The National Transportation Safety Board has issued its preliminary report into the Cessna Citation jet crash in Fairmount on a snowy Saturday morning, Feb. 8. All four people on board died in the crash.
Gordon County Deputy Coroner Christy Nicholson previously identified the victims as:
- Pilot: Roy Smith, 68, of Fayetteville.
- His son, Morgen Smith, 25, Atlanta.
- Morgen’s girl friend, Savannah Sims, 23, of Atlanta.
- Co-pilot Raymond Sulk, 63, of Senoia.
The jet was en route from Atlanta Regional Airport-Falcon Field in Peachtree City to Nashville, Tenn., when it went down. Northwest Georgia was under a winter weather watch at the time as a brief but intense snow was recorded.
The preliminary NTSB report was posted Wednesday. A final report is due in up to 18 months. What the first report says:
On Feb. 8, 2020, at 10:13 a.m. EST, a Cessna 501, N501RG, was substantially damaged after an inflight breakup near Fairmount, Georgia. The private pilot, commercial pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. The airplane was owned and operated by Remonia Air LLC. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for the flight that originated at Falcon Field (FFC), Atlanta, Georgia around 0945. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 and had an intended destination of John C. Tune Airport (JWN), Nashville, Tennessee.
According to a fuel receipt, the airplane was “topped off” with 104 gallons of Jet A fuel that was premixed with Prist prior to departing on the accident flight.
According to flight plan information that was filed with a commercial vendor, the accident flight was scheduled to depart at 9:30 a.m. from FFC and arrive at JWN (Nashville) around 10:22 a.m.. Then, another flight plan was filed from JWN back to FFC departing at 10:30 a.m. and arriving at JWN around 1119. In addition, the flight plan noted in the remarks section that the flight was a “training flight.”
A preliminary review of air traffic control communications and radar data revealed that a controller issued local weather information and instructed the pilots to climb to 7,000 feet mean sea level (msl). The controller issued the pilots a pilot report (PIREP) for trace to light rime icing between 9,000 ft and 11,000 ft, and one of the pilots acknowledged. Then, the controller instructed the pilots to climb to 10,000 ft and to turn right to 020°. The controller observed the airplane on a northwest bound heading and asked the pilots to verify their heading. A pilot responded that they were returning to a 320° heading, to which the controller instructed him to maintain 10,000 ft.
The controller asked the pilots if everything was all right, and a pilot responded that they had a problem with the autopilot. The controller instructed the pilots to again maintain 10,000 ft and to advise when they were able to accept a turn. The controller again asked if everything was all right or if they needed assistance; however, neither pilot responded. The controller again asked the pilots if everything was under control and if they required assistance, to which one of the pilots replied that they were “OK now.”
The airplane climbed to 10,500 ft and the controller instructed the pilots to maintain 10,000 ft and again asked if everything was under control. A pilot responded in the affirmative and stated that they were “playing with the autopilot” because they were having trouble with it, and the controller suggested that they turn off the autopilot and hand-fly the airplane. The airplane descended to 9,000 ft and the controller instructed the pilots to maintain 10,000 ft and asked them if they could return to the departure airport to resolve the issues.
One of the pilots requested a higher altitude to get into visual flight rules (VFR) conditions, and the controller instructed him to climb to 12,000 ft, advised that other aircraft reported still being in the clouds at 17,000 ft, and asked their intentions. The pilot requested to continue to their destination and the controller instructed him to climb to 13,000 ft.
One of the pilots established communication with another controller at 11,500 ft and stated they were climbing to 13,000 ft on a 360° heading. The controller instructed the pilot to climb to 16,000 ft and inquired if their navigation issues were corrected. A pilot advised the controller that they had problems with the left side attitude indicator and that they were working off the right side. The controller cleared the airplane direct to the JWN and asked if they were above the clouds as they were climbing through 15,400 ft. The airplane then began a left turn and soon after radar contact was lost at 1013. The controller attempted numerous times to contact the airplane with no response.
