Saturday, February 23, 2013

Vans RV-10, N10FD: Accident occurred February 21, 2013 in Lake Placid, New York

14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, February 21, 2013 in Lake Placid, NY
Probable Cause Approval Date: 08/07/2013
Aircraft: DOMBROSKI FRANK VANS RV-10, registration: N10FD
Injuries: 3 Minor.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot received weather information and filed an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan before departure. As the pilot approached his destination, which was surrounded by high terrain, the scattered cloud layer below him became broken and light conditions were dimming as the sun set. After seeing a break in the clouds and being uncomfortable with what he observed, the pilot requested the GPS-A approach then maneuvered to intercept the inbound course at the initial approach fix (IAF). Before reaching the IAF, he saw a clear visual path to his destination. At the same time, the air traffic controller was awaiting cancellation from a landing aircraft and advised that the pilot should expect an instruction to hold. The pilot advised that visual meteorological conditions existed and that he would continue visually. He then turned, descended, and crossed the final approach course inside of the final approach fix. The controller then received the cancellation he had been waiting for and cleared the pilot for the GPS-A approach. The pilot acknowledged and continued his descent. The controller then asked the pilot to cancel his IFR clearance with him or on the ground. The pilot replied with his intention to fly a visual flight rules (VFR) approach and canceled the IFR clearance. The pilot had the town in sight and estimated there was a 2,000-foot ceiling. Light conditions were significantly darker below the cloud layer. He switched to the Unicom frequency and keyed the microphone five times to activate the runway lights but did not see them. He tried twice more, and the lights still did not activate. As the pilot considered whether to climb or circle the airport and try the lights again, he maintained his last heading, which he believed would keep him over lower terrain. However, the airplane drifted right of course. The pilot had decided to climb when a passenger then observed trees. The pilot pulled up to avoid them, but the airplane struck trees and terrain, sustaining substantial damage to the fuselage, wings, and empennage. Radar data revealed that the pilot had never become established on the approach, at no point was in position to land, and was never closer than 1 mile northeast of the airport before flying into rising terrain. No anomalies with airport lighting were discovered. Examination of the GPS-A approach procedure revealed that it was not authorized for use at night. Weather data recorded near the time of the accident indicate visibility below VFR minimums at 2.5 miles in light snow and mist and a 1,400-foot overcast ceiling, which was also below the published minimum descent altitude.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's improper in-flight planning and decision making, which resulted in attempted visual flight in night instrument meteorological conditions and subsequent impact with terrain.

The pilot received weather information and filed an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan prior to departure. Approaching his destination which was surrounded by high terrain, the scattered cloud layer below him became broken. The sun was setting, so after seeing a break in the clouds and not being comfortable with what he observed, he requested the GPS-A, approach. He then maneuvered to intercept the inbound course at the initial approach fix (IAF). Before reaching the IAF, he saw a clear visual path to his destination. At the same time, the air traffic controller was waiting cancellation from another aircraft, and advised the pilot should expect a hold. The pilot advised visual meteorological conditions (VMC) existed, and he would continue visually. He then turned, descended, and crossed the final approach course inside of the final approach fix (FAF). The controller then received the other cancellation and cleared the pilot for the approach. The pilot acknowledged and continued his descent. The controller then asked him to cancel his IFR clearance with him, or on the ground. The pilot replied he was VFR and would cancel IFR. The pilot had the town in sight, and estimated there was a 2000 foot ceiling. It was significantly darker below the cloud layer. He switched to the Unicom frequency, keyed the microphone 5 times to activate the runway lights but, did not see them. He tried twice more without result and tried to dim the screen on the flight display, as the electronic image of the approach chart was creating glare on his windshield. He was deciding if he should climb into the overcast, try to circle the airport, or try the lights again, and thought his last heading, would keep him over lower terrain. However, the airplane drifted right of course. A passenger then observed trees. The pilot saw them and pulled up but, the airplane struck trees and terrain, and was substantially damaged. Radar data revealed he never became established on the approach, never was in position to land, and never got closer than one mile northeast of the airport before flying into rising terrain. No anomalies with airport lighting were discovered. Examination of the approach procedure revealed the GPS-A was not authorized for use at night. Visibility was below VFR minimums at 2 and 1/2 miles, in light snow and mist, and a 1,400 foot overcast ceiling existed which was below the published minimum descent altitude.

Pilot Frank Dombroski talks about the plane crash at the site of it Saturday, Feb. 23.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)

LAKE PLACID – Few people can claim that they walked away from a plane crash without any serious injuries.

