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Mon, Jun 10, 2019

NTSB Factual Report From 2016 Skydiving Airplane Accident Released

Airplane Was Equipped With Pyrotechnic Gear For Night Display

The NTSB has released a factual report from an accident which occurred September 17, 2016 involving a Cessna 182P airplane carrying a group of skydivers.

The plane was destroyed when it impacted a residential structure, following an inflight fire near Gilbert, Arizona. The commercial pilot was seriously injured, and the four passengers were not injured. One of the two occupants of the house sustained a minor injury. The airplane was registered to and operated by P & T Aerial Services LLC under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local skydiving flight that departed Chandler Municipal Airport (CHD) Chandler, Arizona, about 1904.

According to the report, the airplane was participating in the Gilbert's Annual Constitution Fair, a private event, which involved a night aerial pyrotechnic display and four skydivers parachuting into a predetermined drop zone. According to the pilot and the lead jumper, as the airplane arrived at the planned jump area and altitude of 5,000 ft mean sea level (msl), they were given the go-ahead to jump. The sparklers in a pyrotechnic box located on the left side of the airplane, were activated by a jumper, and shortly thereafter they heard a loud boom off to the left of the airplane, which the pilot described as an explosion. Afterwards, both the pilot and the lead jumper noticed damage to the underside of the airplane's left wing, evidenced by fuel pouring out. The lead jumper stated that there was jagged metal protruding out of a big hole about 2 ft from the pilot's left window. As the leaking fuel and the left wing became engulfed with flames, the skydivers successfully jumped out of the airplane's right-side door. The pilot stated he shut off fuel to the airplane's left tank and attempted a slip maneuver, which he thought might extinguish the fire. He initially considered landing at CHD but realized he would not make the airport, since the fire and resulting heat had worsened. The pilot then radioed a distress call and egressed and parachuted out of the airplane as it was becoming unflyable. The airplane subsequently impacted a house in a residential area about 4 miles north of CHD.

On the night of the accident, one of the airplane's co-owners, who was also the lead jumper, stated to an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), that he thought it was possible that an issue with the pyrotechnic box had caused the puncture in the wing and resultant fire. Further, during an interview with a law enforcement officer on the night of the accident, the pilot stated that he believed there was a malfunction or premature deployment of the pyrotechnics that caused the airplane to catch fire. He further reported that there were no mechanical issues with the airplane prior to the explosion.

Radar data showed the airplane departing CHD and performing a climbing right turn towards Gilbert, Arizona. Two clockwise patterns were flown around the vicinity of the Gilbert Civic Center, where the landing zone for the skydivers was located. At 1916:44, a peak altitude of 5,725 ft mean sea level (msl) was attained, and the groundspeed indicated 96 knots. At 1917:27, the altitude began to decrease and the pilot advises air traffic control that he has an emergency situation and fire on the wings. The controller acknowledges the transmission and asks the pilot if he wants to go to Chandler. The pilot does not respond and there are no further transmissions from the pilot. The last recorded data was at 1917:55, at an altitude of 3,350 ft msl, and a groundspeed of 105 knots.

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane multi-engine land, single-engine land, single-engine sea, and instrument airplane ratings. He was issued a second-class airman medical certificate on October 9, 2015, without limitations/waivers. The pilot reported that he had accumulated about 875 total flight hours, with about 200 hours in the same make and model as the accident airplane.

During interviews with NTSB investigators, the airplane co-owner stated that the airplane was equipped with a pyrotechnic box that was mounted to the airframe step on the left side of the airplane. He stated that the pyrotechnic box would typically be operated during the night jumps for a visual effect for those observing on the ground, and that there were no previous problems with the box. He further stated that two pyrotechnic devices were installed in the box that would sparkle as the jumpers egressed. He estimated that the pyrotechnic devices to be about 8 inches long and have a diameter of about 2 ½ inches. The devices had between a 22-30 second burn duration and were activated by a switch box on the airplane's floor by one of the jumpers about 30 seconds prior to the jump.

The airplane was modified and converted for use in skydiving operations by the current owners in what they described as a standard configuration of an airplane used in the skydiving industry. A total of eight modifications were accomplished in accordance with Title 14 CFR Part 43 through the use of two Major Repair and Alteration, FAA Form 337's, both dated September 19, 2012. A separate FAA Form 337, dated January 11, 2014, located in the airworthiness history for the airplane stated, "this document is an amendment for FAA Form 337, dated 19 Sept. 2012." This form did not stipulate which previous Form 337 was being amended, however it appeared to encompass all areas contained within the previous two 337s, and referenced FAA Form 8110-3, which was not previously mentioned. It was approved by the FAA on November 5, 2014. However, a review of the airplane's maintenance logbook found no supporting documentation for a Supplemental Type Certificate, field approval, or logbook entry, for the installation of the pyrotechnic box on the factory equipped left step located on the left main landing gear spring assembly (leg).

According to the airplane's co-owner and the accident pilot, the pyrotechnic box was attached to the airplane's left main landing gear step, just prior to the accident flight. The pilot stated that the co-owner told him that the box was approved and properly tested. When he asked the co-owner about the installed box, the co-owner said that it was a sparkler box that was considered a minor alteration and did not need a field approval since it could easily be removed. The pilot stated he checked the security of the box on his preflight but did not check for its approval in the airplane's paperwork based on the co-owner's statements. The pilot stated that this was his second skydiving night flight that used pyrotechnics with the company. The co-owner stated that three bolts and nuts were used to secure the box and that the FAA was not aware of the box installation.

(Images from the NTSB accident docket)

FMI: Factual Report

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