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On April 16, 1994, at 0104 eastern daylight time, N8685C, a Piper PA-32R-300, operated by the owner/pilot, broke apart during an uncontrolled descent and was destroyed. The private pilot and his two passengers were fatally injured. There was no fire. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and a flight plan was not filed. The personal flight originated from Elyria, Ohio, and was en route to Leesburg, Virginia. The flight was conducted under 14 CFR 91.
The pilot was with a friend one day prior to the accident on the morning of April 15, 1994. According to the pilot's friend, the pilot was observed on the telephone with an aircraft paint shop in Canada to verify the status of the pilot's airplane. The airplane had been previously flown to Canada several days earlier so that it could be repainted in preparation for a lease- back arrangement with a Michigan fixed-base operation near the pilot's home. The friend reported that the pilot then visited his office about 1230, then drove to the Berz-Macomb Airport in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, to check the weather for flying.
Later in the afternoon, according to the pilot's friend, the pilot was picked up via automobile and taken to the Canadian paint shop so that the pilot could receive his airplane. The friend stated that the weather conditions prevented paint shop personnel from flying to Michigan and delivering the airplane to the pilot. The pilot took delivery of his airplane and flew it from Canada to the Romeo Airport in Romeo, Michigan, that same evening. The friend of the pilot spoke with the pilot's wife telephonically about 2130 that evening; the friend stated that the pilot's wife was departing her home to meet the pilot at the airport. The friend stated that the pilot had intended on flying from Romeo to Leesburg, Virginia, that evening so that he and his family could visit his aunt and uncle for the weekend.
The pilot was met by his wife and son at the Romeo Airport; all three boarded the airplane and departed about 2300. According to the FAA, there was no evidence indicating that the pilot had obtained a weather briefing or filed a flight plan for the flight.
At 2334, the pilot contacted Cleveland Approach Control and reported that he was "inbound" to the Loraine County Airport, Elyria, Ohio. Cleveland Approach Control cleared the airplane into the Class B airspace and provided advisory services. At 2344, Cleveland Approach Control attempted to contact the pilot several times without success. The airplane continued on to Elyria.
About midnight, the airplane arrived at the Loraine County Airport. According to a line serviceman at the airport, the airplane was "topped off" with 53 gallons of fuel while the pilot and his wife used the restrooms in the lobby. The line serviceman stated that the pilot "...looked a little tired." The pilot did not mention any airplane problems or personal physiological problems. The pilot then requested a quart of oil which he placed into the engine himself.
The line serviceman observed the pilot and his wife board the airplane, taxi back to the runway, and takeoff. He did not report anything unusual with the takeoff.
According to FAA air traffic control (ATC) transcripts, the pilot contacted Cleveland Approach Control again at 0040, on the day of the accident, upon departure from the Loraine County Airport. Cleveland Approach Control issued a transponder code and advised the pilot not to enter Class B airspace without a clearance. The airplane entered the Class B airspace without clearance, and the pilot was reprimanded by the controller at 0046. At 0048, the controller asked the pilot if he had weather radar on board. The pilot responded that he did not and the controller advised him of an area of precipitation in his vicinity. At 1249, N8685C was handed off to the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).
At 0051, the pilot contacted Cleveland ARTCC. The pilot was advised to "maintain VFR, altitude your discretion" and was asked his destination. The pilot responded with the three-letter identifier for the Leesburg Airport. The controller then asked the pilot if he was "navigating direct." The pilot responded that he was not.
At 0053, the controller then asked the pilot for the latitude and longitude for the destination. The pilot responded with "...I need the uh hold on one second here." The pilot never provided the latitude and longitude.
At 0102, Cleveland ARTCC provided a traffic advisory to N8685C and another airplane, call sign "Skibble 920," a Cessna 310. The transcripts revealed that the airplanes were about five miles from each other and headed in the opposite direction. N8685C was at 5,500 feet mean sea level (msl) and the Cessna 310 was at 5,000 feet msl.
The pilot of N8685C responded to the traffic advisory. This was his last recorded transmission. Two minutes later, at 0104, radio and radar communications were lost. No distress calls were received from the pilot.
The last recorded radar position of N8685C was at 5,300 feet msl and about three miles south of the Salem Airpark, Salem, Ohio. About the time of the loss of contact, the pilot of "Skibble 920" stated that he was "...VFR with light rain but there's pockets of heavy rain."
At 0104, local authorities in Salem, Ohio, received a phone call concerning an aircraft accident. Pieces of the accident airplane were found scattered along a path of about one mile. The fuselage was found about 1/4 mile south of the Salem Airpark.
