it were at idle speed.
Another witness was located on a golf course adjacent to the airport, at near the mid-point of runway 19. When he first saw the airplane, it was almost at a right angle to his position adjacent to the runway, and it looked like it was taking off. He elaborated the engine sounded normal, and the climb appeared normal from the time the wheels left the ground, until a height of about 50 feet. At that point the airplane began climbing at a faster rate than it had been previously, and banked to the left. The airplane also appeared to be higher and climbing faster than other airplanes he had previously observed at about the same location. The airplane then descended, while continuing the left banking arc as if the left wing was "tied to the ground with a string."
The 11:35 a.m. weather observation at Penn Yan Airport included wind at eight knots, 10 miles visibility, clear skies, a 73 degrees Fahrenheit temperature, a dewpoint of 37 degrees Fahrenheit and an altimeter setting of 30.08 inches of mercury.
The airplane came to rest upright with the right wing resting on the airport perimeter fence, about 300 feet to the left of the runway centerline and about 2,800 feet from the runway 19 approach threshold. All of the major components of the airplane were accounted for at the accident site. Areas of disturbed soil and intermittent ground scars extended from the initial impact point. A piece of left wing navigation light was located in the wreckage path about 20 feet from the initial impact point. About 15 feet further down the path, a ground scar was found oriented 90 degrees to the path, about the length of the propeller diameter and the width of a propeller blade. About two feet farther was an impact crater three feet wide and eight feet in length containing paint chips and fragments of wind screen, followed by the main wreckage.
The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft flange, and both blades displayed S-bending, chordwise scratching and leading edge gouging. The engine remained partially attached to the firewall by its mounts. The nose landing gear was fractured and separated from the airplane at the firewall attachment point, consistent with impact. The nose section from the firewall forward had separated from the fuselage on both sides and the windscreen was fractured and separated from the fuselage. The outboard portion left wing was deformed upward, and displayed aft (rear) crush damage consistent with ground contact. The right wing displayed a concave depression and was deformed aft beginning at the outboard of the wing strut.
First responders reported upon their arrival they observed fuel leaking from the left wing in the area of the vent tube and subsequently drained about seven gallons from the left wing, along with about 10 gallons from the right wing. Fuel samples from both tanks displayed a color and odor consistent with automotive gasoline, and a trace amount of water was detected in the sample from the left wing and in fuel recovered from the carburetor float bowl.
Flight control continuity was established from each control surface to the cockpit area. The elevator trim tab actuator position was consistent with five to 10 degrees of tab deflection in the nose up direction. The flap actuator extension was measured, and found in a position consistent with a 40 degree flap extension. The front seat tracks and seat roller brackets for both seats were checked for wear and found to be within prescribed limits. The left seat positioning rod was found bent forward about one inch from the engagement end.
The engine crankshaft was rotated by hand at the propeller flange and continuity of the valve and powertrains was confirmed to the rear accessory gears. The oil screen and paper oil filter element were unobstructed and absent of metallic contamination. The spark plugs were removed and the No. 6 cylinder plugs displayed black-colored carbon-type fouling. Thumb compression was confirmed on all cylinders. The fuel strainer screen and carburetor inlet screen were absent of debris. The carburetor floats were intact and both displayed concave inward uniform deformation. The magnetos were removed and actuated by hand. Spark was observed at each of their respective terminal leads.
NTSB Air Safety Investigator Doug Brazy said the full investigation could take up to a year before the cause of the accident is determined.