IMC With No Gyros

On November 26, 1999, about 1053 Eastern Standard Time, a Beechcraft S35, N8992M, was destroyed when it impacted a building in a residential area. The certificated airline transport pilot and the two passengers received fatal injuries. In addition, two individuals on the ground received serious injuries, and 25 received minor injuries. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed. The personal flight departed Linden, New Jersey, about 1049, and was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

A review of air traffic control (ATC) communication tapes revealed that after departing Linden, the pilot contacted New York Departure Control. He was instructed to turn left to a heading of 010 degrees, and to maintain 5,000 feet. A few seconds later, the controller revised the clearance, and instructed the pilot to maintain 2,000 feet. Thirty-four seconds after that, the controller instructed the pilot to turn left to a heading of 270 degrees, to which the pilot did not reply. The controller reissued the heading, but there was still no response.

The controller made two more attempts to reestablish communications. After the second attempt the pilot responded, ‘I have a problem.’ The controller inquired about the problem and the pilot responded, ‘I had a gyro problem momentarily. It looks straightening now. I must of had water in the system.’ Twenty seconds after that, the controller radioed ‘…continue the right turn all the way around… correction you’re in a left turn now.’ The pilot responded ‘yes sir… left turn climbing to niner thousand.’ The controller stated, ‘stop your climb at two thousand, turn left, left turn heading two seven zero.’ The controller then asked the pilot if he was ok to navigate. The pilot responded, ‘I think I have a problem.’ The pilot then requested a climb. The controller instructed the pilot to maintain 2,000 feet and requested the pilot’s current heading. The pilot responded, ‘…looks like zero three zero.’ The controller then instructed the pilot to turn left to 270 degrees, to which the pilot did not respond. The controller reissued the altitude and heading. Still there was no response. The controller then radioed ‘niner two mike I need to be acknowledged please.’ The pilot replied, ‘I have a problem.’ This was the last recorded transmission from the accident airplane.

Preceding Text was excerpted from the files of the NTSB to improve pilot awareness and promote safety on the subject of gyro failure while flying in instrument conditions. Full details of the accident may involve several factors not included in the text above — that does not mean it couldn’t happen to you.