NTSB Identification: NYC98FA073.
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Accident occurred Wednesday, March 04, 1998 in SOMERVILLE, NJ
Probable Cause Approval Date: 08/02/2006
Aircraft: Piper PA-23-160, registration: N3374P
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

"THIS CASE WAS MODIFIED AUGUST 2, 2006."

The Piper Apache was cruising at about 1,500 feet AGL, when a witness saw the vertical stabilizer start to oscillate and then separate from the airplane. The airplane descended and struck a multiple family dwelling. Examination of the wreckage revealed the outboard wing panels had separated from the airplane in flight due to downward bending forces that occurred after the in-flight separation of the horizontal stabilizer. The horizontal stabilizer was found next to the vertical stabilizer apart from the main fuselage and wing wreckage and had separated, in-flight, in a horizontal twisting motion that pushed the left tip of the horizontal stabilizer rearward. An impact mark on the left outboard leading edge of the horizontal stabilizer was consistent with a soft bodied impact that occurred prior to ground impact. Although one witness reported seeing several birds flying in the area at the time of the accident, examination of the left horizontal stabilizer and elevator failed to find any evidence of blood, feathers, or bird remains. A detailed and comprehensive examination of the accident site area failed to reveal any evidence of a bird carcass, or bird feathers. Aircraft components composed of both aluminum and fiberglass were mounted forward of the empennage, however the impact mark showed no residual evidence of being struck by either material. A determination of the source of the soft bodied impact could not be made. The vertical stabilizer is attached to the horizontal stabilizer, and this assembly is then attached to the fuselage through four attach points. The damage to the vertical stabilizer attach points indicates that they failed toward the left (as viewed from the rear looking forward) and were securely attached to the horizontal stabilizer at the time of failure. Three of the four bolts that attach the horizontal stabilizer to the fuselage were recovered. The forward two attach points were torn out of the horizontal stabilizer during the in-flight separation. Compression damage to the lower skin immediately forward of the aft, left attach point indicates that it was securely attached. No evidence was found to indicate that any of the attach points were unsecured prior to the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

in-flight separation of the empennage for undetermined reasons.

"THIS CASE WAS MODIFIED AUGUST 2, 2006."

Full narrative available

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