San Gabriel Mountains, CA Three Civil Air Patrol Members Die in Crash of CAP Cessna 182R, Jan 1995

 Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182R, N9706E

The bodies of all three members of a volunteer Civil Air Patrol search team were found Sunday in the wreckage of their light plane in the San Gabriel Mountains, a tragic end to an attempt to find a plane and pilot missing for two weeks.

The commander of the patrol's California wing, Col. Angelo A. Porco, said it was the first time in 12 years that one of its search missions ended in a fatal crash. Among the victims was pilot Robert A. Leman, 48, of San Jose, a frequent leader not only of search missions but of emergency flights to deliver organs for transplants.

"Our people yesterday had a job to do," said Porco. "Their loss hurts us as a family."

The colonel said that after searching for little more than an hour, the plane plowed into a saddle at the 7,700-foot level between Mt. Baldy and Pine Mountain at 11:36 a.m. Saturday. That was the time, Porco said, that the Cessna 182's emergency locater transmitter began sending out a signal--without any prior warning of trouble from the craft.

In the rugged terrain, and amid occasional wind and rain storms, it took other air units and ground rescue teams all day and night to designate a half-mile search area, he said. Then, around 9 a.m. Sunday, a Los Angeles County sheriff's rescue helicopter spotted the wreckage.

Within 25 minutes, the sheriff's Air 5 rescue helicopter arrived on the scene, and paramedics using ropes climbed down to the plane. All the victims were still in the aircraft.

A CAP deputy in San Jose identified the dead as Leman, a computer software engineer and commercial pilot who had been a Patrol volunteer for 12 years; Brian Perkin, 39, a products planner for Novell Inc. and an eight-year Patrol volunteer from Santa Clara; and James C. Spadafore, 62, a two-year Patrol volunteer from San Jose, for whom no other occupation was given. Leman and Spadafore were both married with children.

CAP spokesman Col. Sydney Wolfe said that for the last 10 years Leman had been a frequent pilot for the Patrol's Live Organ Transportation System, under which organs used in transplant operations are flown throughout California in emergencies.

"Since the inception of the program in September, 1983, we've flown 388 missions, and Capt. Leman flew 40 of those, more than anyone else in the California wing," Wolfe said. "On those 40 missions, he helped 390 people and helped save 14 lives."

Wolfe added, "All of these were very dedicated men. The squadron and their families have suffered a terrible loss. They have created quite a void in leaving us."

During Saturday's search, Leman, Perkin and Spadafore were operating out of Cable Airport in Upland. The airport has served as the headquarters for the search for Terry Corkhill, 51, of Pomona, who has been missing since flying a light plane into the San Gabriels on Dec. 31.

Porco said there appeared to be a fairly precise idea where Corkhill may have crashed in the San Gabriels because he was seen flying low north of Mt. Baldy by two sheriff's deputies the afternoon he disappeared.

But the storms that have prevailed since New Year's kept searchers out of the skies for days. It was only on Friday and Saturday that weather conditions allowed a renewal of the search into four precise quadrants where Corkhill's plane was believed to be, with a separate CAP plane assigned to each quadrant, the commander said.

As usual, crews of Patrol volunteers--whose ranks number 4,000 in California--came from throughout the state to help. Leman, Perkin and Spadafore left San Jose at 6:15 a.m. Saturday and arrived at Cable Airport about 8:45 a.m. The trio took off again to join the search at 10:30 a.m., Porco said, and reported normal operations as late as 11:13 a.m. But after that, nothing was heard from them.

When the locater transmitter began sending its signal, rescue units sent seven aircraft and 15 ground rescue teams into the area to look for the newly missing plane, he said.

Though the sheriff's team found the bodies, stormy conditions descended once again Sunday afternoon and rescuers had to put off their retrieval.

In addition, Corkhill and his plane had still not been located.

Emotions were running high in the CAP Quonset huts at Cable Airport on Sunday, as the wing commander held a news conference to discuss the latest crash. At one point, he called on a Patrol chaplain, Les Wheeler, to say a few words.

"They have paid the full measure," Wheeler said of the victims. "Greater love have no men than these, who lay down their lives for another."

Porco said the CAP, the U.S. Air Force and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash.

The Civil Air Patrol in California flies 27 of its own aircraft as well as several hundred that are privately owned. The Air Force pays for many of the expenses, but the volunteers receive no compensation for their efforts.

