Monday, December 14, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Steve Kaplan, December 14 2003

Steve Kaplan rings in the ears of hundreds of millions of people around the world.  Kaplan composed the music for Wheel of Fortune and the remake of Jeopardy! that went on the air in 1984.   He also worked as a composer on numerous motion pictures and was a member of the progressive/new age rock group Zazan.  On December 14 2003, Kaplan was flying to Rancho Cucamonga to rehearse a winter concert with a high school jazz ensemble.  Kaplan was an experienced flyer with 600 hours in the air and he was instrument rated for his craft, the Cessna 421C.  His instrument-aided effort to land at Cable Airport in Upand, California, resulted in a fatal collision with a house.  According to the NTSB factual report of the accident, Kaplan had attempted an initial landing, come back around, and then
attempted a second landing when he crashed into a residence.  Despite the assertion at a memorial website to Kaplan that a structural failure of a propeller contributed to the accident, the NTSB factual and probable cause reports give no indication of structural or mechanical failure.  The official report instead reports “pilot disorientation” in the overcast skies that day:

The airplane impacted a residence during a missed approach. After completing the en route portion of the instrument flight, a controller cleared the pilot to proceed direct to the initial approach fix for the global positioning satellite (GPS) approach to the airport. After being cleared for the approach, the airplane continued on a course to the east and at altitudes consistent with flying the GPS published approach procedure. Radar data indicated that at the missed approach point at the minimum descent altitude of 2,000 feet msl, the airplane made a turn to the left, changing course in a northerly direction toward rapidly rising mountainous terrain. The published missed approach specified a climbing right turn to 4,000 feet, and noted that circling north of the airport was not allowed. Remaining in a slight left turn, the airplane climbed to 3,300 feet msl over the duration of 1 minute 9 seconds. The controller advised the pilot that he was flying off course toward mountainous terrain and instructed him to make an immediate left turn heading in a southbound direction. The airplane descended to 3,200 feet msl and made a left turn in a southerly direction. The airplane continued to descend to 2,100 feet msl and the pilot read back the instructions that the controller gave him. The airplane then climbed to 3,300 feet, with an indicated ground speed of 35 knots, and began a sharp left turn. It then descended to impact with a house. At no time during the approach did the pilot indicate that he was experiencing difficulty navigating or request assistance. An examination of the airplane revealed no evidence a mechanical malfunction or failures prior to impact; however, both the cockpit and instrument panel sustained severe thermal damage, precluding any detailed examinations.