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On December 3, 1995, at 1743 eastern standard time (All times in EST unless noted), a Piper PA-28, N8775W, was destroyed when it impacted the ground near Friedens, Pennsylvania. The private pilot received fatal injuries. The 14 CFR Part 91 flight departed Watertown, Wisconsin, en route to Somerset, Pennsylvania. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed. An instrument flight plan had been filed.
A witness reported that the pilot had planned to depart from Watertown Municipal Airport, Watertown, Wisconsin, at 1200 central standard time (CST), but was delayed and did not depart until 1245 CST. The witness reported that the pilot knew that it would be dark when he arrived at his destination. He had also originally plannned to go over Lake Michigan, but decided instead to go around the lake, which increased his en route time by 15 minutes. The witness reported that the pilot had flown in Pennsylvania numerous times, and was aware that he needed to clear the ridge going into Somerset County Airport.
On December 3, 1996, at about 1130 CST, the pilot accessed the WeatherMation Flight Plan as part of his preflight planning. The pilot entered his takeoff airport as Watertown (RYV), Wisconsin, and the destination airport as Somerset (2G9), Pennsylvania. The alternate airport was Johnstown (JST), Pennsylvania. The pilot entered the following information:
Estimated departure time was 1200 CST; altitude was 8000 feet; fuel on board was 84 gallons; true airspeed was 115 knots; fuel burn rate was 12 gallons per hour.
The computed total distance was 563 nautical miles, and the time en route was 4+15 hours. The computed total fuel burn was 48 gallons.
The WeatherMation Flight Plan indicated that 2G9 observation and terminal forecast weather were not available. It also indicated there were no current Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS) for 2G9 on record.
The pilot filed an instrument flight plan with the Green Bay Automated Flight Service Station on December 3, 1996, at about 1209 CST. The proposed takeoff time listed was 1230 CST. The route of flight indicated a departure from Watertown, Wisconsin, with Somerset, Pennsylvania, as the destination airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) form, Report of Aircraft Accident, indicated that the pilot contacted the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC), Wheeling sector, at 1639. The airplane's altitude was at 9,000 feet above mean sea level (All altitudes in MSL unless noted).
At 1647, the pilot requested a lower altitude due to icing, and was issued a descent to 7,000 feet. At 1651, the pilot reported icing at 7,000 feet and was issued a clearance to descend to 5,000 feet. At 1655, the pilot was questioned concerning the icing at 5,000 feet by the Wheeling air traffic controller. The pilot responded that there was just moisture at 5,000 feet.
At 1713, the pilot contacted the Cleveland ARTCC, Indianhead (IHD) sector, and reported that he was level at 5,000 feet. The controller advised the pilot that the Somerset localizer was out of service. At 1718, the pilot requested the NDB 24 approach to Somerset. At 1720, the pilot requested radar vectors to the final approach course for the NDB 24 approach.
At 1732:28, the controller instructed the pilot to descend to 4,500 feet.
At 1737:09, the controller instructed the pilot that the airplane's position was seven miles from the NDB, and he told the pilot to turn right to 220 degrees and maintain 4,500 feet until established on a published segment of the approach. The controller cleared the pilot for the NDB approach.
At 1738:39, the controller informed the pilot of traffic at 11 o'clock at five miles, northeast bound, VFR, at 3,500 feet. The pilot responded that he was "in the soup."
The controller gave the pilot two more heading changes. Then at 1740:28 the controller stated, "Seven five whiskey, understand you're established."
At 1740:33, the controller informed the pilot that he had traffic at 12 o'clock at two miles. At 1740:45, the controller called the traffic at 12 o'clock and less than two miles, at 3,500 feet.
At 1740:53, the controller asked the pilot what his altitude was. The pilot responded that he was at 3,700 feet.
At 1740:59, the controller stated, "Seven five whiskey, suggest you maintain 3,500 if you can. Traffic 12 o'clock, less than two miles, 3,300."
The pilot responded, "Seven five whiskey, we'll try and maintain 3,500."
At 1741:31, the controller stated, "Seven five whiskey, traffic just passed underneath you, 3,300. You can resume your normal descent. Cleared for the approach."
The pilot acknowledged that he was cleared for the approach at 1741:38.
Radar data indicates that the position of the aircraft at 1741:31 was 3,600 feet at about 077 degrees and 4.5 nautical miles from the Somerset NDB when the pilot was cleared to to resume "your normal descent" and "cleared for the approach."
The NDB 24 approach plate for Somerset County Airport indicates that the minimum altitude at the final approach fix was 3,800 feet. The final approach fix was located at the Somerset NDB.
The controller told the pilot to change to the advisory frequency and to report cancellation to the Altoona radio. The pilot acknowledged the instructions at 1741:48.
There were no further radio transmissions made by the pilot.
