The air mass over the New York metropolitan area on Dec. 20, 2011, was a real ice maker. The area forecasts did not note the ice, but AIRMETs and pilot reports did. The NWS Surface Analysis Chart for 1000 depicted a low-pressure center near the Indiana/Ohio border with a stationary front extending east through Ohio into western Pennsylvania. A cold front extended from this point eastward through southern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, and continued over coastal waters.
The Area Forecast for northern New Jersey and in effect until 1000 included the following: ceilings overcast at 7,000 ft. with cloud tops to FL 180. The conditions between 1000 and 1600 forecasted ceilings broken at 15,000 ft. The Area Forecast Discussion issued at 0956 did not discuss any icing hazard to aircraft.However, prior to the 0945 AIRMET, ZULU advised of moderate icing between the freezing level (located between 3,000 ft. and 9,000 ft.) and FL 180. More than 80 pilot reports were made over New Jersey, southern New York and eastern Pennsylvania between 0800 and 1300. They included:
An urgent pilot report received at 0749 from a pilot operating aCitation at 14,000 ft., about 15 nm southwest of Modena, Pa. The pilot reported moderate to severe rime icing between 13,000 and 14,000 ft.
An urgent pilot report received at 1042 from “multiple” types of aircraft at 14,000 ft. near Schooley's Mountain, N.J. The report included severe rime icing between 14,000 and 17,500 ft.
An urgent pilot report received at 0808 from a flight crew operating a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft at 14,000 ft. over MMU. The pilot reported moderate to severe rime icing between 14,000 and 16,500 ft. One of the flight crewmembers reported that the icing was the worst he had seen in 38 years of flying experience and that he had never seen ice accumulate so quickly. He described “golf ball-sized” accumulation on the windshield wiper.
Later, the captain of aaircraft that was operating in the northern New Jersey area told investigators that the wing anti-ice system could not “keep up” with the accumulation. He estimated 2.5 in. of ice on the protected areas of the wing, and 4.0 in. of accumulation on some unprotected areas in a time span of about 5 min.
At 0700, the pilot of a Socata TBM 700, N731CA, filed an IFR flight plan using DUATS. The personal FAR Part 91 flight with the pilot and four passengers on board would originate at Teterboro (N.J.) Airport and cruise at 292 kt. at FL 260 for its destination of Atlanta. The pilot requested no information during his contacts with Teterboro controllers, nor did the controllers issue weather information. Ground control issued a taxi clearance to Runway 6 at 0943. Five minutes later the pilot reported he was ready for departure.
The TBM lifted off, checked in with departure control and began its climb. While passing 8,000 ft. for 10,000 ft., the pilot was directed to climb and maintain 14,000 ft. The controller then advised the pilot of moderate rime icing from 15,000 ft. through 17,000 ft. with light rime ice at 14,000 ft. The controller asked that the pilot advise him if the icing got worse, and the pilot responded, “We'll let you know what happens when we get in there, and if we could go straight through, it's no problem for us.”
At 0958:24, the controller directed the pilot to climb and maintain 17,000 ft. and to contact New York Center. While climbing between 12,800 and 12,900 ft., at 116 kt. ground speed, the pilot acknowledged and advised that the aircraft was entering IMC.
At 1002:17, the Center controller advised the pilot that he would be cleared to a higher altitude when ATC could provide it, and that light icing would be encountered at 17,000 ft. The pilot responded, “I can confirm that light icing . . .” and stated that, “. . . light icing has been present for a little while and a higher altitude would be great.” The altitude of the airplane at that time was 16,800 ft. and 101 kt. ground speed.
At 1002:34, the pilot reported, “We're getting a little rattle here. Can we ah get ah higher as soon as possible, please.” The Center controller responded with “stand by” and coordinated for a higher altitude with an adjacent sector controller.
At 1002:59, the Center controller directed the pilot to climb and maintain FL 200 and the pilot acknowledged.
At 1004:08, the airplane reached an altitude of 17,800 ft. before suddenly turning 70 deg. to the left and entering a descent.
At 1004:29, while descending through 17,400 ft., and at 90 kt. ground speed, the pilot transmitted, “and N731CA's declaring . . .” No subsequent radio transmissions were heard from the pilot.Numerous witnesses observed the airplane during the descent and accident sequence. A consistent observation was that the airplane descended at a rapid rate and was trailing smoke. At least five witnesses saw pieces of the airplane separate during flight or they observed the airplane descending without a wing attached.
The final radar return at 1005:17 was observed at an altitude of 2,000 ft., about 600 yd. west of the impact site. The previous return, recorded 9 sec. earlier, indicated 6,200 ft.
The airplane impacted the paved surfaces and a wooded median on Interstate 287, about 1 mi. south of Morristown, N.J. The point of initial impact of the main wreckage was in the southbound lanes. The main wreckage debris field was oriented on a heading of about 070 deg. and was about 350 ft. in length. The propeller assembly separated from the engine during impact and came to rest in a wooded area on the east side of the northbound lanes.A post-crash fire was evident on the highway and in the wooded median, where sections of the fuselage, the left wing and the vertical stabilizer came to rest.
