Had A Taxi Take Him To His Airplane Rather Than A Hotel
It's pretty well known that alcohol and airplanes are a deadly combination. In October, a pilot who was asked to leave a bar in Soldotna, AK, told the taxi driver called by his friend and fellow pilot that he was going to sleep in his PA-18 rather than a local hotel. But according to the NTSB's factual report on the accident, the student pilot, who was reported to be intoxicated, apparently decided to try to return to his home airport in Palmer rather than sleep in the plane. He and the Super Cub (similar airplane pictured. Not accident aircraft) have been missing since October 13.
HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On October 13, 2012, at an undetermined time, a tailwheel-equipped Piper PA-18-150 airplane, N444LZ, went missing and is presumed to have crashed, at a location between Soldotna, Alaska, and Palmer, Alaska. The student pilot, who was also the airplane owner, is presumed to have received fatal injuries, and the airplane is presumed to have been destroyed. The airplane was being operated as a visual flight rules cross-country personal flight under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. Dark night, visual meteorological conditions likely prevailed at the point of departure, and no flight plan was filed. The flight is presumed to have originated at the Soldotna Airport in Soldotna, at 0137 and was reportedly en route to the private Wolf Lake Airport in Palmer.
An Alaska State Trooper who participated in the search reported that the missing airplane was one of two airplanes that arrived at the Soldotna Airport on the afternoon of October 12. He said that the two pilots parked their airplanes in the transient parking area with plans to stay overnight in Soldotna and return to Palmer the next day. The State Trooper added that, during his initial investigation, he learned that both pilots went to local bar in Soldotna, and that the pilot of the missing airplane left the bar in a taxicab about midnight.
In a written statement to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), dated November 2, the pilot of the second airplane, a longtime friend of the missing pilot, reported that after arriving in Soldotna the pair attended a local hockey game together. After the game, they met a group of friends and visited a few local bars in Soldotna. He added that just after midnight, on October 13, his friend was asked by security personnel to leave a bar, so he walked his friend to an awaiting taxicab. He reported that, once his friend was in the back of the taxicab, he instructed the driver to take him to a local hotel, and that was the last time he saw him.
During a telephone conversation with the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC) on October 30, a bar security guard reported that, just after midnight on October 13, he escorted an individual matching the description of the pilot to an awaiting taxicab after the individual had a brief disturbance with other bar customers. The security guard stated that the individual was very intoxicated.
During a telephone conversation with the NTSB IIC on October 30, a taxicab driver reported that, just after midnight at the bar, two individuals placed an intoxicated person (later determined to be the missing pilot) in the back of his taxicab and instructed him to take the pilot to a local hotel. The taxicab driver said that, after he drove the pilot to the hotel as instructed, the pilot refused to get out of the taxicab. The driver stated that the pilot first asked to be taken back to the bar but subsequently insisted to be taken to the Soldotna Airport. After the taxicab driver reluctantly agreed to take him to the airport, and when he asked the man about his intentions, the pilot reported that was going to sleep in the airplane, something he had done many times before. The taxicab driver said that after arriving at the Soldotna Airport, the pilot got out, but he did not see which way he went, and he did not see an airplane nearby.
A review and forensic analysis of archived radar data was done by the National Radar Assessment Team, along with technicians for the U.S. Air Force 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron, commonly known as RADES, which revealed that, on October 13, about 0137, an unidentified aircraft, believed to be the missing airplane, departed from the Soldotna Airport. After departure, the radar track initially proceeded southeast of the airport before it turned and flew west, then northeast, before making a series of erratic turns, along with several changes in speed, heading and altitude. Eventually, the radar track proceeded northwest over the waters of Cook Inlet, before turning back to the northeast. The last position of the radar target was recorded about 0248, roughly mid-channel, while in a descent over the Cook Inlet, about 30 miles north of Soldotna, or about 25 miles north-northeast of Kenai, Alaska. A copy of the radar flight track map overlay is included in the public docket for this accident.
The pilot, age 27, held a student pilot/third class medical certificate that was issued on April 11, 2011. The medical certificate contained no limitations. A student pilot certificate, for an individual under 40 years old, is valid for 60 months.
No personal flight records were located for the student pilot, and the aeronautical experience listed on page 3 of this report was obtained from FAA records on file in the Airman and Medical Records Center located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. On his application for medical certificate, dated April 11, 2011, he indicated that his total aeronautical experience was 15 flight hours, all of which were accrued in the previous 6 months.
A review of the student pilot’s third class medical certificate, dated April 11, 2011, revealed that in section "V" of the application for airman medical and student certificate, FAA form number 8500-8, the accident pilot checked "No," indicating that he had never been convicted or arrested on any charges of driving while intoxicated (DWI). According to information provided by the Alaska State Troopers, the pilot was charged, and he was convicted to a DWI charge in June of 2002.
The closest weather reporting facility was at the Kenai Municipal Airport, about 25 miles south-southwest of the last position of the radar target. At 0153, a weather observation from the Kenai Airport was reporting, in part: Wind, 020 degrees (true) at 3 knots; visibility, 10 statute miles; cloud and sky conditions, clear; temperature, 25 degrees F; dew point, 23 degrees F; altimeter, 29.11 inHg. Dark night conditions prevailed at that time.
There were no reports of communications with the missing airplane.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The presumed crash site is the Cook Inlet, a saltwater inlet off the Gulf of Alaska. According to nautical charts, at the last known location of the airplane, the water is less than 100 feet deep during mean low tide. The several rivers that terminate at the inlet are glacier fed, and visibility in the water is often less than 1 foot due to turbidity. The Inlet is an area with strong tidal influence, and strong currents.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The sole occupant has not been recovered, and no medical or pathological information is available.
SEARCH AND RESCUE / SURVIVAL ASPECTS
After the airplane did not arrive in Palmer the following day, family and friends of the missing pilot reported the airplane overdue. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an alert notice on October 14 at 0923 Alaska daylight time. Search personnel from the Civil Air Patrol, Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Air National Guard, and the U.S. Coast Guard, along with several volunteers, were dispatched to conduct an extensive search effort. The official search was suspended on October 21. Family members and volunteers continued to search for the missing airplane.
No emergency transmitter locator (ELT) signal was received by search personnel. The missing airplane was not equipped with, nor required to be equipped with, a digital, 406 MHz ELT that instantly transmits a distress signal to search and rescue satellites, thereby alerting rescue personnel within minutes of the location of the crash. As of February 1, 2009, analog, 121.5 MHz ELT's stopped being monitored by search and rescue satellites, and the installation of the 406 MHz has been voluntary. The missing airplane had an older generation 121.5 MHz ELT installed. Both types of ELT’s can be turned on manually, or automatically, by impact forces.
Search personnel reported that survival time, in water less than 40 degrees F, is typically less than one hour.