The Pilot And Observer Heard A Loud “Bang/Wham”
Location: Fredericksburg, TX Accident Number: CEN21FA043
Date & Time: November 6, 2020, 16:38 Local Registration: N617Q (A1); N338Z (A2)
Aircraft: Beech J35 (A1); Beech M35 (A2) Injuries: 1 Fatal (A1); 2 Minor (A2)
Flight Conducted Under:
On November 6, 2020, about 1638 central standard time, a Beech J35 airplane, N617Q, and a Beech M35 airplane, N338Z, were involved in a mid-air collision near Fredericksburg, Texas. The Beech J35 was destroyed, and the Beech M35 sustained substantial damage. The Beech J35 pilot sustained fatal injuries, and the Beech M35 pilot and pilot-rated observer sustained minor injuries. The airplanes were operated as Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flights.
According to the N338Z pilot and observer, the accident flight was a four-airplane formation flight that planned to practice formation operations in an area north of the Gillespie County Airport (T82), Fredericksburg, Texas. The airplanes were designated as A1 (N617Q; pilot and flight leader), A2 (N338Z; pilot and accompanied by an observer), A3, and A4. The flight was the third flight of the day for the A2 pilot.
The A1 and A2 airplanes departed T82’s runway 14 together and A3 and A4 followed their takeoff. Shortly after takeoff, the flight leader gave the signal to retract the landing gear and began a right turn. For an unknown reason, A2’s landing gear would not retract. At that time, either A3 or A4 notified the group via radio that A2’s landing gear was extended. A3 and A4 then rejoined to the left of A1 on the outside of the turning circle. A2 then moved to the “route” position (about 3 to 4 airplane widths away from A1) to troubleshoot the landing gear problem.
While in the route position, A2 notified A1 the landing gear would not retract and thought it was in the down and locked position.
A1 acknowledged A2’s landing gear issue and cleared airplanes A3 and A4 to proceed to the practice area and maneuver as a two-airplane flight. A1 stated he would follow A2 back to T82, and A3 and A4 separated from the formation to the left and headed towards the practice area. A1 directed A2 to take the lead and return to T82, and A2 acknowledged. A2 made a slight right turn away from A1 and leveled out on downwind for runway 14. A1 was about 3 to 4 airplane wingspans left (to the west) of A2.
At this time, A1 now became A2, and A2 became A1 per procedures due to the position of the airplanes for the remaining portion of the flight. Just prior to briefing the approach and landing plan, the pilot and observer (now A1) heard a loud “bang/wham” and the airplane violently shook. The airplane immediately pitched down, and the left wing dropped. A1’s engine sound went quiet which confused the pilot on what happened, as engine oil began to accumulate on the windscreen. The pilot reported that he and the observer were unsure of the damage to the airplane and constantly maintained cockpit resource management during the emergency descent. The pilot identified an off-airport landing area and was concerned about keeping the wings level and flying the airplane.
The pilot executed a forced landing to a grassy and small tree area. During the landing, the airplane impacted small trees, skidded, and came to rest upright. The pilot and observer exited the airplane, and rescue personnel arrived shortly thereafter.
Numerous witnesses reported observing or hearing the midair collision. According to the witnesses, after the collision, one airplane (N617Q) descended very rapidly towards the terrain and one airplane (N338Z) was headed in a westerly direction. Witnesses lost sight of N617Q behind trees and observed a fireball and smoke.
The N617Q accident site was located about 2.5 miles northwest T82, and 1.1 miles east of N338Z. N617Q sustained a postimpact fire and was destroyed.
The N338Z accident site was located about 3.6 miles northwest of T82, and 1.1 miles west of N617Q. N338Z sustained substantial damage to its left forward fuselage, and the left and right wings. Damage consistent with propeller impact marks was noted on N338Z’s left forward engine cowling, forward engine cylinders, and nose landing gear tire. N338Z’s three-bladed propeller assembly had separated from the engine crankshaft and has not been located.