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On September 3, 1995, about 1207 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-18A-150, N9374D, was destroyed after colliding with a tree, near Egg Harbor, New Jersey. The commercial pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. No flight plan had been filed for the flight, which departed Ocean City, New Jersey, approximately 1145. The banner towing flight was being conducted under 14 CFR Part 91D.
The company chief pilot was performing ground crew duties and witnessed the accident. He stated that the airplane had entered the pick-up site, for the first pick-up of the day. The chief pilot stated he had a radio conversation with the pilot on routine matters, one of which was to identify the banner to be pick-up. He further stated:
...[the] pilot approached [the] field for pick-up. The approach was smooth and stable with no sign of difficulty...pilot made contact with pick-up loop, then entered a normal climb followed by a push over at the top (aircraft approximately 200 feet AGL at apex) to reduce angle of attack. From what I observed...[the] pilot may have reduced angle of attack somewhat slower than standard, which resulted in a slight altitude loss...aircraft soon regained good forward speed and was in a wings level attitude the entire time. Aircraft was not displaying any prestall or stall conditions/attitude at this point. Approximately 5 to 7 seconds into the maneuver...approximately the time when aircraft regained forward speed, pilot released panel (10 x 30). At this point aircraft still had good forward airspeed and was straight and level with no terrain to be cleared...approximately 10 seconds into the maneuver aircraft began to pitch upward followed by a continually increasing bank/roll to the right. [The] aircraft continued roll to a full 90 degrees and held this attitude until the impact....
The owner of the airplane was in the operation's trailer, located about 600 feet from the crash site, and he stated:
The pilot flew over the field to check the banner...the aircraft's engine noise sounded normal. Shortly after, I heard him approach, [he] applied full power, again with normal sounds. I then heard him pull the power...very shortly after I heard the sound of impact....
The accident occurred during the hours of day light approximately 39 degrees, 22 minutes north, and 74 degrees, 27 minutes west.
The pilot held a Commercial Pilot Certificate, with multi-engine, single engine land, and instrument airplane ratings.
An FAA Third Class Airman Medical Certificate was issued to the pilot on December 11, 1993, with limitations for vision.
The pilot's personal logbook was not located. According to company records; at the time of the accident, he had approximately 500 hours total flight time, and 60 hours in this make and model airplane.
The pilot was employed by Shoreline Advertising on July 1, 1995. According to company officials, he had approximately 40 hours flight time in banner towing operations.
The reported local weather was; clear, visibility 20 miles, temperature 73 degrees F, wind 270 degrees at 8 knots.
The pilot of the airplane behind N9374D, and next to pick up a banner, said that the winds were "light" out of the northwest and there was "no turbulence."
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot on September 5,1995, at the Atlantic County Medical Examiner's Office, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, by Dr. Lyla E. Perez.
Toxicological tests were conducted at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC, and revealed, "no drugs or alcohol."
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage was examined at the accident site on September 3-4, 1995. To facilitate the investigation, the airframe and engine were removed from the accident site and examined at a private residence, near the crash site.
The impact site was north (right), and less then 1/4 mile west of the banner pick up point. The airplane was found lying on the ground inverted, and about 10 feet north of a tree that had broken branches. There were no ground scars observed.
The airframe was destroyed by fire. All the instruments were destroyed rendering them unreadable, and their positions unreliable.
The left wing and lift struts were attached to the wing. After the airplane had been removed from the crash site, the attaching bolts were found broken. The bolts were removed and examined at the NTSB Materials Laboratory. The skin of the wing was burnt, exposing the wing frame. The frame displayed impact damage.
The right wing and lift struts were attached to the wing and the fuselage. The wing skin was burnt, exposing the frame. The wing frame displayed impact damage, and was found lying under the airframe.
Control continuity was established from the control stick to the elevator and aileron bellcranks, and from the rudder pedals to the rudder.
The fuel tanks were destroyed by the fire. No fuel was observed in the tanks. The fuel selector valve was damaged by fire, and the shaft position was consistent with fuel supply from the forward header tank.
The engine was with the main wreckage, and displayed fire damage. The engine rotated at the crankshaft, however, the propeller flange was bent, preventing full rotation. Engine continuity was established.
The propeller was attached to the engine. The propeller blades did not display cordwise scratches. One blade was curled at the tip. The other blade displayed gouges on the leading edge.
The throttle, at the forward pilot's position, was found in the flight idle position. The mixture control was destroyed. The position of the mixture arm was not determined.
The carburetor was destroyed by fire damage and was separated from the engine. Disassembly of the carburetor revealed that the floats moved freely. No fuel was observed in the carburetor bowl.
Both magnetos were destroyed by fire damage. The magnetos would not rotate, and no sparks were observed on the leads.
The top spark plugs were removed. They were observed to be dry and clean of carbon deposits.
Test and Research
The lower ends of the lift struts for the left wing, and the corresponding attachment cluster from the fuselage, were sent to the NTSB Materials Laboratory, Washington, DC, for examination. The NTSB Metallurgist's Factual Report, stated that the attachment fork assemblies at the lower ends of the lift struts were separated through the threaded portion of the forks. The lower end of the fork assemblies remained bolted to the attachment cluster.
The separations in the lift strut attachment forks revealed "gross bending deformation" to the threaded portion adjacent to the separation. The NTSB Metallurgist's Factual Report stated:
Fracture features were rough and matte in appearance. The fracture features and associated deformation were typical of an overstress separation as a result of excessive bending loads. No evidence of fatigue cracking or other type of defects was noted at the fracture locations.
The airplane was released to the owner, Mr. William D. Laughlin, on September 3, 1995.