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On July 2, 1997, at 0720 central daylight time (cdt), a Piper PA- 32, N83353, operated by Corporate Aviation, Inc., sustained substantial damage when it impacted trees and water after departing from the South St. Paul Municipal Airport, St. Paul, Minnesota. Witnesses reported that the forward baggage door opened during the takeoff. The pilot and two passengers sustained fatal injuries. One passenger sustained serious injuries and one sustained minor injuries. The 14 CFR Part 91 business flight was destined for Fort Dodge, Iowa. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and an IFR flight plan was filed.
One of the passengers stated he arrived at the airplane around 0630 cdt. He stated the airplane was already out and the pilot and passenger doors were open. He reported the forward baggage door was closed and the pilot went into the hangar to get the key. They opened the baggage door and put a briefcase in. The same passenger stated that since not all the passengers were there yet he decided to make some telephone calls on his cell phone which was in the briefcase. He stated he made the calls and he put the briefcase back in the baggage area once again. He stated he thinks he closed and latched the baggage door, but he was not sure. He reported that he did not "double latch" the door because he knew others were coming and figured they would have baggage to stow. He stated the pilot then went into the hangar to answer the telephone and he went to use the facilities. When he returned the other passengers had arrived at which time they entered the airplane.
The passenger stated he was in the front right seat for takeoff. The pilot started the engine and did the "mag checks" and everything was normal. He stated they departed to the south and at an altitude of about 50 feet above the ground the front cargo door opened and stayed "straight up" the entire time. The pilot stated they would have to go back and land. The passenger stated the airplane seemed to "wallow" as they climbed and likened it to landing in a strong crosswind. According to the passenger, the pilot made a comment about needing to turn the airplane into the wind at which time the pilot initiated a turn to the left. The passenger stated the airplane motion became more erratic as they climbed. He stated the pilot raised the gear and he recalled hearing a buzzer going off. The pilot then moved the flap handle and stated "...we're going in." He stated the right side of the airplane then contacted the trees and the airplane descended into the water. He stated the green water filled the airplane followed by darkness. The passenger reported he unlatched his seat belt and felt around thinking he needed to go to the right. He stated his shoulder harness was still catching and after he freed it he was able to exit the airplane.
The other surviving passenger reported that it was turbulent and after takeoff the wings were rocking left to right. He stated he heard a couple of "buzzers" go off, but he wasn't alarmed as he had heard them before when flying in this airplane. He reported they flew over powerlines and noticed the altitude was low. He stated the nose was higher then normal and the pilot was fighting with the controls because of the turbulence. He reported that at this point, he felt they were going to crash. He reported the airplane impacted trees along the river then dove into the water in a 45 degree nose down attitude. This passenger reported the engine sounded normal until the airplane impacted the trees. He exited the airplane through a broken window.
The pilot was born on September 15, 1943. He was the holder of a commercial pilot certificate with single engine land and instrument ratings. He also held a flight instructor certificate with single engine land and instrument ratings. The pilot held a second class medical certificate issued on October 4, 1996. The medical certificate contained the limitation that the holder must wear corrective lenses for distant vision and must posses glasses for near vision. At the time of his last medical, the pilot reported having 1,950 hours of flight time.
N83353 was a Piper PA-32R-301, s/n 32R-8313004. The airplane was equipped with a Lycoming IO-540-K1G5D engine. The hobbs time on the airplane at the time of the accident was 4848.4 hours. The last annual inspection on the airplane and engine was accomplished on January 8, 1997, at a tach time of 4727 hours. At the time of the inspection the engine had 633 hours since overhaul.
The local weather observation recorded at the South St. