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NTSB Cites Seat Pin Failure In Alaskan C-180 Fatal

Cessna Will Install Safety Kit For Free... But Time Is Running Out

A well-known -- and easily correctable -- flaw in many older Cessna high-wing aircraft led to a fatal crash near Alaska's Mount Whittier last year, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

In its Probable Cause report issued this week, the NTSB determined Anchorage city engineer Howard Holtan died when his Cessna 180 stalled on takeoff, due to the failure of the seat retention pins at a critical time.

The Board is fairly certain Holtan instinctively pulled back on the yoke when his seat slid back, causing the aircraft to pitch up violently and leading to a departure stall. Holtan was killed in the September 22, 2007 crash; his wife, Roberta, survived with critical injuries.

"You know, to the lay person, it would seem it's kind of a benign event, but unfortunately it can have disastrous results," NTSB investigator Clint Johnson told KTUU-2.

The report states a pilot friend of Holtan's watched the accident aircraft take off, and noted "the airplane's nose appeared abnormally high. He said that as the airplane began to climb, "the wings began to wobble" then the airplane disappeared behind an area of hilly, tree-covered terrain at the west end of the lake."

The friend feared the plane had crashed... but when he couldn't locate any wreckage as he flew over the area in his own plane, the friend continued onto their planned destination. "When the accident airplane failed to arrive at Johnstone Bay, the pilot of the second airplane contacted the Kenai Flight Service Station (FSS) specialist on duty, and reported the that the first airplane was presumed to have crashed," the Board notes.

When investigators arrived on scene, they noted "[t]he pilot's seat was discovered in the full aft position. The aft seat rail roller assembly was found against a rail-mounted SAF-T-Stop Seat Stop. The SAF-T-Stop Seat Stop is an auxiliary seat stop mechanism that stops rearward motion should the seat lock fail. According to the two hikers that first arrived on scene after the accident, neither recalled moving the pilot's seat during the rescue."

Seat failure due to worn retention-pin holes in the seat rail (shown top, right) is a known problem on older Cessna high-wing aircraft... and, has led to other fatal accidents. Months before the Holtan crash, Cessna issued a service bulletin offering to install a corrective safety kit, free of charge. Holtan's borrowed plane did not have a kit; in fact, an Anchorage Cessna dealer estimates less than 10 percent of affected aircraft have had the kit installed.

"They say, 'I don't have time to get it done,' 'I can't get my airplane in.' 'Just don't want to do it,'" said Tony Cestnik with Aero Twin.

Owners of affected aircraft -- which range from Cessna 170 models through the C-210 line -- have until May 2009 to have those safety kits installed for free... and the NTSB wants to get the word out.

FMI: Read The Probable Cause Report, www.cessna.com

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