According to a pilot living next to the Salem Airpark:
I was getting ready to go to bed (about 1:00 am) when I heard a loud sound for 2 to 3 seconds. It sounded like an airplane making a low pass - like the prop and throttle were full forward and the engine revving too high. The TV was on in the other room and I could hear the sound over the TV. Then, I head a loud 'THUD', then silence. I immediately looked out the window to observe the runway lights, thinking the pilot might want to land here. The [pilot-controlled] lights were not on.... Then, people immediately arrived at the airport, thinking a plane had crashed.
The accident occurred during the hours of darkness at 40 degrees 56 minutes 31 seconds North, and 80 degrees 51 minutes 58 seconds West.
The pilot, age 34, was a certificated private pilot with a rating for single-engine land airplanes. He was not rated for flight into instrument meteorological conditions. The pilot was issued an FAA Third Class Medical Certificate on November 18, 1992, with no waivers or limitations.
The pilot's logbook was recovered. The pilot had logged a total of 110 hours of flight time, including 12 hours at night, 5 hours in instrument conditions, and 14 hours in type. The accident flight was the sixth flight in a high-performance airplane since the pilot received instruction for high- performance airplanes, about one month prior to the accident.
The airplane, a 1976 model Piper PA-32R-300, had been purchased by the pilot about six weeks prior to the accident. Records found in the wreckage indicated that the pilot intended on leasing the airplane to a fixed base operation near his home after it was repainted.
An examination of the aircraft maintenance records did not reveal any unresolved discrepancies prior to the accident flight. Logbook entries indicated that the airframe had accumulated a total of 6,153 flight hours. It had received an annual inspection on November 19, 1993, about 74 flight hours prior to the accident flight. The engine, a Lycoming IO-540, had also accumulated 6,153 total operating hours, including 83 hours since its last major overhaul.
Maintenance logbook entries and a receipt (attached) also indicated that the entire airplane's exterior had been recently stripped with chemicals and repainted. The dorsal fin fairing, stabilizer tips and tailcone had also been replaced during the painting. The most recent entry in the logbook detailed the painting and repair of the airplane and was dated April 15, 1994, one day prior to the accident. The entry also stated "An independent inspection of the flight controls had been accomplished."
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board contacted the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada and obtained additional information concerning the painting of the accident airplane. According to the TSB, all of the flight controls except the stabilizer had been removed and balanced after being painted. No flight control cable re-rigging was involved in the process. Following the painting, all of the flight controls were "properly saftied" and a qualified maintenance personnel inspected the airplane.
A Meteorological Factual Report was performed by the Safety Board and is attached. According to the report:
The [2400 hours] National Weather Service Weather Depiction Chart showed a Marginal VFR (MVFR) area in eastern Ohio. At [0300 hours] the MVFR area was in extreme eastern Ohio. MVFR...Ceiling greater than or equal to 1,000 feet to less than 3,000 feet and/or visibility greater than or equal to 3 to less than 5 miles.
The report also documents the weather conditions recorded at Akron, Ohio, about 14 minutes prior to the accident. Akron is located 26 nautical miles west of the accident site. The reported conditions were: measured ceiling 4,500 feet overcast, light rain showers; winds 260 degrees at 16 knots gusting to 25 knots.
The report also documents the weather conditions recorded at Youngstown, Ohio, about 13 minutes prior to the accident. Youngstown is located 23 nautical miles from the accident site. The reported conditions included a measured ceiling of 3,600 feet overcast and light rain showers.
An AIRMET for turbulence was also issued and called for occasional moderate turbulence below 12,000 feet during the time of the accident flight.
Air traffic control transcripts revealed that another airplane, call sign "Skibble 940," was flying in the vicinity of the Salem Airpark at the time of the accident. The pilot of "Skibble 940" stated that he was flying on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan at an altitude of 5,000 feet msl. He stated that he was "... in and out of the clouds, but almost out of them - right at the bottom ...." He characterized the turbulence as "moderate" and that "light to moderate precipitation" was present during the flight, but there was no freezing rain or ice at his altitude. The pilot stated that he could see straight down to the ground, "...but nothing much ahead," and that the visibility was "really bad." The pilot stated that he vaguely remembered the last traffic advisory given to the accident pilot, and that if the accident airplane was at 5,700 feet at the time of the advisory, "...he would have definitely...been in the clouds."
IMPACT AND WRECKAGE INFORMATION
The airplane wreckage was examined at the accident site on April 16 and April 17, 1994. All of the recovered pieces of the airplane were then taken to a hangar at the Salem Airpark and were laid out in a mock-up to represent the original configuration of the airplane. An examination of the mock-up began on April 18 and ended on April 20.
The fuselage and right wing were attached and found at the edge of a treeline near a pasture. Other sections of the airplane were distributed along a scatter path which measured 0.75 nautical miles in length and was oriented along a magnetic bearing of 301 degrees. Following several ground and air search efforts, all sections of the airplane were recovered except for a portion of the right aileron. The position of each section was recorded by utilizing a hand-held global positioning system receiver. A diagram of the wreckage is attached.
