Aircraft Accident Report
Adopted: September 15, 1959
Released September 23, 1959 Mason City, Iowa
February 3, 1959
A Beech Bonanza, N 3794N, crashed at night approximately 5 miles northwest of
the Mason City Municipal Airport, Mason City, Iowa, at approximately 0100,
February 3, 1959. The pilot and three passengers were killed and the aircraft
The aircraft was observed to take off toward the south in a normal manner,
turn and climb to an estimated altitude of 800 feet, and then head in a
northwesterly direction. When approximately 5 miles had been traversed, the
tail light of the aircraft was seen to descend gradually until it disappeared
from sight. Following this, many unsuccessful attempts were made to contact
the aircraft by radio. The wreckage was found in a filed
later that morning.
This accident, like so many before it, was caused by the pilot's decision to
undertake a flight in which the likelihood of encountering instrument
conditions existed, in the mistaken belief that he could cope with en route
instrument weather conditions, without having the necessary familiarization
with the instruments in the aircraft and without being properly certificated
to fly solely by instruments.
Charles Hardin, J.P. Richardson, and Richard Valenzuela were members of a
group of entertainers appearing in Clear Lake, Iowa, the night of Feb. 2,
1959. The following night they were to appear in Moorhead, Minnesota. Because
of bus trouble, which had plagued the group, these three decided to go to
Moorhead ahead of the others. Accordingly, arrangements were made through
Roger Peterson of the Dwyer Flying Service, Inc., located on the Mason City
Airport, to charter an aircraft to fly to Fargo, North Dakota, the nearest
airport to Moorhead.
At approximately 1730,* Pilot Peterson went to the Air Traffic Communications
Station (ATCS), which was located in a tower on top of the Administration
Building, to obtain the necessary weather information pertinent to the
flight. This included the current weather at Mason City, Iowa; Minneapolis,
Redwood Falls, and Alexandria, Minnesota and the terminal forecast for Fargo,
North Dakota. He was advised by the communicator that all these stations were
reporting ceilings of 5,000 feet or better and visibility of 10 miles or
above; also, that the Fargo terminal forecast indicated the possibility of
light snow showers after 0200 and a cold frontal passage about 0400. The
communicator told Peterson that a later terminal forecast would be available at
2300. At 2200 and again at 2330 Pilot Peterson called ATCS concerning the
weather. At the latter time he was advised that the stations en route were
reporting ceilings of 4200 feet or better with visibility still 10 miles or
greater. Light snow was reported at Minneapolis. The cold front previously
reported by the communicator as forecast to pass Fargo at 0400 was now
reported to pass there at 0200. The Mason City weather was reported to the
pilot as: ceiling measured 6,000 overcast; visibility 15 miles plus;
temperature 15 degrees; dew point 8 degrees; wind south 25 to 32 knots;
altimeter setting 29.96 inches.
At 2355, Peterson, accompanied by Hubert Dwyer, a certificated commercial
pilot, the local fixed-base operator at the Mason City Airport, and owner of
Bonanza N3794N (the aircraft used on the flight), again went to ATCS for the
latest weather information. The local weather had changed somewhat in that
the ceiling had lowered to 5,000 feet, light snow was falling, and the
altimeter setting was now 29.90 inches.
The passengers arrived at the airport about 0040 and after their baggage had
been properly stowed on board, the pilot and
passengers boarded the aircraft. Pilot Peterson told Mr. Dwyer that he would
file his flight plan by radio when airborne. While the aircraft was being
taxied to the end of runway 17, Peterson called ATCS and asked for the latest
local and en route weather. This was given him as not having changed
materially en route; however, the local weather was now reported as: Precipitation
ceiling 3,000 feet, sky obscured; visibility 6 miles; light snow; wind south
20 knots, gusts to 30 knots; altimeter setting 29.85 inches.
A normal takeoff was made at 055 and the aircraft was observed to make a left
180-degree turn and climb to approximately 800 feet
and then, after passing the airport to the east, to head in a northwesterly
direction. Through most of the flight the tail light of the aircraft was
plainly visible to Mr. Dwyer, who was watching from a platform outside the
tower. When about five miles from the airport, Dwyer saw the tail light of
the aircraft gradually descend until out of sight. When Peterson did not
report his flight plan by radio soon after takeoff, the communicator, at Mr.
Dwyer's request, repeatedly tried to reach him but was unable to do so. The
time was approximately 0100.
After an extensive air search, the wreckage of N 3794N was sighted in an open
farm field at approximately 0935 that morning. All occupants were dead and
the aircraft was demolished. The field in which the aircraft was found was
level and covered with about four inches of snow.
The accident occurred in a sparsely inhabited area and there were not witnesses. Examination of the wreckage indicated that
the first impact with the ground was made by the right wing tip when the
aircraft was in a steep right bank and in a nose-low attitude. It was further
determined that the aircraft was traveling at high speed on a heading of 315
degrees. Parts were scattered over a distance of 540 feet, at the end of which
the main wreckage was found lying against a barbed wire fence. The three
passengers were thrown clear of the wreckage, the pilot was found in the
cockpit. The two front seat safety belts and the middle ones of the rear seat
were torn free fro their attach points. The two rear outside belt ends remained attached to their
respective fittings; the buckle of one was broken. None of the webbing was
broken and no belts were about the occupants.
Although the aircraft was badly damaged, certain important facts were
determined. There was no fire. All components were accounted fro at the wreckage site. There was no evidence of inflight structural failure or failure of the controls.
The landing gear was retracted at the time of impact. The damaged engine was
dismantled and examined; there was no evidence of engine malfunctioning or
failure in flight. Both blades of the propeller were broken at the hub,
giving evidence that the engine was producing power when ground impact
occurred. The hub pitch-change mechanisms indicated that the blade pitch was
in the cruise range.
Despite the damage to the cockpit the following readings were obtained:
Magneto switches were both in the "off" position.
Battery and generator switches were in the "on" position.
The tachometer r.p.m. needle was stuck at
Fuel pressure, oil temperature and pressure gauges were stuck in the normal
or green range.
The attitude gyro indicator was stuck in a manner indicative of a 90-degree
The rate of climb indicator was stuck at 3,000-feet-per-minute descent.
The airspeed indicator needle was stuck between 165-170 mph.
The directional gyro was caged.
The omni selector was positioned at 114.9, the
frequency of the Mason City omni range.
The course selector indicated a 360-degree course.
The transmitter was tuned to 122.1, the frequency for Mason City.
The transmitter was tuned to 122.1, the frequency for Mason City.
The Lear autopilot was not operable.