After boarding three Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFJROTC) cadets for an orientation flight, the CAP flight instructor of the Cessna 172 executed a takeoff. Once airborne, the airplane made an “immediate” right turn directly towards a mountain. The airplane continued towards the mountain, paralleled the mountain’s face, then passed over the mountain and out of sight.
The wreckage was located in a heavily wooded area 2,070 feet above sea level. The debris path and impact marks were consistent with a near vertical impact. Also, no pre-impact mechanical malfunctions were discovered when the wreckage was examined. The flight instructor had a history of flying low and performing maneuvers bordering on excessive with cadets on-board.
The day of the accident and on the flight prior to the accident flight, cadets experienced zero-g maneuvers, along with near vertical climbs and descents with the pilot recovering between 75 to 100 feet above the ground.
On June 22, 2006, about 1410 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172N, N572BA, operated by Twin Cities Air Service LLC. was destroyed when it impacted terrain while maneuvering near Newry, Maine. The certificated flight instructor and the three passengers were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local flight that departed Bethel Regional Airport (0B1) Bethel, Maine, about 1400. No flight plan was filed for the local instructional flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
According to an Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFJROTC) instructor, the
passengers were high school students receiving a cadet orientation flight as part of a summer camp program.
According to witnesses, the Cessna 172 and a Cessna 152 that were to be used for the day’s cadet orientation flights arrived about 30 minutes late. The Cessna 172 landed “longer than expected.” After a short discussion with an AFJROTC instructor about duration of the flights, the flight instructor performed a “fast” pre-flight inspection of the Cessna 172, and boarded three cadets for the first of several planned orientation flights.
Both airplanes then departed. After takeoff, the Cessna 152 remained in the traffic pattern; however, the Cessna 172 proceeded towards Barker Mountain. It then turned right through a pass on the near side of the mountain and disappeared from view. Approximately 20 minutes later, the Cessna 172 returned for landing.
The Cessna 152 also landed, after flying a “normal traffic pattern,” however; the Cessna 172 approached the runway “with a good angling correction” from the northeast, and flew a “real tight” traffic pattern with flaps extended. It then entered a side slip to a point about 30 feet above runway 32, and touched down with a “slight wing rock,” once again landing long.
The flight instructor then loaded another three cadets and departed. The Cessna 172 made an
“immediate” right turn directly towards Barker Mountain in a tail low attitude. As it approached the mountain it turned farther right until it was paralleling the mountain face. It then passed over the mountain and disappeared from view. The accident occurred during the hours of daylight. The wreckage was located at 44 degrees, 27.257 minutes north latitude, and 70 degrees, 53.091 minutes west longitude.
According to a CAP cadet who had flown with the CAP flight instructor on a previous occasion and on the day of the accident, the accident day flight was “different” from the flight he had participated in with the same CAP flight instructor on a previous occasion.
According to the CAP cadet, during a flight with a group of Civil Air Patrol cadets in February of 2006, the CAP flight instructor asked the CAP cadets if they were getting bored. He then performed two “dips” which were “pretty steep,” and then did what the cadet described as a “zero g” maneuver.
During the maneuver the CAP flight instructor climbed the airplane to approximately 3,500 feet msl and then descended to “less than” 2,000 feet msl. The cadet also observed, “stuff floating around” and a pen “came off” the top of the airplane’s instrument panel.
A witness reported that on the day of the accident two light colored, high wing airplanes were flying southeast “awfully low” near Paris, Maine, between 1230 and 1300. The witness added that first airplane was going “fairly flat” but the second airplane was “going back and forth,” and seemed to be “playing, making sweeps.”
A review of a local area map revealed the witness was located in a position to observe a direct re-positioning flight from Auburn/Lewiston Municipal Airport (LEW), Auburn, Maine (the accident airplane’s base), to 0B1.
The AFJROTC cadets, who flew with the CAP flight instructor on the first orientation flight on the day of the accident, stated that the CAP flight instructor flew the airplane barefoot in order to “feel the rudders better.” After departing and turning right, the CAP flight instructor headed over the top of some “ATV trails and logging roads.” He then circled the Sunday River Ski Resort.
The flight then proceeded around a mountain, and the CAP flight instructor initiated a climb. The plane then stalled, “fell backwards and to the left,” and then dove towards the ground. At approximately 75 to 100 feet above the treetops, and 300 feet from the side of the mountain, the CAP flight instructor recovered and headed back in the direction of the airport.
Towards the end of the flight, the CAP flight instructor once again pulled up, this time into a “zero g maneuver.” During the maneuver, he pushed the throttle full in, and then “pulled the mixture” to idle cutoff, and pushed the nose of the airplane down. After approximately 5 seconds, he increased the “mixture” and recovered. While returning to land, the pilot missed the turn to line up with the runway, and “pulled a tight turn, and pulled tighter when that did not work.”
One CAP cadet who estimated he had been in an airplane at “least ten times” as both a passenger or when flying, estimated that during the flight they were between 1,000 to 1,200 feet. He also estimated that they were flying close to the treetops, which was “kind of scary.”
According to the Department of The Air Force, the AFJROTC Cadet Orientation Flight Program was designed to introduce cadets to general aviation through hands-on familiarization flights in single-engine aircraft. The program was voluntary, primarily motivational, and was used to stimulate an interest in general aviation and aerospace activities. Over 1,000 AFJROTC cadets participated in the Flight Orientation Program per year.
Probable Cause & Findings
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The flight instructor’s failure to maintain altitude/clearance while maneuvering, which resulted in an impact with trees.
On January 1, 2007, the AFJROTC released a cadet orientation flight syllabus containing guidance and requirements for orientation flights.