NTSB: Turbulence caused Fossett crash

[PeterPaul.ca] — Peggy Fossett said her husband planned a “Sunday drive” on the morning of September 3, 2007, with a Super Decathlon aerobatic aircraft from the Flying M Ranch near Yerington, Nevada, the National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] said.

He never returned.

In an NTSB report released Thursday, the time of Fossett’s crash was placed at “approximately 9:30 [a.m.] Pacific daylight time.”

That morning, the Flying M’s chief pilot had breakfast with Fossett, asking him “what he wanted to do that day”. Fossett said he wanted to fly the Super Decathlon, but did not plan to perform any aerobatic manoeuvres during his flight.

Shortly afterwards, the chief pilot prepared the craft for Fossett, removing it from the hanger and ensuring it had enough fuel for the flight. Fossett conducted a pre-flight check of his own at about 8:15 a.m. local time, in the presence of the chief pilot.

As the chief pilot reviewed the fuel-injected engines, he asked Fossett where he planned to fly. The pilot responded that he planned to head south to Highway 395, which runs on a north/south direction along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. No flight plan was filed.

The time of departure from the Flying M Ranch was not indicated by the NTSB report. An employee said he witnessed the plane about 14.5 kilometres from the airstrip sometime between 8:25 and 8:35 a.m. It was flying south about 100 to 200 feet above the ground, the witness said.

The chief pilot said he expected Fossett to return by 10:30 a.m. By 11:30 a.m., a search and rescue operation commenced in search of Fossett and his plane. The Civil Air Patrol, State and County authorities searched for weeks but found nothing. The CAP ended the search efforts on October 2, 2007.

Almost a year to the day, on October 1, 2008, the Madera County Sheriffs Department was notified that some personal effects of Fossett, a pilot certificate and other identification, were found by a hiker near the Sierra Nevada mountains.

With the new information, a new search was initiated and the aircraft was found less than a ½ mile from where Fossett’s identification was found. The wreckage was located at an elevation of about 10,000 feet.

At 9:30 a.m., about the time of the crash, downdrafts of 300 to 400 feet per minute were logged on the Advanced Research Weather Research and Forecasting system, which was used to simulate the weather at the time of the crash.

A downdraft, or air pocket, is the vertical movement of air in the atmosphere. It is the main cause of turbulence on aircrafts during flight.

Fossett’s aircraft first made contact with a boulder on the ground in a heavily forested area, which had “paint transfers on it consistent with the left main wheel and the belly of the airplane,” the report said. “All of the cockpit instruments and avionics were destroyed.”

In the aftermath of the crash, officials wondered why the emergency beacon did not emit any signals after the crash. The report addressed this concern, saying “the airplane’s ELT [Emergency Locator Transmitter] was destroyed; numerous pieces of its orange plastic case and internal circuit board components were found scattered in the debris field.”

The aircraft was heavily damaged and barely recognizable. The planes engine was found 300 feet from the wreckage.

A huge fire after the crash damaged nearby trees, the aircraft and the remains of Fossett. “Small bone fragments were recovered at the accident site; however, none of the fragments could be definitively identified as human.”

“DNA testing performed by a California Department of Justice laboratory on two of the recovered skeletal fragments determined that they were from the pilot … The cause of death was determined to be multiple traumatic injuries.”

Fossett was 63.

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