Preliminary Report: T-prop single crashes on approach

 - January 28, 2008, 8:15 AM

SOCATA TBM 700, LEESBURG, VA., MARCH 1, 2003–TBM 700 N700PP was destroyed, and its three occupants killed, when it crashed into trees during an instrument approach to Leesburg Executive Airport (JYO), Va., at 2:45 p.m. EST. All three were employees of High Performance Technologies of Arlington, Va.
Donald Fitzpatrick, 58, in the left seat of the aircraft, held a private pilot certificate with 730 hours of flight experience and ratings for single-engine land and instrument airplane. He was the company’s president and CEO.

Greg Jackson, 42, a former NBAA staffer, was in the right front seat of the aircraft. Jackson had been manager of tax issues for NBAA from 1999 to 2002, when he left the association to take a flying position with High Performance. At the time of the accident he held an ATP certificate for airplane multi-engine land, with ratings for the ATR 42, ATR 72, Boeing 737 and DHC-7. He also held a commercial pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land, a certified flight instructor certificate for airplane single-engine land, airplane multi-engine land and instrument airplane. He had in excess of 8,300 hours. Both pilots’ medicals were current.

The third occupant, Bronson Boyd, 56, survived the crash and was taken to a local hospital, where he later died of his injuries. The aircraft had departed Greer, S.C. (GSP), earlier on an IFR flight plan for JYO.

The aircraft crashed in a residential area on the edge of Leesburg’s historic district, one mile short of the runway threshold, narrowly missing several homes. Witnesses reported low visibility due to fog in the area at the time of the accident. Leah Yeager, NTSB investigator on site, said, “Witnesses saw the aircraft bank and descend into the trees. It came to rest about six to nine feet from a house.” It has not been determined if weather was a contributing factor.

A preliminary review of ATC communications revealed that the pilot received radar vectors to intercept the localizer course for the Localizer Runway 17 approach. At 2:28 p.m., an approach controller provided the current altimeter setting and asked the pilot if he had the current weather conditions. The pilot acknowledged the altimeter setting and reported that he had the current weather information, which was reported as wind 150 degrees at five knots, temperature 37 degrees F, dew point 35 degrees F and altimeter setting 30.14. The visibility was one mile and the ceiling was 500 feet overcast. By 2:40 p.m. the reported ceiling had dropped to 300 feet overcast.

At 2:40 p.m. the approach controller instructed the pilot to intercept the localizer course, and the pilot acknowledged. About one minute later, the approach controller advised the pilot that he was located three miles north of warde intersection (final approach fix), to maintain 3,000 feet until established and that he was cleared for the Localizer Runway 17 approach. Again, the pilot acknowledged.

At 2:42 p.m., the approach controller advised the pilot to cancel IFR services with Leesburg FSS once on the ground and approved a frequency change for airport advisories. In his final radio communication, the pilot acknowledged.

The published inbound course for the approach is 171 degrees magnetic, and the minimum descent altitude is 720 feet msl. The crossing altitude at warde intersection is 1,800 feet msl. The distance between warde and the missed approach point, located at the end of Runway 17, is 3.9 nm. The airport elevation is 389 feet msl. The published weather minimums for the localizer approach include a 400-foot ceiling and one-mile visibility.

A preliminary review of radar data revealed that an IFR target approached Leesburg Airport from the northwest. Examination of the last four minutes of radar data revealed that the target turned toward the south to intercept the localizer course about nine nautical miles from the end of Runway 17. It then made five or six turns across the localizer course, left and right, as it proceeded toward the airport. When the target was about seven nautical miles north of the runway, it was at 2,700 feet msl and had a groundspeed of 140 knots.

When about five nautical miles north of the runway, the TBM 700 was at an altitude of 1,700 feet msl and had a groundspeed of 130 knots. Over warde it was at 1,700 feet msl and groundspeed was 90 knots. About three nautical miles north of the airport, its altitude was 1,400 feet msl and groundspeed was 90 knots. Two nautical miles north of the airport, the turboprop single was in a left turn toward the east before the data ended at 2:45 p.m. The last radar target showed 700 feet msl and 70 knots groundspeed.

