NTSB Identification: ERA12FA465
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, July 19, 2012 in Berlin, MD
Aircraft: PIPER PA-18-150, registration: N4330Z
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

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 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.

On July 19, 2012, about 1050 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-18-150, N4330Z, was substantially damaged when it impacted a tree and terrain following a tow banner drop in Berlin, Maryland. The certificated commercial pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local flight, which originated at Bunting's Field (4MD1), Berlin, Maryland. The banner tow operation was being conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to several witnesses, the accident pilot was inbound to drop his first banner of the day and he radioed all three reporting points as he normally would. The southbound drop was also normal; however, instead of subsequently adding power and commencing a right turn per procedures, ground personnel did not hear the addition of power, and the airplane continued straight ahead. It eventually climbed slightly, the left wing dropped, and the airplane entered a left spin. It subsequently descended into a tree, then impacted the ground and immediately caught fire.

Fellow pilots stated that the accident pilot consistently flew correct patterns, that he was considered the most cautious of the group, and that he would radio anytime he felt something was abnormal. However, he did not make any radio calls when the airplane flew straight ahead rather than turn to the right.

The airplane was located next to a lake, at the base of an estimated 80-foot oak tree, in the vicinity of 38 degrees, 21.48 minutes north latitude, 075 degrees, 13.66 minutes west longitude. It came to rest about 185 degrees magnetic, ½ nautical mile from the banner drop.

The airframe was mostly consumed by fire, with primarily tubing and control cables remaining. The airplane was inverted, with the front half sticking up from the ground at an angle of about 60 degrees. Just aft of the single pilot seat, the fuselage was bent over to where it was upside-down, and the compressed tail rested against the ground. Some of the tubing on the airplane's right side, in the area of the bending, was completely separated with jagged edges.

All flight control surfaces were accounted for at the scene. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the control stick and the rudder pedals to their respective control surfaces, except that the right rudder cable was separated, and appeared to be cut in the vicinity of where the airframe tubing was separated with jagged edges.

The engine was fire-damaged, and its condition at the site precluded confirmation of crankshaft continuity. The metal propeller, which was recovered from the lake, exhibited torsional bending, with 90-degree bending near one end, and multiple bends and chordwise scratching on the other end. Approximately 25 feet of main tree trunk was separated from the top of the oak tree, with about 80 percent of the estimated 12-inch-diameter trunk having been cut at a 45-degree angle. Propeller blade torsional bending and 45-degree tree cuts are consistent with the presence of engine power at the time of impact.

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