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Thu, Apr 15, 2004

NTSB: 'Collision With Unknown Object' Killed Mobile Pilot

Feed THIS To The Conspiracy Theorists

What in the world (or otherwise) hit Night Ship 282, a Cessna 208B Cargomaster (file photo of type, below) flying over southern Alabama? In a report some observers say is unprecedented, the NTSB admits the aircraft collided with something. But no one who's investigated the case seems to know just what.

Thomas J. Preziose, a former NYPD pilot, flight instructor and freight hauler, had just departed Mobile's Downtown Airport at about 7:40 pm CDT on October 23rd, 2002. He was flying freight -- 420 pounds of business documents -- to Montgomery (AL).

About five minutes into his flight, this exchange took place between Preziose and Mobile Approach:

  • 19:42:21 Night Ship 282: "Mobile departure night ship ah two eighty two is with you at one thousand going to two thousand."
  • 19:42:25 ATC: "night ship two eighty two mobile departure radar contact maintain three thousand turn right join victor four fifty four please."
  • 19:42:30 Night Ship 282: "Roger right turn four fifty four."
  • 19:44:25 ATC: "Night ship two eighty two traffic at twelve o'clock of you and seven miles south bound heavy DC ten at four thousand."
  • 19:44:29 Night Ship 282: "Night ship two is looking I'm IMC."
  • 19:44:32 ATC: "Roger."
  • 19:45:34 ATC: "Night ship two eighty two your still IMC but that DC Ten is one o'clock and two miles south bound at four thousand."
  • 19:45:41 Night Ship 282: "Roger I got him above me right now."
  • Then, just seconds later:
  • 19:45:57 Night Ship 282: "I needed to deviate, I needed to deviate, I needed to deviate, I needed"
  • End of Transmission

Investigators "don't know of any other accident that we have in our files that states 'collision with an unknown object,'" said NTSB Spokesman Keith Holloway, interviewed by the Mobile Register.

What About The DC-10?

The picture is fuzzy, compounded by the fact that radar coverage was limited because of an equipment problem. "The only radar data available was a 'snap shot' taken from the equipment at Mobile Regional Departure Control and NTAP data from Atlanta Center," according to the report. "The data shows that Night Ship 282, was at 3000 feet, and the DC-10 was at 4000 feet and two airplanes never crossed paths. According to the snap shot the DC-10 was to the left of Night Ship 282. There were no known witnesses to the accident."

The same FedEx DC-10 was given a walkaround inspection the next day. There was no sign of damage.

What About The UAV?

Preziose was flying south of Mobile, not far from where the military tests UAVs at both Tyndall AFB and Eglin AFB (FL). Could a drone have wandered into his way?

"There's definitely no chance that that particular incident involved one of our drones," said 1st Lt. Sage Park, at Tyndall's 53rd Wing, responding to the Register's questions. A spokesman from Eglin said virtually the same thing.

But something definitely hit The Cargomaster head-on. The 208 was shattered, with mysterious red marks on several different parts of the aircraft:

  • Nose landing gear wheel (inside the tire)
  • Top of the nose landing gear fork, aft side
  • Top nose landing gear trunnion, forward side
    Outer surface of the lower left side cowling near upper aft corner
  • Instrument panel support
  • Lower aft side of cockpit cargo barrier
  • Multiple places along the fuselage belly from Fuselage Station (FS) 135 to FS 269, concentrated below the crew seats, at the left cockpit door threshold, and main landing gear attachment area.
  • Left lift strut fuselage fairing
  • Left lift strut, aft side 2.5 feet outboard of the fuselage
  • Bottom trailing edge skin wing near Wing Station (WS) 75 (side unconfirmed)
  • Left wing dry bay panel (bottom of wing root between forward and aft spars)
  • Adjacent to right wing fuel filler
  • Top of right elevator adjacent to outboard hinge

The red marks showed a "definite direction of transfer," but varied in that direction, as if the Cargomaster and whatever hit it changed aspect during the collision.

There were few clues found during the NTSB investigation to indicate just what hit Night Ship 282. "There was a small piece of what appeared to be black anodized aluminum," said the report, "which was found embedded in the left wing dry bay panel at the wing root between the spars. The origin of the metal remains unknown; and is not believed to have come from the accident airplane."

The impact of the collision all but vaporized the 208's (file photo of type, above) engine. The NTSB report said, "Only the power section and part of the gas generator was recovered. The constant speed unit, fuel control unit and fuel pump were not recovered. The compressor turbine stators were found bent in the direction of rotor rotation. The first and second stage compressor rotors were not recovered. The engine power section including the reduction gearbox and gas generator was recovered intact. The compressor intake case and remaining engine including the accessory gearbox and accessories were not recovered. The engine displayed impact damage at the 4 o'clock position on the exhaust case in the area of the flange. The propeller shaft was intact and seized. The exhaust duct displayed severe impact deformation with a significant portion detached. The gas generator case displayed evidence of structural compression and buckling. The compressor section was exposed as recovered. The 1st and 2nd stage compressor rotors were not recovered. The 3rd stage compressor rotor was missing all blades except one which was found lodged in the 2nd stage stator. The impeller was intact with nicks on the leading edge. The 1st and 2nd stage compressor stators were intact and found bent in the direction of rotor rotation. the 3rd stage stator was found intact with minor damage to the leading edge. The 2nd and 3rd stage spacers were found intact. The 1st stage spacer was missing. The tie rods were fractured in the region of the 1st stage rotor. The compressor inlet case and remaining engine was detached at the flange attachment to the gas generator case. The compressor shroud displayed circumferential rubbing due to compressor rotor blades making radial contact. Examination of the power turbine as viewed through the exhaust duct showed several blades fractured near the tip. The blades remained attached to the power turbine disk. Examination of the engine revealed that the damage noted was consistent with the engine making power at time of the accident."

"I've never seen a report like that," said Don Godwin, CEO of Mid-Atlantic Freight, which owned the Cargomaster. "And it's very troubling to have something like this happen and not know what caused it. I know the family's upset, and understandably upset. It's just a great thing that this kind of thing didn't happen to an airliner with a bunch of people on it."

The NTSB sent bits of the aircraft, samples of the red marks and other material -- including a piece of a military UAV such as those flown from Tyndall and Eglin -- to Wright Patterson AFB (OH) for microscopic analysis. The examination found "the red streaks on the skin of the accident airplane was significantly different from the other materials that were examined for comparison: the red cargo bag, the red pitot cover, the paint on the airplane and the piece from the unmanned aerial vehicle. The spectra that were obtained at Wright Patterson Air Force base are effectively identical to those obtained by the laboratory hired by the insurance company, indicating that the red streaks on all the pieces of the airplane are the same material. Without a specific candidate material for comparison, it is not possible to identify the source of the red streaks."

So What Was It?

Could the Cessna have been destroyed by wake turbulence caused by the passing DC-10? Preziose's family apparently thinks so. They've hired a lawyer to represent them in the case. But that certainly wouldn't explain those mysterious red marks, nor the force of an impact that the NTSB report says occurred in the air.

If it wasn't a wandering UAV, then what? Some familiar with the investigation suggest it might have been a drug smuggler.

"There is active drug smuggling in Alabama, yes, by air," said Mobile's resident DEA agent, Sam Houston.

Back at Mid-Atlantic Freight, Godwin is skeptical. It's "very hard to believe that in this United States, with terrorism being what it is, that there's no record of any aircraft or object moving in our space out there," he told the Register.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/brief2.asp?ev_id=20021029X05400&ntsbno=ATL03FA008&akey=1

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