Due to the impact damage and fragmentation of the cockpit, cabin and fuselage, the seating positions of the airplane occupants could not be determined.
The outboard section of the right wing and several sections of the empennage, including the horizontal stabilizer, elevator and rudder, were found about 1,200 ft. southwest of the fuselage in a residential area.
Investigators performed a visual inspection of the pneumatic leading edge deice boots and uncovered no preexisting ruptures or cracks. All observable boot fasteners were intact and secure. Impact damage prevented functional testing of the aircraft deice systems. The cockpit deice system panel was found intact.
The airframe deice, propeller deice, pilot heat 1 and 2, and stall warning heater switches were found in the “ON” positions. The ice inspection light, the left and right windshield deice, and the inertial separator switches were found in the “OFF” positions.
Examination of the carry-through structure, where the wings were attached to the fuselage, exhibited twisting and bending distortion at the right wing attachment points in the up and aft direction. The carry-through structure was fragmented. All fracture surfaces exhibited overload signatures. No evidence of preexisting cracks or fatigue was observed.
Examination of the outboard section of the right wing determined that the wingtip, aileron and spoiler remained attached. Examination of the aileron attachment and actuator hardware revealed no evidence of stop-to-stop damage.
During the examination of the airframe structure, the outboard section of the right wing was manually positioned, or “mated,” with the leading edge of the right-hand horizontal stabilizer to explore the possibility of inflight contact. The examination revealed that deformation on the leading edge of the right wing was consistent with an inflight contact with the leading edge of the right-hand horizontal stabilizer. Also, impact signatures and damage observed on the right wing leading edge were consistent with an inflight collision with the right side of the rudder.
The engine displayed contact signatures at the compressor first stage and shroud, compressor turbine, compressor turbine shroud, first-stage power turbine vane ring, first-stage power turbine, first-stage power turbine shroud, second-stage power turbine vane ring, second-stage power turbine and second-stage power turbine shroud. The engine housing exhibited severe radial deformation around the right-hand circumference, resulting in circumferential impact fractures of the compressor turbine blades and the first- and second-stage power turbine blades.
The examination of the propeller revealed that three of the propeller blades remained attached to the propeller hub and a fourth blade separated into two sections. The blades exhibited twisting, chord-wise scratching, “s” bending and blade-tip separations.
In short, said the investigators, the examination of the airframe and engine revealed no evidence of a pre-accident mechanical malfunction or anomaly.
The Pilot and the Airplane
The 45-year-old pilot held a private certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane. He reported a total flight experience of 1,400 hr. on a second-class medical certificate application dated July 14, 2011. The pilot's personal logbook(s) were not located after the accident. A postmortem examination of the pilot was performed at the County of Morris Medical Examiner's Office. The ME stated the cause of death was “multiple injuries” and the manner of death was “accident.” TheBioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory did forensic toxicology testing on specimens from the pilot. The lab tests indicated negative for ethanol and drugs. Testing for carbon monoxide and cyanide was not performed.
The pilot had completed a TBM 700 two-day recurrent training course at the SIMCOM Training Center in Orlando on Nov. 15, 2011. A SIMCOM representative told investigators that the pilot had accomplished ground training on the technical aspects of the installed ice protection and environmental systems including preflight checking and testing. Normal and emergency checklist procedures were also discussed. Simulator training consisted of system checking, testing and operation, including operating in icing conditions at altitude and system malfunctions.
The SIMCOM representative stated that, “It is always stressed that the installed ice protection systems are intended to provide protection while departing icing conditions.”
The airplane was manufactured in 2005 and was equipped with a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-64 turboprop engine. The most recent annual inspection was performed on July 27, 2011. At that time, the airplane had accumulated approximately 702.0 total flight hours. The last logbook entry was recorded on Nov. 18, 2011, at an aircraft total time of 724.6 hr.
“Although the pilot filed an IFR flight plan through the Direct User Access Terminal System (DUATS),” said the, “no evidence of a weather briefing was found.” The Safety Board determined the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The airplane's encounter with unforecasted severe icing conditions that were characterized by high ice accretion rates and the pilot's failure to use his command authority to depart the icing conditions in an expeditious manner, which resulted in a loss of airplane control.
We have become a generation of self-briefers. Near-real-time weather is available online and from ATC and pilots aloft. However, we have to look for it electronically or ask for it. Investigators are beginning to see more accidents involving incomplete self-briefing.
Ice can always be a killer. Any mention of ice should start pilots thinking about ice avoidance. As the SIMCOM instructor said, “. . . the installed ice protection systems are intended to provide protection while departing icing conditions.”
When your aircraft is accumulating ice, you need to be somewhere else quickly. That could mean declaring an emergency to get immediate relief. It's always better to deal with the ATC paperwork after you land safely than burden NTSB personnel with the paperwork that goes with an accident investigation.