At 1853, an Alert Notice (ALNOT) was issued for the airplane by the FAA. A search was made for the aircraft and it was located about 7.5 nautical miles northeast of the Somerset County Airport at about 2355.
The pilot had a private pilot's certificate with an instrument rating. He had a total of 878 flight hours with 744 hours in make and model. He had logged a total of 62.5 hours of actual instrument time, 95.6 hours of simulated instrument time, and 69 hours of night time. The pilot participated in the FAA Wings Program and had satisfactorily completed the Wings Program Phase II on February 26, 1994.
Witnesses reported that the pilot was a conscientious, avid flyer. They reported that he kept current and knew his procedures well. They reported that he practiced full NDB approaches, but would take radar vectors if he was in actual instrument conditions.
The pilot held a third class Medical Certificate.
A witness reported that the pilot always wore glasses, and that he could not have read his charts without them. The witness reported a spare pair of glasses were always kept in the airplane.
The airplane was a Piper PA-28, Cherokee Six, with a Lycoming 235 horsepower engine. It was owned and operated by the pilot. The last annual inspection was performed on June 9, 1995. The total airframe hours were 3,109 hours. The total engine time was about 2,158 hours since major overhaul.
The WeatherMation Flight Plan printout used by the pilot for his preflight planning indicated that the terminal forecast weather for Johnstown, Pennsylvanina, 20 miles at 026 degrees from Somerset County Airport, between 1200 to 2100 was:
Ceiling 3,000 foot overcast, wind 240 degrees at 12 knots, gusting to 18, with occasional ceilings of 1500 feet overcast, with light rainshowers.
The weather conditions in the Somerset area at the time of the accident were:
Johnstown Record Special 1745: Estimated ceiling 400 feet broken, 1,300 feet overcast, visibility 4 miles, light rain showers, temperature 46 degrees, dew point 38 degrees, wind 280 degrees at 8 knots, altimeter 29.87.
The Automated Weather Obsevation System (AWOS) for Somerset County Airport was reporting the following weather at 1740:
1,700 feet broken, 2,200 feet broken, 2,600 feet overcast, seven miles visibility, winds 250 degrees at 10 knots, altimeter 29.91.
Aids to Navigation
The minimum vectoring altitude for the NDB-24 approach was 4,500 feet.
The NDB or GPS RWY 24 approach to Somerset County (2G9) Airport, dated NE-2, 9 NOV 1995, indicated that the procedure turn minimum altitude was 4,500 feet. The minimum altitude at the final approach fix was 3,800 feet. The minimum descent altitude (MDA) for the approach was 2,840 feet. The NDB 24 procedure turn outbound course heading was 067 degrees, and the final approach course heading was 247 degrees.
Wreckage and Impact Information
The accident site was located at about North 40 degrees 5 minutes 57 seconds, West 78 degrees 51 minutes 49 seconds. The elevation of the site was about 2,630 feet. The accident site was about 2.6 nautical miles at 080 degrees from the Somerset NDB, and located on a ridgeline running approximately north to south, 7.5 miles northeast of the Somerset County Airport. The wreckage was about one half mile south of the final approach course for the NDB 24 approach.
The airplane's left wing hit a 30 to 35 foot tree. The elevation at the base of the tree was about 2,620 feet. The point where the airplane hit the tree was at about 25 feet high.
The wreckage path was on a heading of approximately 240 degrees. The left wing was the first large piece of wreckage along the path. It was located about 50 feet past the treeline. The left wing had remains of the tree limbs still attached where it had impacted the tree. Ground strikes were evident at about 150 to 250 feet along the wreckage path. The right wing separated from the fuselage and was located about 300 feet from the treeline. The remaining fuselage skidded inverted on it right side and came to rest about 390 feet from the treeline. The tail remained attached to the fuselage.
The wing fuel tanks in both wings were ruptured. Areas of fuel burn were evident around both wings.
The engine examination revealed that the engine had continuity and compression. The magnetos, vacuum pump, spark plugs, and engine driven fuel pump were examined and determined to be in operating condition. The carburetor was examined and no defects were found.
The propeller exhibited large leading edge dents and gouges, and chordwise scratches were present. Forward blade bending was noted.
Medical and Pathological Information
An autopsy was performed on the pilot at the Conemaugh Memorial Hospital on December 4, 1995.
A Forensic Toxicology Fatal Accident Report was prepared by the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aeromedical Institute. The report indicated negative results.
Search and Rescue
The search for the accident airplane was hindered by inclement weather. The emergency radio beacon operated and assisted in the location of the accident airplane. The wreckage was discovered on December 3, 1995, at about 2355.
Parties to the investigation included the New Piper Aircraft, Inc., Textron Lycoming, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The aircraft wreckage was released to A. J. Fiedler and Associates on December 5, 1995. The carburetor and altimeter were released to A. J. Fielder and Associates on June 6, 1996. The airframe logbooks, engine logbook, and maintenance records were released to A. J. Fielder on June 24, 1996.