Cross Mountain TN 3 Civil Air Patrol Members Killed When Their CAP Cessna 182 Crashed Doing Mountain Flying Training, Aug 2002
The commander of the local Civil Air Patrol unit was killed Saturday afternoon, August 10, 2002, during a training exercise in the mountainous Anderson County terrain.
Fred Vatcher, 64, of Meacham Road, was attempting to gain recertification for CAP mountain-flying techniques when the plane in which he was riding crashed into Cross Mountain. Rescuers believe he and the other two men aboard - instructor Gerald McLinn, 47, of Knoxville, and Chuck Hall, 39, of Maryville - were killed instantly.
Brandon Walters of Dyersburg, who attended the training session with Vatcher, said he knew something was wrong when the plane didn't return to the Downtown Island Airport in Knoxville at 3 p.m. Eastern time. CAP officials had expected the flight to last two to three hours as Vatcher and then Hall completed the check flights. Walters said he knows Vatcher finished his flight and would have been sitting in the back seat when the plane crashed.
By 3:30 p.m., Walters said he received permission to call all of the airports in the area. None of them had heard from the missing pilots. Walters attempted to call Vatcher's cell phone and got nothing more than his voice message system. He called the Federal Aviation Administration's Flight Service Office and asked if they'd heard from the plane
The Flight Service Office "started an information request to find anyone who might have heard from them," Walters said. It also asked other aircraft to tune their radios to the emergency frequencies. Pilots reported hearing an emergency signal about two miles west of Lake City, 10 miles north of Oak Ridge.
The CAP sent two planes to the scene to search, Walters said, noting that he was flying one of the planes and had a two-man crew scanning the landscape. The two planes searched together for an hour or so. Then, Walters and he crew continued alone until they electronically pinpointed the plane's location. Walters explained that the mountainside forest was so thick that they couldn't actually see the plane, especially in the fading sunlight.
Deputies from the Anderson County Sheriff's Department formed one of the rescue teams. Lt. Mark Whaley, public affairs director for the Anderson County Sheriff's Department, said the sheriff's department was called to assist in the rescue about 5:30 p.m. Using old mining and logging roads, drove as far as they could about 2 to 2.5 miles up the winding path. Then, they used all-terrain vehicles to go another half mile or so. Then, they trudged another half mile or so on foot.
In the dark and uncertain about the plane's specific location, rescuers had a hard time finding the plane. "The mountains we have here are very steep, very rugged and very forested," Whaley said.
"If you could find the middle of nowhere and put something there, that would be what this was like."
Finally, about 3:50 a.m. Sunday, they found the plane in pieces. "It came apart pretty good," Whaley said, noting that parts of the plane were 25 to 50 yards away.
To Whaley, it didn't look like the plane flew into the mountain. Instead, the impact looked as if the plane had been headed down the mountain.
Apparently, it wasn't the mountain that shattered the Cessna 182 four-seater plane. "It hit the trees, came to a stop and then came down," Whaley said, noting that the plane didn't touch the ground until afterward. The trees on the mountain include a mostly hardwoods, such as oaks that tower hundreds of feet, and some tall evergreens, he said.
National Traffic Safety Board investigators were on the scene Sunday and Monday trying to determine what happened. While a complete report may not be available for up to a year, a preliminary report is usually available within 10 days, said Lt. Col. James Rushing, vice commander for the Tennessee Wing of the Civil Air Patrol.
Ironically, the training program was developed to help pilots learn and perfect special mountain search techniques. The CAP, a volunteer auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is often asked to participate in search and rescue operations in the Smokies and the Appalachian Mountians, Rushing said.
Only four of the pilots participating in the exercise completed the program; Walters was one of them. Check flights for the rest of the pilots will be rescheduled, Rushing said.
The cause of the crash is unknown at this point.
All of three of the deceased pilots were experienced. McLinn and Hall each had more than 10,000 hours of flight time and Vatcher had about 8,600 hours of flight time recorded during his last biennial flight review, Rushing said.
The plane also was reportedly in top-notch shape. Rushing said he'd flown the Cessna from Knoxville to Nashville on Aug. 3 and it flew "flawlessly." The maintenance logs were up-to-date, he said.
Whaley said he'd flown in that plane several times while participating in Anderson County's marijuana eradication program. He said the plane always operated smoothly and was a "very well-maintained aircraft."
Given the pilots' experience and the plane's sparkling mechanical history, Whaley said some people have suggested that the region's notorious updrafts and downdrafts may be to blame.
Rushing wasn't ready to endorse any theory.
"We really have no idea what happened," he said. "That's pure speculation. The NTSB is doing an extremely thorough investigation. They look at everything."
Regardless of the reason for the crash, the pilots' deaths have become part of Cross Mountain's wicked history. An explosion in a coalmine on the mountain claimed 84 lives in 1911. Whaley said it was the 12th or 13th worst mining disaster in U.S. history and helped lead to new mining safety measures.
- Kathy Krone, Dyersburg Star Gazette, August 13, 2002
The National Transportation Safety Board blamed pilot error for a plane crash that killed three Civil Air Patrol pilots last summer.
One of those pilots, Fred Vatcher, was the commander of the CAP's Dyersburg Senior Squadron. He was a passenger in the plane and was not at the controls when the Cessna 182 four-seater crashed into Cross Mountain, about 2 miles northwest of Lake City in East Tennessee.
