NTSB Identification: ERA12LA435
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, July 08, 2012 in Beckley, WV
Aircraft: PIPER PA-42, registration: N332SM
Injuries: 3 Uninjured.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On July 8, 2012, about 2130 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-42, N332SM, sustained substantial damage during a thunderstorm encounter near Beckley, West Virginia. The airline transport pilot and two passengers were not injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for the personal flight, which departed Yeager Airport (CRW) Charleston, West Virginia about 2100 and was destined for Middle Georgia Regional Airport (MCN) Macon, Georgia. The flight was operated under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91.

The pilot stated that in his preflight weather briefing he had obtained through DUATS, there was convective activity west of the airport that was moving east. The tower asked the pilot to expedite his takeoff due to incoming traffic. The pilot complied, but stated that due to the expedited takeoff, he was unable to observe a final sweep of the nearby weather on the onboard radar. The pilot proceeded on course and reported that the air was smooth under a layer of overcast clouds, and that he observed no lightning. As the airplane approached the Beckley, WV, VOR, the pilot observed a flash of lightning through the overcast layer off the right side of the airplane. Within moments of the lightning flash the vertical speed indicator indicated a climb of over 4000 feet per minute and the airplane’s airspeed increased. The pilot disengaged the autopilot, neutralized the flight controls, and made a “mayday” call over the radio. The pilot felt that the airplane was “falling and twisting” which he interpreted as a steep spiral or spin, and reduced engine power. After exiting the clouds, the pilot identified a visual reference point on the ground and recovered the airplane. The pilot requested to return to CRW, and subsequently landed without incident.

A damage assessment of the airplane revealed the left elevator was bent, the right elevator was torn, and the ailerons sustained substantial damage. Two hand held GPS units were retained by NTSB for data recovery.

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