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On September 3, 1995, at 1500 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA 24-250, N700TD, experienced a loss of engine power shortly after takeoff from runway 32 at the Sheridan County Airport, Sheridan, Wyoming. The pilot initiated a forced landing where the airplane collided with rolling terrain. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and no flight plan was filed. The airplane was substantially damaged and the private pilot and one passenger were fatally injured. The other two passengers were seriously injured. The flight was en route to Beardstown, Illinois.
One of the passengers stated that he does not recall the day or the events of the day leading up to the accident. This passenger stated that he did recall some of the events on the day prior to the accident and the flight into the Sheridan area. This passenger stated that the airplane was operating normally and the pilot did not mention any problems. After landing, the airplane was taxied to the fuel pumps and the fuel tanks were filled. The pilot, then alone, started the airplane to taxi to the tiedown. During the taxi, the engine quit. The pilot made several attempts to restart the engine before it finally started and was able to continue taxiing to the tiedown. The passenger reported that the pilot stated that he thought he didn't lean the engine enough. No maintenance services were obtained.
The other passenger reported in a written statement that, after the airplane was fueled, the pilot started the airplane to taxi the 50 feet to the tiedown. After travelling approximately 20 feet, the engine quit. This passenger stated that the pilot tried seven times before the engine finally started. The pilot then did a run-up on the engine "to clear the lines of any possible water in the lines,...." The pilot then continued the remaining 30 feet to the tiedown. After the airplane was secured, the pilot checked the fuel tanks for water. This passenger stated that none was detected and the airplane was secured for the night.
On the day of the accident, this passenger stated that they arrived at the airport around 1500. The pilot drained fuel from the fuel tanks, and examined the fuel for water or contaminants. The passenger stated that none were detected and the airplane was loaded and prepared for takeoff. After the airplane was started, the passenger stated that the pilot contacted the "tower" for clearance for takeoff. The airplane was then taxied to the runway and the pilot performed the run-up prior to takeoff. The passenger stated that the pilot contacted the "tower" for final takeoff clearance and the pilot began the takeoff ground roll.
During the takeoff roll, the passenger stated that everything seemed normal. The airplane lifted off and began to climb. The pasenger stated that, at approximately 600 to 800 feet, the engine lost power "in an abrupt fashion with a loud clink and/or breaking noise." The passenger stated that the pilot "appeared to switch to auxiliary tank, in an attempt to restart the engine, without success." The passenger stated that the airplane was then suddenly caught by an "air pocket" and the airplane dipped 10 to 20 feet to the left. The passenger stated that the pilot appeared to be searching for a place to land and repeated a mayday call several times to the "tower."
Two witnesses in the area reported hearing the airplane fly overhead, then they heard the engine quit. Both witnesses stated that they stopped what they were doing and observed the airplane fly northbound then turn to the west before they lost sight of the airplane behind the terrain. The witnesses then searched for and located the airplane on the hill and reported the accident to rescue personnel.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate for single-engine land operations and an instrument rating. At the time of the accident, the pilot had accumulated a total flight time of 1,746 hours, with 307 hours in the Piper PA-24-250.
At 1453, the Sheridan weather facility was reporting a temperature of 92 degrees. The altimeter setting was 30.09" Hg. The density altitude calculated for the conditions was 6,892 feet. The airport elevation is 4,021 feet.
At 1434, the pilot made contact with the Casper Flight Service Station and reported that he was planning a four hour and forty-five minute visual flight rules (VFR) flight from Sheridan to Beardstown, Illinois. The specialist briefed the pilot on the current weather for the route and asked the pilot if he wanted to file a flight plan. The pilot declined, and said that he would utilize flight-following. The conversation was concluded at 1446.
The Sheridan airport is uncontrolled and utilizes a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF)/UNICOM. Personnel at the airport reported that no one heard or responded to transmissions from the pilot. The UNICOM is not continuously monitored.
The Sheridan County Fire Department is located on the airport and monitors the airport frequency. Fire Department personnel reported that no communications from the pilot were heard.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage was located approximately two miles north of the airport in an area of open rolling terrain at an elevation of 4,100 feet. The ground was dry and hard and covered with approximately two foot tall dry grass. Just south of the accident site and down the hill, a flat alfalfa field was noted. The field was crossed with above-the-ground sprinklers and a barbed wire fence. The remaining area around the accident site was hilly. Ground disturbance in the area of the wreckage indicates that the left wing contacted the ground first and made a 19 foot long grazing impact through the grass on a magnetic bearing of 230 degrees. At the end of this disturbance, a 20 foot long impact crater was noted. Found in this disturbance was the pitot tube from the left wing and small fragments of plexiglass and metal. At the end of the crater, the left wing- tip cap was found. From the 39 foot point in the wreckage distribution path, another magnetic bearing was taken to the main wreckage. This bearing was 190 degrees. The main wreckage was located at 94 feet into the distribution path. The terrain from the initial impact to the main wreckage rose approximately 20 feet.