- LA Times, January 16, 1995

More information from the Civil Air Patrol - http://history.cap.gov/file/930

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NTSB Accident Report:

Analysis

A CIVIL AIR PATROL (CAP) CREW WAS CONDUCTING A SEARCH AND RESCUE MISSION IN MOUNTAINOUS TERRAIN. AFTER 40 MINUTES OF FLIGHT TIME, THE PILOT REPORTED 'OPS NORMAL' TO CAP OPERATIONS. ANOTHER AIRCRAFT, WHICH WAS CONDUCTING A GRID SEARCH IN AN ADJACENT AREA, REPORTED HEARING AN ELT SIGNAL 25 MINUTES LATER. REPEATED ATTEMPTS TO CONTACT THE ACCIDENT AIRCRAFT BY RADIO WERE UNSUCCESSFUL. LOCALIZED WEATHER CONDITIONS WITH STRONG WINDS, DOWNDRAFTS, AND TURBULENCE WERE NOTED BY OTHER SEARCH AIRCRAFT AND PILOT WITNESSES FLYING IN THE AREA AT THE TIME. THE AIRCRAFT IMPACTED NEAR THE CREST OF A RIDGE AND WAS FOUND ORIENTED VERTICALLY TO THE HORIZON. EXTENSIVE AND FULL SPAN REARWARD LEADING EDGE CRUSH DEFORMATION WAS OBSERVED ON BOTH WINGS. NO AIRFRAME OR ENGINE DISCREPANCIES WERE FOUND DURING THE INVESTIGATION.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
the pilot's loss of aircraft control and subsequent inadvertent stall/spin following an encounter with a localized mountain wave condition and turbulence while conducting a search mission in close proximity to mountainous terrain.

Factual Information

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On January 14, 1995, at 1136 Pacific standard time, a Cessna 182R, N9706E, was destroyed by ground impact in mountainous terrain while maneuvering near Wrightwood, California. The aircraft was owned and operated by the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and was on a search and rescue (SAR) mission as a public use aircraft. Visual meteorological conditions were prevalent at the time and a composite VFR/IFR flight plan had been filed for the operation. The certificated commercial pilot, his observer, and scanner sustained fatal injuries. The flight originated from Cable Airport, Upland, California, at 1029 on the day of the accident.

The crew was conducting a search and rescue (SAR) as assigned by the California Wing of the CAP. CAP operations conducted a mission briefing for three SAR aircraft and made grid assignments in the search area. All three aircraft departed IFR, and after breaking out in VFR conditions, initiated searches in their assigned areas. At 1111, the pilot reported "ops normal" to CAP operations. Another CAP aircraft, which was conducting a grid search in an area adjacent to and west of the accident site, reported hearing an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal at 1136. The CAP reported that the minimum altitude for conducting searches is 500 feet agl.

PERSONNEL

The pilot was a CAP trained and qualified search and rescue pilot. He received his initial check flight on September 10, 1983. A review of his training records showed he had received satisfactory entries including "mountainous terrain procedures," such as "wind/updrafts/downdrafts" and "mountain wave effects" in his CAP training records. He attended a CAP "mountain clinic" on May 18-19, 1990. His last check flight was conducted on April 4, 1994, and he was rated as "mountainous terrain qualified."

All three occupants of the aircraft were certified pilots. On this mission pilot duties were limited to the PIC.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The aircraft forms and records were reviewed by investigators with no discrepancies noted. The aircraft was equipped with fully functioning dual controls.

METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS

The pilot was given a verbal weather briefing by the CAP operations officer based on weather obtained through a direct user channel access terminal (DUAT). Localized weather conditions including downdrafts and turbulence in the vicinity of mountainous terrain were noted by witnesses flying near the accident location.

Two CAP aircraft were searching on grids adjacent to the east and west of the grid occupied by the accident aircraft.

The crew in the grid to the east reported weather in the search area as clear with unrestricted visibility. Cloud layers were visible about 40 miles to the west. Winds were said to be from the west with the top of Mt. San Antonio obscured by clouds. In that area, cloud bases were estimated as 7,500 to 8,000 feet with tops variable from 9,000 to 10,500. While flying a Cessna 206 on a search pattern on the north side of Mt. San Antonio they reported encountering significant downdrafts. During one west to east pass on the leeward side of a ridge, intense downdrafts were encountered and the pilot was forced to turn north and away from higher terrain. They noted that as the morning progressed clouds began moving into the area, hampering their search.