The first separated section of the airplane structure found along the scatter path was the left half of the stabilator, followed in order by the right half of the stabilator, entire vertical stabilizer, top half of the cargo door, entire left wing, outboard portion of the right wing, and the fuselage.
The stabilator spar had fractured near its center and exhibited downward (negative) bending. A metallurgical examination of the airplane's left and right stabilator hinge fittings was conducted by the Materials Laboratory Division of the Safety Board. A report of the examination was prepared on June 3, 1994, and is attached. According to the report:
. . . both of the hinge flanges on the elevator mounted fitting were broken by overstress forces with no indications of preexisting cracking. Further, the directions of deformations of the flanges adjacent to the fractures indicated twisting motions between the halves of the hinges that were consistent with downward deflections of both tips of the horizontal stabilizer. The elevator hinge fitting also incorporates the elevator stops, adjustable bolt heads on the stabilizer side and flats between the hinge flanges on the elevator site. Examination of the stop surface revealed no indication of contact between the surfaces since they were last painted.
A section of stabilator control cable which had separated from the balance weight in the wreckage was also examined. According to the metallurgical report referenced above, the examination "... disclosed only features typical of an overstress separation. No evidence of corrosion or severe wear were noted on the surfaces of the cable adjacent to the break."
The vertical stabilizer had separated at its base. The top half of the rudder remained attached to it. An examination of the base fracture revealed torsional damage toward the right. Evidence of fresh torque paint was found on the rudder hinge bolts.
The left wing was found about 0.2 nautical miles down range from the left stabilator section. The left main landing gear was found in the retracted and locked position. The left flap and aileron were firmly attached to the wing. The inboard section of left wing and main spar exhibited downward (negative) bending. No fatigue striations were evident on the fracture surface.
The next section found along the scatter path was an outboard portion of the right wing. An examination of this section revealed that the direction of the fracture was in upward (positive) bending, and the fracture occurred at a production assembly separation. No fatigue striations were evident on the fracture surface.
The fuselage, including the inboard portion of the right wing, cockpit, bottom portion of the rudder, and engine, was the final section found along the scatter path. It was found about 0.4 nautical miles northwest of the left stabilator section. The fuselage was found lying on its left side and oriented along a magnetic bearing of 013 degrees. The inboard section of the right wing's main spar exhibited upward (bending), but was not fractured. Portions of the right aileron were missing from the wing. The trailing edge of the right wing had been splayed open. A hinge from the right aileron was found; its bolts had fresh torque paint on them.
Flight control cable continuity verification was impossible due to the separation of the airplane structure. The flight control cables for all of the control surfaces were stretched and separated.
The engine and propeller remained attached to the fuselage and were buried about 12 inches into the ground. The angle formed by the longitudinal axis of the engine and the ground was measured to be 55 degrees. The fuselage was surrounded by numerous 100-foot trees; none of the branches on these trees were damaged.
An examination of the engine did not reveal any evidence of pre-impact mechanical deficiencies. The directional heading gyro, which is powered by an engine-driven vacuum pump, was disassembled and inspected. The interior wall of the gyro housing exhibited evidence of rotational scoring.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by Dr. Carl R. Schaub, M.D., of the St. Elizabeth Hospital Medical Center, Department of Pathology, Youngstown, Ohio, on April 16, 1994. A toxicological analysis (attached) was performed on specimens taken from the pilot by the Armed Forced Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C.
A Safety Board Specialist Report of Investigation: Recorded Radar Study was prepared for the accident and is attached. The report documents radar data recorded at the FAA's Cleveland and Washington ARTCC. The data reveals that the accident airplane was cruising at an altitude between 5,400 feet msl and 5,700 feet msl during the last 10 minutes of its recorded flight. During the last 24 seconds of recorded flight, the airplane descended from 5,700 feet msl to 5,300 feet msl at a rate of 2,181 feet per second. During this descent, the calculated indicated airspeed of the airplane increased from 135.8 knots to 163.3 knots and the airplane began to commence a heading change to the right.
According to the airplane's FAA Approved Airplane Flight Manual, the published never-exceed speed for the PA-32R-300 is 191 knots. The published design maneuvering speed is 132 knots. The manual states: "Do not exceed [the design maneuvering] speed except in smooth air and then only with caution." The published maximum structural cruising speed is 150 knots at a gross weight of 3,600 pounds. The manual states: "Do not make full or abrupt control movements above [maximum structural cruising] speed."
The aircraft wreckage was released to Mr. Joseph Longo, 300 Park, Suite 230, Birmingham, Michigan, 48909, on July 18, 1994. Mr. Longo is representing the estate of the registered owner of the airplane.