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On October 2, 1994, at approximately 2000 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-24-250, N8397P, owned and piloted by Henry T. Dargan, of Selkirk, New York, struck trees while on approach to runway 26 at Orange County Airport, Montgomery, New York. The airplane was destroyed and the pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the business flight which was operated under 14 CFR Part 91.
The flight originated at South Albany Airport, South Bethlehem, New York. As it neared the Orange County Airport, the pilot established radio contact with the UNICOM operator at the airport. The pilot requested the runway lights be turned on and he was told how to activate the pilot controlled lighting. He was also advised that runway 3 was the preferred runway. This was acknowledge and no further communications were heard from the pilot. The UNICOM operator reported the runway lights were activated to the high position.
A witness near the accident site reported hearing the airplane strike a tree and then heard the engine increase in power, followed by a crash a few seconds later. The airplane came to rest, upside down, 170 feet from the tree it had struck.
The accident occurred during the hours of darkness at location, 41 degrees, 30 minutes North and 74 degrees, 15 minutes West.
The airplane came to rest in a pre-revolutionary war cemetery. The wooden railed fence was destroyed on two sides and the ground was disturbed to depth of 1 foot. There were no head stones in the area of the ground impact.
The 62 year old pilot was the holder of private pilot certificate with an airplane single engine land limitation. He held an FAA 3rd Class Airman Medical Certificate, with vision limitations, issued on July 26, 1994. The last entry in the pilot's log book was March 17, 1987. At that time he had a total time of 513 hours, with 386 hours as Pilot-In-Command. Based upon airplane usage, the pilot was estimated to have flown an additional 250 hours for a total time of 763 hours and 636 hours as PIC. Additionally, he was estimated to have 300 hours in the Piper PA-24.
The airplane was a 1964 Piper PA-24-250. It was powered by a Lycoming O-540-A1D5 engine which developed 250 horse power at takeoff. The airplane was maintained under an annual inspection program. The last annual inspection occurred on June 1, 1994. The airplane had a total time of 3130 hours with 84 hours since the inspection. The engine had a total time of 3130 hours, with 84 hours since inspection and 404 hours since overhaul.
The registration for N8397P was issued to the pilot on August 3, 1984.
The UNICOM operator at Orange County Airport reported winds from 040 degrees at 2 knots. The 1945 observation at Stewart International Airport, Newburgh, New York, reported the sky clear, visibility 10 miles, winds calm, altimeter 29.98 in/hg. A witness approximately 150 feet from the accident site reported the sky clear and the winds calm.
Orange County Airport, Montgomery, New York had two runways.
Runway 3/21 was 5006 feet long, 100 feet wide, had an asphalt surface, and high intensity runway lights. Additionally runway 3/21 was equipped with Runway End Identifier Lights (REIL), and Visual Approach Slope Indicators (VASI) on each end. Runway 8/26 was 3672 feet long, 100 feet wide, had an asphalt surface, and medium intensity runway lights. The landing threshold for runway 26 was displaced 860 feet. Runway 26 was not equipped with electronic or visual glide slope aids. Red obstruction lights were used to mark obstacles on final approach for runway 26, although none were near the obstruction struck by the airplane.
According to the AIRPORT/FACILITY DIRECTORY for Orange County Airport, Montgomery, New York, the following notation appears for runway 26, "Thld dsplcd 860', Trees, Rgt tfc" [Runway threshold displaced 860 feet, trees on approach, use right traffic].
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane and accident site were examined on October 4, 1994. Initial tree contact occurred on 2 branches with diameters in excess of 6 inches which were broken at an elevation of 42 feet above the ground. The breaks occurred about 5 feet above a "Y" in the main branch. The angle between the two breaks was level with the horizon. The airplane made ground contact 135 feet beyond the trees which were struck. There was a narrow ground scar which measured 25 feet and terminated in a ground impact scar which measured 10 feet long and 3 feet wide. The airplane continued an additional 25 feet beyond the end of the large ground scar and came to rest upside down with the landing gear extended.
The airplane was moved from the accident site to Orange County Airport under the direction of the FAA. When first observed the airplane was upright on the landing gear, and the wing flaps were retracted. The roof of the cabin was crushed level with the top of the instrument panel. The right wing was crushed rearward with the outboard portion of the wing separated from the inboard portion and connected by the control cables for the right aileron.
Impact damage was visible on the leading edge of both wings.
The leading edge had been penetrated to depth of 2 feet on both wings which ruptured the fuel bladders in the wings. On the left wing the major penetration was at an angle of approximately 30 degrees off of vertical, with the upper wing penetration outboard of the lower wing penetration. The major penetration on the right wing was vertical to the wing. In addition, the leading edge of the right wing was flattened along the length of the wing.
The attitude indicator showed a right bank of 70 degrees, and a nose down attitude of 20 degrees. The turn coordinator showed a full scale turn to the right. The heading indicator showed a heading of 210 degrees.
Flight control continuity was verified on the rudder, ailerons, and elevator. Three threads were visible on the top of the elevator trim jackscrew.
The fuel line to the carburetor was disconnected and found to be dry. The fuel selector was found on the left outboard tank which contained a placard, "To be used for level flight." Residual amounts of liquid was heard splashing in the bottom of the fuel tanks. All fuel tanks had a smell of aviation grade gasoline.
The propeller blades were separated from the propeller hub. Both blades exhibited chord wise scratches on the front surface, and impact damage to the leading edge. The leading edge near the tips was approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches behind the normal leading edge.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was conducted on October 3, 1994, for the Orange County, New York, coroner's office by Louis Roh, M.D, Forensic Pathologist.
Toxicological testing was conducted by the FAA Civil Aero Medical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The results were negative for drugs and alcohol.
A check of documents obtained from the Orange County Department of Airports revealed the obstacle struck by the airplane was approximately 100 feet left of runway 26 centerline and 1475 feet from the landing threshold, as measured from where the displaced threshold ends and the landing runway begins on runway 26. The angle to the tree strike was measured at 2.25 degrees, 6 feet above the runway, and it measured 2.45 degrees when corrected for the 6 foot elevation. Documents indicated the terrain clearance for the runway 26 was predicated on a 20:1 clearance plane.
According to interviews, the pilot had flown with a safety pilot for the last several years. Two safety pilots who had flown with the pilot reported they felt the pilot was not proficient for night flight, and did not recognize his own limitations as a pilot. Incidents were reported where the pilot experienced lapses of memory and forgot checklist items, the pilot was slow to respond to airplane deviations, and he made shallow approaches to a landing.
No one was available to release the wreckage to when the Safety Board finished its on-scene investigation. Airport personnel were advised of the situation, and the Safety Board investigator departed the scene. The pilot's brother was contacted by telephone on October 4, 1994, and given a verbal release for the airplane. He signed a wreckage release for the airplane on October 12, 1994.