NTSB Identification: ERA10FA154
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, February 27, 2010 in Edgewater, MD
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/06/2011
Aircraft: BEECH P35, registration: N1521S
Injuries: 1 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.

The airplane was on final approach to land about 300 feet above the ground, when it stalled, banked right, and descended into trees about 1/2 mile from the approach end of the runway. A postcrash fire destroyed the cockpit and consumed a majority of the airframe. The engine separated and was located in a creek, about 100 feet east of the main wreckage. Examination of the wreckage did not reveal any preimpact malfunctions. It was noted that while witnesses reported they observed the airplane's landing gear and flaps extended during the beginning of the accident sequence, postaccident observations were consistent with the landing gear and flaps in the retracted position.

The pilot had a history consistent with alcohol and prescription drug dependence, and had at least once previously failed rehabilitation treatment. He had been experiencing worsening back pain, and had undergone surgery about 6 weeks prior to the accident, with continuing pain after the surgery. He had been using prescription narcotic medications from multiple different providers for over a year prior to the accident, most recently filling a large prescription for prescription narcotic medications 3 days prior to the accident. Postmortem toxicology testing was consistent with recent use of a prescription anti-depressant, also used to treat nicotine dependence that can increase the likelihood of seizure activity, though that risk remains low. Toxicology testing also was consistent with the relatively recent use of a prescription narcotic medication, but the lack of such medication in the pilot's blood suggests the possibility that the pilot may have been experiencing the effects of opiate withdrawal, which can include agitation, anxiety, nausea, and abdominal cramping, among other symptoms. The pilot may also have been distracted by back pain. The FAA failed to identify the pilot's substance dependence, in spite of substantial differences in his and police reports regarding a Driving Under the Influence charge in 2005, and publicly available records that documented his misuse of prescription medications.

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

The pilot's failure to maintain adequate airspeed while on approach, which resulted in an inadvertent stall. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's likely impairment due to back pain, symptoms of opiate withdrawal, or both.

Full narrative available

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