But you can count 54-year-old Michael Oster, 58-year-old Jeff O’Connor and 51-year-old Frank Dombroski, all from Westfield, N.J., among them. The men were in the plane that crashed at about 6 p.m. on Feb. 21 near Big Burn Mountain, roughly a mile from Whiteface Inn Road, west of Lake Placid. They escaped virtually unscathed, suffering only minor cuts and bruises.

“This was absolutely a miracle,” Oster said just feet from the wreckage two days after the crash. “We won the lottery that day and couldn’t be happier.”

The men were flying in a single-engine, four-seat Vans RV-10 piloted by Dombroski when they ran into trouble. Their flight, which had started at Somerset Airport in Bedminster, N.J., was supposed to end at the Lake Placid Airport.

As they approached the airport, Dombroski said the men could see the ground, lights and houses, but when he tried to turn on the runway lights from the plane, they didn’t turn on, he said. The men may have missed the lights, he said, but he doesn’t believe that was the case.

“We couldn’t obviously land at the airport, so we were really forced to overfly and either try to come back around (or land somewhere else),” Dombroski said. “But without the lights again, there was nowhere really to go.”

So Dombroski said he set up the plane to do a missed approach and began to climb out of the area as he considered what to do next. In the process, the pilot said the plane must have drifted a few degrees off course.

“It had just gotten dark, and I saw the treetops basically, so we pulled up hard,” he said.

As he was doing that one of the wheels clipped the tops of the trees.

“That’s what sent us into a bit of a spin, and then we hit another tree fairly hard,” Dombroski said. “But then the plane came down through the pines, and it really kind of gave us a soft landing here, which is probably the reason we’re here to talk about it.” .

As they fell through the trees, the nose pointed down and the tail stayed up in the air, held firmly in place by a tree. The plane was at a 45-degree angle facing the direction it had come from. The aircraft had done a 180-degree turn.

“We landed, and we were all sitting in our seats,” Oster said. “We looked at each other. We said are you OK? You OK?”

Somehow the men had survived. The plane showed signs of damage, but the cockpit and passenger area were fairly intact.

“We were all expecting to have a big impact hitting the earth, and basically you can see from the plane we never hit the earth,” Oster said. “The plane is pretty much suspended by the soft pine trees that it landed into.”

Dombroski, who built the plane, said the wings staying on the plane played a big role in the aircraft staying together.

“You saw all the impact on the leading edge of the wings,” he said. “Each of those absorbed a tremendous amount of energy and helped really absorb the impact for us.”

He’s still not sure why the lights didn’t go at the airport, which Lake Placid Airport manager Steve Short said worked later that night.

“That’s a bit of a mystery, why, and one I’m still trying to figure out,” Dombroski said.

The questions surrounding the crash are now left to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident and is expected to have a report in about six months.

The rescue

Although it was remarkable the men survived the crash, that didn’t mark the end of their ordeal. It was just the beginning of what would be a long night that didn’t see them get out of the woods until 3:30 a.m. Temperatures were in the single digits when the rescue started and dropped below zero later that night.

One the first things the men did when they got out of the plane was use a cell phone to call Essex County 911.

“They were strongly suggestive that we stay with the airplane,” Dombroski said. “We felt also that it was the safest and most prudent way to not get ourselves deeper into the woods. It was deep snow.”
The men were told a search party would rescue them. Using a GPS, the men provided the dispatcher with their coordinates in a formula that uses degrees, minutes and decimals of minutes.

That formula is slightly different from the formula local emergency responders normally use, DEC spokesman Dave Winchell said. Forest rangers and other emergency personal usually use a degrees and decimals of degrees formula, so when the coordinates were relayed by the dispatcher to forest rangers and state police, there was a mix-up.

When the searchers plotted the coordinates on a map in the wrong formula, the crash appeared to be on Nye Mountain in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, miles from the actual crash site.

Hoping to get to the men quickly, DEC incident commander Joe LaPierre sent forest rangers Scott VanLaer and Jim Giglinto on what would be a 6-mile round-trip hike up the 3,895-foot tall Nye Mountain. They were on snowshoes carrying full packs loaded with cold-weather gear for the plane crash survivors when they left from the Mount Jo trailhead. A short while later, four more forest rangers followed them with gear to evacuate the men.

A state police helicopter also made an attempt to search the Nye Mountain area but was turned around due to weather and darkness at about 7:30 p.m.

