On June 5, 1997, at 1430 central daylight time, a Piper PA-28-180, N7581W, collapsed the nose gear during a forced landing, resulting from a loss of engine power during cruise, near Columbus, Mississippi. The airplane was operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 and visual flight rules. The prevailing weather was visual meteorological conditions. The airplane incurred substantial damage. The private pilot and pilot-rated passenger were not injured. The personal flight originated in Columbus, Mississippi at 1415.

The pilot and his pilot-rated passenger were on a pre-purchase flight to determine the condition of the airplane. While cruising, the pilot allowed the pilot-rated passenger to execute some maneuvers, including steep turns. After maneuvering, the pilot reestablished control of the airplane and turned to fly back to the departure airport. While enroute, the engine sputtered and then quit. After several attempts to restart the engine, the pilot established an approach to a nearby drag strip. The airplane collided with the ground short of the drag strip.

Examination of the engine by an airframe and powerplant mechanic showed that the air filter retaining piece was corroded. This corrosion allowed a thin slice of aluminum to become "flaked off" of the retaining piece. This piece was not located. A similar piece of aluminum, approximately 2" square was easily pulled off. In a Service Bulletin, number 975, Piper Aircraft Corporation states, "Over time, the seal between the landing light and the landing light retainer will become hard and brittle. If the seal is not replaced regularly, subsequent maintenance in this area may loosen or break the aged seal resulting in the possibility of pieces becoming ingested into the carburetor." This Service Bulletin recommends close inspection or replacement of the seal during the next annual inspection. Since the landing light is housed within the air filter assembly, this service bulletin affects both the landing light seal and the air filter assembly. A cracked landing light seal may either be ingested into the carburetor or allow water to filter through the seal assembly. If water was to filter through the seal and remain trapped within the air filter, it would speed up the process of corrosion.

The Service Bulletin was issued November 2, 1994. The aircraft's last inspection, an annual, was March 1, 1997.

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