The main wreckage was resting on its belly with the nose pointing at 40 degrees. The left wing partially separated from the fuselage at the wing root. Both forward and rear spars were broken and bent aft. The entire length of the leading edge was crushed rearward and upward. Both fuel cells were ruptured and no fuel was present. Both the flap and aileron remained in place. The outboard hinge to the aileron was pulled out. Control cable continuity was established from the wing tip to the wing root.
The right wing remained attached to the fuselage and was in place. Both the flap and the aileron remained attached at their respective hinges. Control cable continuity was established from the wing tip to the fuselage. The auxiliary fuel cell was ruptured and no fuel was present. The main fuel cell was intact and fuel was present. A sample was removed and a water test was performed. There was no evidence of water or contaminants present.
The flaps appeared to be in the retracted position. The landing gear was also retracted.
The empennage was bent to the left. The vertical stabilizer remained in place with the rudder attached to its respective hinges. The stabilator remained intact. The fuselage was split aft of the baggage compartment along the seam from the top and down the right side. Control continuity was established from the tail control surfaces to the cockpit area.
Several items of luggage were found in the baggage compartment. These items were removed and weighed. The total weight was 94 pounds.
The engine remained attached to the airframe. The engine was positioned slightly nose down into the soil. The lower left side of the engine displayed impact damage that travelled upward and aft. The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft. One blade was positioned at the approximate 11 o'clock position. The tip of the blade was bent slightly aft and displayed chordwise scratches at the tip. The other blade was bent aft under the engine.
Cockpit documentation of the fuel selector indicated that the fuel selector was positioned to and in the detent for the left auxiliary fuel tank. The fuel pump was on. Both the throttle and mixture were in the forward positions.
The engine was removed from the airframe and it was noted that no fuel was present in the fuel lines from the airframe to the engine. The fuel lines were inspected and no blockages were noted. The fuel selector was removed and inspected. Fuel was present in the fuel selector bowl. Each port in the fuel selector was inspected and no blockages were noted.
The engine was taken to a maintenance facility at the Sheridan Airport for inspection. After the propeller was removed, the magneto timing was checked and it was found that the timing marks were aligned properly. The crankshaft rotated easily and accessory gear and valve train continuity were established. Compression and suction were noted in each cylinder. The spark plugs displayed normal operating signatures and both magnetos produced a spark with hand rotation. The carburetor was inspected and no fuel was found in the fuel bowl. The floats were intact and no contaminants were noted around the needle valve or accelerator pump. The throttle valve moved freely. The fuel inlet screen was clear of contaminants.
The electric boost pumps were removed and electrical power was applied. One pump operated while the other pump was inoperative.
The engine-driven pump sustained impact damage and was broken in two pieces, however, compression and suction were possible after piecing the parts together.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Pathologist at Sheridan, Doctor William E. Doughty, reported that the cause of death to both the pilot and the front right seat passenger were from multiple external and internal traumatic injuries. The Pathologist continued under his final comments for both individuals that "Wearing a shoulder harness may have saved his life."
Toxicological samples were sent to the Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aeromedical Institute for analysis. The result of the analysis was reported as negative.
The wreckage was released to the owner's representative on 10/10/95. The wreckage was removed and stored at Beegles Aircraft Service, Greeley, Colorado.
A weight and balance was calculated for the conditions at the time of the accident. An empty weight of 1,742.7 pounds was used, which was obtained from the current weight and balance for the airplane. Total fuel on board was 540 pounds, and full oil was 23 pounds. The pilot and passenger's weights were obtained via their respective FAA medical certificates which totaled 881 pounds. Total baggage weighed at the accident site was 94 pounds. The total gross weight at the time of the accident was approximately 3,281 pounds. The maximum certificated gross weight for this airplane is listed as 2,900 pounds. The center of gravity (c.g.) for this weight was 90.94 inches aft of the datum. The c.g. range for 2,900 pounds is between 86 inches and 93 inches.