As the men were waiting for the rescuers, they kept warm using items from the plane. They took a tarp and made a makeshift tent. They had intended to go to Whiteface Mountain Ski area while visiting this area, so Dombroski had some skiing gear with him, including some pairs of long underwear, a pair of ski pants and a pair of ski boots. The other men’s gear had been sent up separately in a friend’s car.

“We were calm,” Dombroski said. “We had water. We had Gatorade. We had granola. We had a fire extinguisher. We had ropes and some other stuff. So we weren’t hungry. We were just cold. You can’t bundle up enough in that temperature for that period of time without having the cold have its way with you.”

Eventually Thursday night, media picked up on the plane crash. The Press-Republican produced the first newspaper report online, the Associated Press’s put a news brief on the wire at 8:40 p.m. and the Enterprise followed at about 10 p.m. All of the media outlets reported that the search and plane crash were happening on Nye Mountain.

After the news hit the Internet, Dombroski said he was contacted by one of his employees at the financial software company he owns. The person had read the AP’s news brief on the Wall Street Journal’s website. The three men then realized the rescuers were looking for them in the wrong place.

“We didn’t know what Nye Mountain was, but we clearly knew, based on what we can see on the GPS and on Google maps, that we were west of Lake Placid, and we called back to the rangers,” Oster said. “We went back and forth with several different people.”

“There was a little excitement at that time,” Dombroski said. “But I have to say, myself and the other two guys, we’re not the panic types, and I think that helped us.”

One of the people the plane crash survivors contacted was Matt Colby, a friend of one of their local friends. The Lake Placid fire driver was out of town but was able to help the survivors understand their location.

“We talked through exactly what we knew with him and he was able to determine pretty quickly where he thought we were as well,” Dombroski said.

Through these discussions, the location problem began to resolve itself. It was about 11 p.m. when forest rangers realized the plane crash wasn’t on Nye Mountain.

One of the key clues to the men determining their true location was seeing Whiteface Inn Road on their GPS, Winchell said. The street is only about a mile away from the crash site. Once the forest rangers figured out the location of the three men, they redirected the search.

Forest rangers Kevin Burns, Chris Kostoss, Pete Evans and Dave Russell were sent to the new site and began searching from Whiteface Inn Road. They started into the woods on snowmobiles, following some cross-country ski trails that are off the Jackrabbit Trail. They then switched to snowshoes.

When the forest rangers got within about a half-mile of the men, they heard the trio talking.

“We yelled, and they yelled back,” Burns said. “It was so faint because the snow levels just muffled the sound.”

As the forest rangers continued bushwhacking deeper into the woods, the plane crash survivors’ voices got louder and louder. Finally at about 2 a.m., the forest rangers came upon the trio sitting side-by-side on top of their backpacks and bags inside their white makeshift tent, just a few feet from the crashed plane.

“It looked like a great white sheet over the top of three heads,” Burns said. “It was like three ghosts.”
When the searchers and plane crash survivors greeted each other, the parties exchanged jokes, Burns said. Then the forest rangers gave the men some food, got them hydrated and provided them with the proper gear to get out of the woods. The group finally reached the road at about 3:30 a.m.

It was a difficult night, but Dombroski said his group was extremely thankful to the rescuers for making two trips into the woods and their friends and Colby for their efforts. He was especially grateful for the soft landing.

“It’s nothing short of a miracle and divine intervention,” Dombroski said.

On a snowmobile recovery expedition to the crash site, 2 days after the crash: Pictured left to right: Jeff DeSantis and Rob Davis of Westfield along with survivors, Jeff O'Connor of Garwood and Frank Dombroski and Mike Oster of Westfield. Pictured in front is Matt Colby of the Lake Placid Fire Department.
Photo Credit J.DeSantis

Plane crash survivors, Frank Dombroski, Jeff O'Connor and Mike Oster celebrated their safe return to Westfield Tuesday evening at 16 Prospect Wine Bar & Bistro with barely a scratch among them. 

 The trio, who left from Bedminster airport Thursday afternoon intending to spend the weekend skiing, was rescued by forest rangers more than seven hours after their Vans RV-10 experimental aircraft crashed in the wooded terrain of the Adirondack Mountains.

Bound for Lake Placid airport, the three were planning to stay at the mountain home of fellow Westfielder Jeff DeSantis, who, once alerted, served as a point of contact between the men and their families, monitoring rescue efforts alongside New York State Police.