The second crew to the west of the accident site reported being VFR as they entered the search area. They also reported seeing clouds in the vicinity of Mt. San Antonio with bases between 6,000 and 7,000 feet. Conditions were described as smooth with no turbulence until their search path reached the northeastern portion of the grid. The crew noted that as the morning progressed weather in their "search area began to deteriorate."

A flight test engineer who was flying in the vicinity of the accident site and north of the predominant east/west ridgeline, reported light to moderate clear air turbulence and lenticular clouds building up between 1015 and 1100 on the day of the accident. He stated that he returned to the area later that day and then departed when he noted that the conditions had intensified.

COMMUNICATIONS

CAP mission planning included instructions to all crews to establish and maintain air-to-air communication between search aircraft upon their arrival in their assigned search areas. The aircraft was on an assigned transponder code of 0215 and was visible on radar until 1129.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

On January 15, 1995, the aircraft was found by aerial search personnel at the 7,700 foot level of the Angeles National Forest, at latitude 34 degrees 18.46 minutes and longitude 117 degrees 39.09 minutes, in an area covered by 80-foot pine trees. The site was near the crest of a ridge on terrain that sloped downward between 45 and 60 degrees. The ground was frozen and covered with about 1-foot of snow and ice. The final position of the aircraft was approximately 4 feet down slope from a visible ground scar. Tree limbs were found within 10 to 15 feet of the wreckage and exhibited evidence of fresh breaks. The terrain at the impact site was rocky and rescuers stated they believed they saw evidence on the ground of a fuel spill in the immediate vicinity of the aircraft.

The aircraft's final position was nose down with the main wings nearly perpendicular to the terrain. The nose was crushed rearward aft of the leading edge of the main wings. Both main wings exhibited extensive crushing along the leading edges extending from wing tip to wing tip. The was no discernable bending or twisting evident with either wing.

The fuselage was collapsed and was found in a near vertical position. The empennage had collapsed and rotated forward over the top of the main wings.

The flight control surfaces were in place; however, the associated control cables were either broken or loose. The instrument panel was destroyed and prevented the establishment of instrument readings and settings, as well as switch positions.

Rescue personnel reported that the No. 2 blade of the propeller had separated and was located several feet from the aircraft. The blade was not found again after the recovery process was completed. The No. 1 blade came out of the hub during the removal of the propeller from the crankshaft. The blade was bent aft and exhibited leading and trailing edge gouges and scaring.

The propeller governor had been partially separated in an aft direction. The governor base plate exhibited impact marks corresponding to individual oil pump gear teeth.

The oil sump was crushed upwards, as was the muffler. Both exhaust manifolds exhibited some crushing. The right intake manifold was fractured and the carburetor had been pulled off. The mounting bolts were found stripped. The carburetor was found with the throttle valve in the closed position and the mixture arm in the lean position. All four engine mounts were fractured. The oil filter, starter, alternator, vacuum pump, and both magnetos had separated and were missing. The rocker covers for No. 1, 2, and 5 were crushed and breached. The crankshaft was displaced rearward into the case and could not be rotated.

According to the Continental Motors representative, no preimpact discrepancies were noted during the inspection of the engine.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

Autopsies were performed by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office. The results from the toxicological screening of samples submitted to the Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) were negative.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

At 1136, a strong but intermittent ELT signal was received by search aircraft and alerted them to the possibility of a downed aircraft. After repeated attempts to contact the accident aircraft by radio failed, a search was initiated based on the ELT signal. According to CAP personnel, the initial lack of ability to DF the signal made it difficult to quickly locate the aircraft. A second aircraft with DF capability joined the search. Due to deteriorating weather delaying the search, the aircraft was not located until 0846 the next morning.

The wreckage of the aircraft was found in an area not accessible by ground recovery equipment. Continued adverse weather conditions, several feet of snow, and the inaccessibility of the area precluded an on-site examination of the aircraft. Recovery was deferred until more favorable environmental conditions resumed and a military aerial recovery unit could be scheduled for retrieval. The aircraft was recovered on July 24, 1995.

The aircraft wreckage was released on September 6, 1995, in writing to the Commander of the California Wing of the CAP.