Preliminary Report: Mid-air collision kills one

 - May 19, 2008, 8:16 AM

PILATUS UV-20A, MARANA, ARIZ., MARCH 15, 2002–A U.S. Army chief warrant officer died when the Pilatus Turbo-Porter he was flying collided with a Cessna 182 during jump operations in March. The Pilatus pilot had just finished dropping five members of the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team. All of the Golden Knights jumpers landed safely, as did the pilot and four jumpers in the Cessna 182. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the Marana Northwest Regional Air Park.

According to a preliminary NTSB investigation, witnesses reported the Pilatus departed Runway 12 and headed to the south to climb to the jump altitude of 5,500 ft (3,500 ft agl). The pilot confirmed the drop zone was clear with the drop zone safety officer. He radioed the intent to drop jumpers when he was about 90 sec out and the skydivers began to jump as they deemed the flight path to the target correct. The first jumper told investigators he was in the air for a maximum of 1 min 30 sec and, as he approached the ground, saw people scattering.

In interviews with the Cessna pilot, he explained a jump pilot’s routine of achieving jump altitude as the airplane reaches the jump zone. The Cessna pilot departed Runway 12 about five minutes after the Pilatus and made a wide right turn around the airport. He told investigators he planned to make a right turn to parallel the runway and then turn toward the drop zone.

The jumpers on board the Cessna reported seeing the Golden Knights exit their airplane and recalled their own altimeters read 2,500 ft. The Cessna pilot heard the Pilatus pilot call downwind for Runway 12. Just as he was ready to start the turn toward the jump zone, the Cessna pilot heard a loud bang and felt something hit his head. He noted that the airplane lost several hundred feet of altitude, and then he looked out and saw half his left aileron hanging.

Hearing the bang, the jumpers looked to the pilot for clearance to go. Without hesitation the lead jumper verified they were at least 2,000 ft agl and led the group out of the damaged airplane. All the jumpers landed safely on the northeast side of the runway. Although he carried his own parachute, the pilot determined the Cessna was flyable and flew a left pattern that culminated in a safe landing on the runway in use.

Several witnesses on the ground, as well as the Cessna pilot, heard a radio transmission just after the airplanes collided. The Unicom frequency was broadcast over a loudspeaker on the ground and the disturbance caused the witnesses to look up in time to see the Pilatus in a “near vertical, slow, nosedown spiral.” Witnesses estimated the Pilatus’ altitude at 1,500 ft when they first became aware of its predicament. They lost sight of it beyond buildings in the distance.

Investigators found the Pilatus in a “brushy, dry river bed” not far from the airport. Investigators said the fuselage “crushed longitudinally into the principal impact crater, which was about 22 inches deep.” They found the Cessna had “a zigzag tear in the skin of the left rear section of the cabin. Scrape marks with yellow and black paint ran from the tear along the top of the left flap and the aft six inches of the left wing.” They found two of the three inboard hinges fractured and separated on the left aileron. In addition, they found a fractured “semispherical green lens” on the floor of the Cessna. One piece was on the floor to the right of the pilot; the other was near the rudder pedals