"All three had cell phones and they still worked, but they were told by rescuers not to use the phones so that they could remain in contact with them," explained Beth Dombroski, wife of the pilot. "When I heard his (Frank's) voice, I was frightened but they were alive and safe. We knew it was just a matter of time before they were rescued."

Beth said she also knew Frank and Mike's survival skills would serve them well. Using the tarp that covers the aircraft when it isn't in a hangar, the three "created a cocoon" and huddled for warm amid single-digit temperatures, she explained.

Due to a "mix-up" in coordinates, rescue crews were searching hours away from the crash site. Beth explained that it was actually through contact with a friend who told Frank he was watching the search on the news from Arizona, that the pilot "Googled" his story only to discover the rangers were looking in the wrong area. He then was able to call in and redirect crews to the correct location. After being evacuated by snowmobile and evaluated by ambulance crews, the men made it safely to DeSantis' home.

"They are just really grateful to be alive," said Beth. "They feel like they've won the lottery. They feel really blessed."

"Most similar crashes in the Adirondack Mountains don't end up so well," noted Julia DeSantis.

Later in the weekend, the men hiked back in to the site with a guide but not much was salvageable. The plane, which can fly at a top speed of 220 miles per hour, was traveling at approximately 50 miles per hour when it hit the first tree branch, said Beth, who added that the Vans RV-10 is probably her husband's tenth plane.

When people hear the phrase "experimental aircraft," they immediately think it is dangerous, said Beth, who noted it is actually an "old-fashioned term from the Wright Brothers" era.

"Every piece is manufactured by Cessna or Boeing. Once it is built, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) comes out and inspects it completely," said Beth. "It's very well checked out."

The Dombroskis and their children have traveled to Florida, Chicago, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard as well as other locations with Frank at the controls.

Despite this harrowing incident, Frank told Beth he intends to get back in the cockpit. "It was our tearjerker moment when I told him ''I will go flying with you again," said Beth.

An FAA investigation remains ongoing. 

Story and Reaction/Comments:

Three men escaped injury after this Vans RV-10 amateur-built experimental aircraft crashed into the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness early Friday morning.  The plane, seen here late Friday afternoon, was on its way to the Lake Placid airport from New Jersey when it crashed. Its propeller and engine sustained the most damage, while the rest of the plane was battered but still in one piece. 
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

A Vans RV-10 kit plane and its three occupants, two men from Westfield and one from Garwood, went down in a wooded area near Lake Placid Thursday evening.   After spending nearly 10 hours in single-digit temperatures, the three were cut and bruised but otherwise refused medical treatment. 
(Photo by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

Three men escaped injury after this Vans RV-10 amateur-built experimental aircraft crashed into the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness early Friday morning. The plane, seen here late Friday afternoon, was on its way to the Lake Placid airport from New Jersey when it crashed. Its propeller and engine sustained the most damage, while the rest of the plane was battered but still in one piece.
 (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

 Vans RV-10, N10FD 


Kate O’Connor said she was never so happy to hear her father’s voice. 

She got the call at 11 a.m. Friday, after Jeff O’Connor, who lives in Garwood, and his two longtime buddies from Westfield survived a crash in their home-built plane and spent most of the night lost in the brutal cold in a wooded area outside Lake Placid, N.Y.

State forest rangers brought the men out of the woods on snowmobiles shortly before 4 a.m., nearly 10 hours after the plane went down.

"It was kind of a miracle," Kate O’Connor said. "Usually, they are pulling out a bunch of dead bodies."

She said her 58-year-old father, Michael Oster, 54, and Frank Dombroski, 51, were taking a ski trip, as the three friends do on occasion.

O’Connor said her father told her they were above the clouds in their Vans RV-10 kit plane, where it was light. When the plane dipped under the cloud cover, it suddenly got much darker.

"They hit a bunch of trees, which slowed the plane down. Then it hit the ground," she said, recalling the conversation with her father. "They looked around and saw everyone was OK — with just a few bumps, scrapes and bruises."

The plane, which left from the Somerset Airport in Bedminster, crashed nose-first in a thicket of evergreens, bent but not broken, at about a 30-degree angle, according to photos provided by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, whose forest rangers were dispatched to the crash site.

Information from the men put the crashed plane on Nye Mountain, a trail-less high peak not far from the Lake Placid Airport, DEC spokesman David Winchell said.

Two forest rangers on snowshoes and carrying cold weather kits for the victims set out for the site, with a second team of four rangers equipped with evacuation gear trailing them, Winchell said. A State Police helicopter was also dispatched but, at 7:35 p.m., relayed that it would be unable to reach the plane because of bad weather and, by then, near pitch darkness, he said.

