NTSB Identification: NYC03FA021B
Accident occurred Friday, November 15, 2002 in Fairfield, NJ
Probable Cause Approval Date: 11/25/2003
Aircraft: Piper PA-32R-300, registration: N216CL
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.

A Mooney had completed a go-around, and was flying a right traffic pattern for runway 22. A Piper was entering the traffic pattern from the west, consistent with a 45-degree entry to a right downwind for runway 22. According to radar data, the Mooney was making a right turn toward a northeasterly direction, consistent with a crosswind to downwind leg for runway 22. The Piper was west of the Mooney target, and appeared to converge in an easterly direction. Three air traffic controllers were on duty at the time of the accident. Prior to the collision, two controllers were in the cab, and one controller was in the break room. The accident controller combined positions to let the second controller in the cab go out of the tower for a meal break. The third controller had been out of the cab for approximately 3 hours, but remained in the break room, which left only one controller in the cab. At that time, there were four aircraft in the traffic pattern, and the pilot of a fifth aircraft was requesting entry into the pattern. About 10 minutes later, with six airplanes in the traffic pattern, two pilots were cut-off and two pilots performed a go-around. One of the pilots subsequently stated that the controller was having difficulty correctly identifying the airplanes in the pattern. The pilot of the Piper had contacted the tower, and reported that he was 7.5 miles west of the airport at 2,500 feet. The controller instructed the pilot to report a right downwind leg for runway 22, but did not provide a sequence or traffic advisory. Additionally, the controller spent approximately 1 minute conversing with the pilot of a helicopter. When the collision occurred, the controller did not see it, nor did he provide traffic advisories to either pilot. The controller thought the Mooney would be ahead of the Piper in the traffic pattern. The weather was clear, and although witness statements varied, they reported that both accident airplanes had lights illuminated. One witness stated that the Mooney converged into the Piper at an approximate 45-degree angle. A second witness stated that the Piper was in the traffic pattern, straight and level, when the Mooney appeared in a climbing right turn, converging on an approximate 45-degree angle. A third witness, who was a flight instructor, saw one airplane on a downwind leg that was struck by the other aircraft turning crosswind to downwind. The third witness added that it was possible the airplane on the downwind leg had entered the traffic pattern incorrectly. He further stated that both airplanes were well lit, and both accident pilots should have been able to see each other. The left wing of the Mooney exhibited several propeller strikes, cut at an approximate 45-degree angle to the wing chordline, and progressing toward the cockpit. Toxicological testing for the pilot of the Piper revealed Butalbital in the blood and urine. However, the level of Butalbital found in the blood suggested that the pilot had not taken the drug in well over 24 hours prior to the accident.

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

The inadequate visual lookout of both pilots. Factors in the accident were the FAA controller's failure to provide a traffic advisory, the improper decision among the three controllers to leave only one controller in the cab, and night conditions.

Full narrative available

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