The men were participating in a training exercise. Vatcher, 64, of Meacham Road in Dyer County, and Chuck Hall, 39, of Maryville, were attempting to gain recertification for mountain flying techniques. CAP pilots must be recertified each year in order to participate in search and rescue missions in the mountain. Gerald McLinn, 47, of Knoxville, was to determine whether the men passed the certification process. Each of the men had more than a thousand hours of flight experience.
The NTSB report, which was posted recently on the board's Web site, determined that the probable causes of the crash are: "the pilot's failure to follow procedures pertaining to mountain flying, and the pilot's failure to maintain airspeed that resulted in an inadvertent stall and subsequent in-flight collision with trees and terrain. A factor was the certified flight instructor's inadequate supervision of the training flight."
Maj. James Lawson, public affairs officer for the CAP's Tennessee Wing, said he wasn't surprised by the NTSB's ruling. Pilot error is typically cited whenever mechanical problems are not apparent, he said. The pilot is responsible and has ultimate control over whatever happens, he said.
Lawson described mountain flying as one of the most challenging tasks that CAP pilots face because of the dramatic winds and quickly changing weather conditions as well as the dangers that may occur if the plane malfunctions.
"Unfortunately, that's where the majority of our search and rescue activities occur in East Tennessee," Lawson said. "It is because of the challenging nature of this type flying that only the most senior CAP pilots are allowed to participate in practice or actual mission. It is also why annual re-certification in required."
CAP always sends out a three-man team during search and rescue missions in the mountains. The pilot flies the plane. The right front-seat passenger helps with navigation, operates the radio and looks for plane wreckage, people or whatever the object of the mission is. The rear-seat passenger searches for the wreckage. All three also look out for potential navigational hazards.
CAP pilots typically fly at lower altitudes during search and rescue missions. Historically, Lawson said, the pilot-in-command was allowed to determine the plane's elevation, as long as he followed Federal Aviation Administration guidelines. After the crash, however, the Tennessee Wing of CAP reviewed and changed the mountain flying practices and procedures.
"The most significant change was an increase in the minimum altitude AGL (above ground level) that these operations are conducted," Lawson said. "That's in addition to duty day restrictions and other safety requirements required by the Air Force."
The national Civil Air Patrol actually has more than 30 pages of regulations governing mountain flying, said Mary Nell Crowe, marketing and public relations director for the Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. The regulations set the minimum airspeed for various types of planes, the minimum altitude they can fly and more, she said.
"Our requirements are much more stringent than the FAA requirements right now," she said.
Crowe described the collision and the deaths as "an unfortunate accident. ... It's not easy to lose anyone. Losing three people is very, very difficult."
The Civil Air Patrol strives for safety. Crowe reported that the CAP's safety record is better than that set by general aviation, despite the fact that CAP pilots routinely fly more difficult missions.
To illustrate that point, the CAP provided statistics showing aircraft accident rates for CAP pilots and general aviation. The statistics for the last nine years follow. The rates are based on the number of aircraft accidents for every 100,000 hours of flying time.
* 1994 - 9.11 accidents for general aviation and 2.30 for CAP.
* 1995 - 8.72 for general aviation and 3.84 for CAP.
* 1996 - 8.06 for general aviation and 7.79 for CAP.
* 1997 - 7.51 for general aviation and 4.16 for CAP.
* 1998 - 7.12 for general aviation and 4.76 for CAP.
* 1999 - 7.05 for general aviation and 2.34 for CAP.
* 2000 - 6.33 for general aviation and 0.94 for CAP.
* 2001 - 6.28 for general aviation and 3.57 for CAP.
* 2002 - 6.56 for general aviation and 7.37 for CAP.
The figures show that it wasn't until last year -- and the triple fatality on Cross Mountain -- that the CAP's safety record dipped below the general aviation safety record for the same year.
Lawson attributed the CAP's strong safety record to the organization's training requirements and standards.
"That doesn't reduce the impact when a loss such as this occurs, but it does affirm that safety is always the first consideration," Lawson said. "Each activity, even staff meetings, begin with a safety briefing!"
- Kathy Krone, Dyersburg Star Gazette, April 30, 2003
Regis#: 9307X Make/Model: C182 Description: 182, Skylane
Date: 08/10/2002 Time: 2042
Event Type: Accident Highest Injury: Fatal Mid Air: N Missing: N
City: LAKE CITY State: TN Country: US
ACFT PERFORMING PRACTICE GRID SEARCH NEAR KNOXVILLE DOWNTOWN ISLAND AIRPORT (DKX). CAP (CPF4107) REPORTED ACFT ONE HOUR OVERDUE AT 2130Z. (AT 2145Z AND ACFT 25 MILES NE OF VOLUNTEER VORTAC REPORTED ELT RECEIVED.) LAKE CITY, TN
INJURY DATA Total Fatal: 3
# Crew: 3 Fat: 3 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk:
# Pass: 0 Fat: 0 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk:
# Grnd: Fat: 0 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk:
WEATHER: 2953Z FEW70 10SM 26009KT 31/18 A3012 ASOS.
Activity: Training Phase: Unknown Operation: Public
Departed: KNONVILLE, TN Dep Date: 08/10/2002 Dep. Time: 1730
Destination: KNOXVILLE, TN Flt Plan: NONE Wx Briefing:
Last Radio Cont: UNK
Last Clearance: UNK
FAA FSDO: NASHVILLE, TN (SO03) Entry date: 08/12/2002