Meanwhile, Oster, Dombroski and O’Connor were speaking with a DEC ranger via cell phone — and trying to stay warm. They had put up a tarp to guard against the impending snow and, as temperatures hovered in the single-digits, slipped some of the extra clothing they had carried with them, Winchell said. It would be another three hours — at nearly 11 p.m. — before the rangers concluded Nye Mountain was not where the plane had gone down.

According to Winchell, the coordinates given by the New Jersey men were in a format not typically used by environmental department search teams. The resulting location had been plotted incorrectly. The two rangers who had set out for the presumed crash site confirmed that.

Rangers then replotted the coordinates and determined the crash site to be near Big Burn Mountain, just west, rather than south, of Lake Placid, about 2 miles from the village. The quartet of rangers was rerouted, and bushwhacking the last half mile by snowshoe, reached the men at nearly 2 a.m.

The three friends were taken by snowmobile and reached a nearby trailhead about 3:55 a.m., where personnel from local rescue squad was waiting. Aside from the bumps and bruises attributed to the crash, the men were fine and refused further treatment, Winchell said.

Kate O’Connor said the three friends, whom she referred to as a "bunch of superheroes," were planning to continue their ski trip this weekend.

Story and Reaction/Comments:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the forest rangers, state police and local emergency personnel who worked together to rescue three men in a plane crash in the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness late Thursday and early Friday morning.

"No matter the weather conditions or the time of day, our state's first responders step up to the call of duty and do what is necessary to find and rescue people that are lost or injured," Cuomo said in a press release. "These first responders went above and beyond to save lives and on behalf of all New Yorkers I thank them for their bravery and service."

The statement from Cuomo's office singled out forest rangers Lt. Charles Platt, Joe LaPierre, Scott VanLaer, Jim Giglinto, Kevin Burns, David Russell, Pete Evans and Chris Kostoss.

"Responding to a small plane crash near Lake Placid, a team of DEC Forest Rangers walked miles in the bitter cold and dark through rough terrain to find and safely rescue three individuals who were in the aircraft," Cuomo said. 

 The plane was a Vans RV-10 amateur-built experimental aircraft, and it crashed at 6 p.m. Thursday, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson told the Associated Press. The spokesperson said the flight departed from Somerset Airport in Bedminster, N.J.

An Enterprise reporter visited the site of the crash, not far from the Jackrabbit Cross-Country Ski Trail, late Friday afternoon. The plane was still in one piece, resting at a roughly 45-degree angle, nose down, in a tight grove of spruce and birch trees, several of which had their trunks broken off by the plane. The plane's front end, including its propeller and engine, took the brunt of the impact and were smashed into the ground. Its cabin area was largely intact, although the glass in the cabin door windows and front windshield was shattered.

Tony Goodwin of the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, which maintains the Jackrabbit Trail, had been up to see the wreckage just before the Enterprise. He said "shear curiosity" drew him to the site.

"Never been to a totally fresh one before, and I was interested to see what the plane looked like because they said it was experimental," Goodwin said. "It's probably a fairly light plane, and they were flying slowly to begin with, and it was just the right combination of treetops that slowed their fall."

The three men in the crash were 54-year-old Michael Oster, 58-year-old Jeff O'Connor and 51-year-old Frank Dombroski, all from Westfield, N.J. The plane was on its way to the Lake Placid Airport when it crashed.

After the crash, one of the men called Essex County 911 from a cell phone, initiating the search efforts. Forest rangers originally searched the Nye Mountain area, looking for the plane there because of the coordinates one of the men gave them indicated the crash was in that area.

"At 10:50 p.m. forest rangers concluded that Nye Mountain location was not the correct location," a statement from the DEC said. "At about this same time the first two forest rangers had hiked three miles to the crash site and confirmed there was no airplane present. It was determined through discussions with others that the original coordinates were provided in untypical format. Plotting the coordinates in the other format it was determined that the crash site was actually just west of Lake Placid near Big Burn Mountain."

Forest rangers initiated a new search from that area, starting at the trailhead for the Jackrabbit Trail off of Whiteface Inn Road. They found the men at 1:55 a.m. and had them out of the woods by about 3:30 a.m. The men were checked out by the Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service but apparently didn't have any serious injuries and declined further treatment.

Temperatures were in the single digits Thursday night into Friday, and there was light snowfall. The men stayed warm by using a tarp as a temporary shelter and putting on extra clothing.

The FAA is investigating the crash.