According to the NTSB investigator, several witnesses saw and heard the airplane. One witness, a private pilot and an airplane owner based at Leesburg, told the investigator he was in his truck approaching a stop sign when he first saw and heard the airplane. He said the airplane “appeared” out of the fog about 300 to 400 feet agl directly in front of him. The airplane was in a “slight left bank” (10 to 15 degrees), with the nose pointed “slightly down” (about 20 to 25 degrees), and traveling fast. The airplane was in a left turn, moving south to east and toward the north.

The witness then saw the airplane “simultaneously and suddenly level out,” pitch up (20 to 25 degrees) and increase power. The change in engine sound was similar to that when takeoff power is applied, he said. The witness thought that the pilot realized he was low and was trying to “get out of there.” The airplane continued to descend in the nose-high attitude toward the trees. The witness estimated the descent angle of the airplane to be 65 degrees before he lost sight of it as it descended behind trees. When asked if he thought that the airplane got on the “back side” of the power curve, the witness responded, “That’s exactly what happened. It looked as if he got on the backside of the power curve, and that is what I have told other people. If he had had more altitude he might have recovered. But even if he did recover, there was still a ridge directly in front of his position that he would have had to clear, and I am not sure if he would have been able to do that.” The witness also noted that the engine sounded to be operating normally, and that the weather was foggy with low visibility.

A second witness stated that she was on her back porch about one-eighth mile from the accident site when she heard an airplane engine getting “louder and louder.” She then stepped off her porch and went out into her backyard. When she looked up, the airplane flew eastward directly overhead about five stories high. The belly of the airplane was parallel to the ground and was colored blue, she said, adding that the landing gear was not extended. Further, she stated, the engine sounded “loud and constant” the entire time, and the airplane then made a sharp left bank and started to turn toward the north. It continued to increase the left bank, she noted, when the nose dropped down into the trees, and the witness lost sight of the turboprop single. The witness also described the weather as a gray overcast, but not foggy.

A third witness was in his yard, which he stated was about a quarter mile from the accident site. He first heard an airplane flying low overhead. When he looked up, he saw it emerging from the clouds, about four stories above the ground, in a level attitude, headed east. He said the airplane then made a sharp left bank and started to turn toward the north. The nose of the airplane “was being pulled up” while in the turn, he added, and it then dropped, and pointed down toward the ground. The witness did not see the airplane hit the ground, but noted that the engine sounded as if it was “cutting in and out” before impact. The witness also noted that the weather was “very foggy.”

A fourth witness was in her backyard, located across the street from the accident site. She heard the sound of an airplane engine “revving up and down.” The witness then looked up and saw the airplane on its side, descending through the trees. She said it was “teetering” back and forth as it descended, and the top of it was facing her direction. The witness also described the weather as foggy.

A fifth witness said that he heard an airplane that sounded really low, but could
not see it. The engine sounded “normal,” he said, and then faded for about 10 seconds before it began to “surge” or “race.” Two to three seconds later he heard a crashing sound. The witness also stated that the weather was extremely cloudy and foggy.

The airplane wreckage was examined at the site and all major components were accounted for at the scene. The airplane came to rest upright, in the backyard of a private residence on a heading of 045 degrees, at a ground elevation of approximately 395 feet msl and about two nautical miles north of the airport. Initial tree-impact scars started about 75 feet from the main wreckage, and several broken tree branches were located at the base of the approximately 75-foot-high trees. Tree-impact scars became progressively lower on the trees in the direction of the main wreckage. Several cut tree branches were found along the wreckage path. Examination of the branches revealed that the ends were cut at approximately 45-degree angles. The surface of the cuts exhibited black paint transfer marks.

The outboard section of the right elevator, a section of right-wing fuel tank, the right main landing gear without its tire, and the inboard section of the left wing were found scattered along the wreckage path. The fuselage was relatively intact. Preliminary investigation did not reveal any mechanical problems. The NTSB is continuing its investigation.