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On January 18, 1996, at 1545 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-140, N5934U, was destroyed when it collided with water near Harwich, Massachusetts. The private pilot was fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight that originated at Chatham, Massachusetts, about 1400. No flight plan had been filed for the flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
Witnesses observed the pilot preflight his airplane at the Chatham Airport (CQX). The pilot was in good spirits, and stated that he was going for a local flight. The airplane departed CQX under VFR conditions. Two witnesses near Dennis Port, Massachusetts, heard the airplane between 1530 and 1545.
One witness stated:
"Low wing single engine airplane (Cherokee) with pilot and no passengers turning east from a south direction, at about 700 feet AGL. Visibility was low in patchy fog and plane disappeared about 1/4 mile from us. Looked like he was following the coast line."
Another witness in a boat observed a wing in the water approximately 1 mile east of Dennis Port, about 1600. The airplane was submerged in about 6 feet of water.
The accident occurred during the hours of daylight about 41 degrees, 39 minutes north latitude, and 70 degrees, 8 minutes west longitude.
The pilot, Mr. Ezra H. Sheffres, held a Private Pilot Certificate with a rating for airplane single land. He was not instrument rated.
His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Third Class Medical Certificate was issued on January 11, 1996.
According to Mr. Sheffres' pilot log book, his total flight time was approximately 580 hours, of which about 350 hours were in this make and model. He had flown about 6 hours within the past 90 days.
The airplane's current maintenance records had been kept in a three ring binder in the airplane. When the airplane was recovered, all pages of the recovered binder were missing, and the airplane history was partially reconstructed from maintenance work orders.
There was no record that the pilot received a weather briefing prior to the flight. The Chatham Airport had an Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS), and on January 18, 1996, the ASOS reported the following weather:
1124: measured 100 foot overcast, visibility 1.5 miles with fog.
1152: measured 100 foot overcast, visibility 5 miles with fog.
1230: 300 scattered, 8,000 foot scattered, measured 10,000 foot broken, visibility 10 miles.
1352: clear below 12,000 feet, visibility 10 miles plus.
1457: measured 200 foot broken, visibility .75 miles with fog.
1552: indefinite 100 foot obscured, visibility .25 miles with fog.
The Hyannis Airport, 12 miles west of Harwich, reported the following weather:
1545: indefinite zero ceiling, zero visibility with fog.
The Chatham Airport was located along the Massachusetts shore line, about 4 miles east of the wreckage location.
On January 18, 1996, divers confirmed that the airplane fuselage was intact; however, the left and right wings were separated from the fuselage, and the tail section was twisted. The airplane wreckage was recovered from the water on January 22, 1996, after a 3 day coastal storm that developed 88 mile-per-hour winds and strong tides. Examination of the wreckage occurred on January 22 and 23, 1996, at CQX, and revealed that all major components of the airplane were accounted for after the recovery.
The aileron cables attached to the pilot's flight controls were separated from the wings at the fuselage. Cable ends also remained attached to the left and right ailerons. The horizontal stabilator was separated from the fuselage, and the vertical stabilizer and rudder were separated from the stabilator. The stabilator trim was destroyed. The flap torque tube indicated the flaps were retracted, and the flap handle was down, in the zero flap position.
The wings and fuselage contained ocean sand, and were severely damaged. The left wing tip was curled inward and back at a 45 degree angle. When the left wing fuel cap was removed, several gallons of water flowed from the tank, followed by several gallons of light blue fluid with the odor of fuel. The right wing tank was ruptured and bulged outward.
The engine remained attached to the engine basket, and the propeller and hub were attached to the engine crankshaft. The propeller blades were bent slightly aft, and both blades displayed chord wise twisting.
During the engine examination, water and sand were found in all four cylinders. The engine was rotated by hand, and valve train continuity was observed on all cylinders. Compression was felt on the number two cylinder by the thumb method, and some compression was felt on the numbers one, three and four cylinders.
During the engine rotation, the vacuum pump and the magneto gears rotated. Fuel and water also flowed from the fuel lines during the rotation. When the vacuum pump was dissembled, sand was found inside the pump. The spark plugs were removed and observed to be wet and oily.
The carburetor and oil screens were removed and found absent of debris. The oil filter was cut open, and also found to be absent of debris. The fuel strainer was opened and found to contain sand and water.
The left and right magnetos were removed and dried overnight. When the magnetos were rotated by hand, spark was observed at all towers of both magnetos.
The exhaust pipes and muffler were intact and not obstructed.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on Mr. Ezra H. Sheffres, on January 19, 1996, by Dr. James Weiner, of the Massachusetts State Medical Examiners Office, Pocassett County, Massachusetts.
Toxicological testing was conducted by the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The airplane wreckage was released on January 23, 1996, to Mr. Robert Sheffres, a son of the airplane's owner.