According to Federal Aviation Administration airman records, the pilot in command, seated in the right seat, held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane multiengine land, airplane single-engine land, airplane single-engine sea, and instrument airplane. In addition, he held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine, airplane multiengine land, instrument airplane. He was also type rated in the CE-500.
His most recent second-class medical certificate was issued December 12, 2019. According to the pilot’s logbook, he accumulated 5,924.4 total hours of flight time, of which, he accumulated 88.6 hours of flight time in the same make and model as the accident airplane in the year before the accident. The logbook also indicated that he accumulated 573.4 total hours of instrument flight time, of which, 40.7 hours were in the year prior to the accident.
According to FAA airman records, the second in command, seated in the left seat, held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane. His most recent third-class medical certificate was issued January 10, 2019, at which time he reported 805 hours of total flight experience. According to an email located in the wreckage, the pilot was scheduled to attend flight training to obtain a CE-500 type rating.
According to FAA records, the airplane was manufactured in 1981, and was registered to a corporation in January 2019. In addition, it was equipped with two Pratt & Whitney Canada, JT15D-1A series, engines, which could each produce 2,200 pounds of thrust. The most recent maintenance performed on the airplane was completed on February 5, 2020. At that time, a Phase B inspection was performed in accordance with the manufacturer’s maintenance manual, and at that time, the airplane had accumulated 8,078.7 hours of total time. In addition, the left engine had accumulated 8078.7 hours of total time since new and the right engine had accumulated 8034.7 hours of total time since new.
The 1015 recorded weather observation at an airport which was about 9 miles to the west of the accident location, included wind from 330° at 3 knots, visibility 3/4 mile, light snow, vertical visibility 500 ft above ground level (agl), temperature 0° C, dew point 0° C; and an altimeter setting of 30.29 inches of mercury.
The main wreckage of the airplane was located around 1:30 p.m. on the day of the accident. It came to rest in a wooded area, inverted, and partially submerged in a creek at an elevation of 703 ft mean sea level. Several parts of the airplane were not located in the vicinity of the main wreckage but were in the wooded area surrounding the main wreckage, consistent with an inflight breakup. The debris path was about 7,000 ft long on a 005° heading.
The wreckage was recovered to a salvage facility for further examination, which included the identification of parts that were separated in flight and located along the debris path. The top of the fuselage was crushed downward, and the wings were wrinkled. Control cable continuity was established from the flight controls in the cockpit to all flight control surfaces through multiple overload failures. The pitot-static system was examined, and no blockages were noted.
The left wing remained attached to the fuselage and exhibited crush damage. The left aileron remained attached to the left wing. The left flap remained attached to the wing and was in the retracted position. In addition, the left speed brake was in the stowed position.
The outboard 8 ft section of the right wing was separated and located along the debris path. The aileron was separated from the outboard section of wing and the midsection was located along the debris path. The inboard section of the wing remained attached to the fuselage and was impact damaged. The fractured section of the spar caps of the right wing were examined and were bent in an upward direction. The fracture surfaces exhibited rough 45° angle surfaces, consistent with overload failures. Several sections of wing skin were located along the debris path.
The horizontal stabilizers and elevators separated and were located along the debris path. The outboard 6 ft of the left horizontal stabilizer was separated from the inboard section and located along the debris path. The fractured section of the spar caps of the left horizontal stabilizer were bent in a downward direction. The inboard 2 ft of the left elevator was separated from the horizontal stabilizer and located along the debris path. The forward spar of the vertical stabilizer remained attached to the fuselage, was bent aft, and twisted to the right. The aft spar of the vertical stabilizer was located along the debris path. The rudder was separated from the fuselage and the 3 ft top section and 5 ft bottom section were recovered from the debris field.
The engines remained attached to the fuselage and were submerged in water. They were removed to facilitate recovery and examination. The engine cowling was removed and both low-pressure compressors would not rotate. Both low-compressor turbine blades exhibited damaged and were bent the opposite direction of rotation. The inner stator vanes did not exhibit any damage. The fuel and oil filters were examined with no anomalies noted. There were no anomalies with the engines that would have precluded normal operation prior to the accident.
Several cockpit instruments, the autopilot computer and flight director, and deicing valves were retained for further examination.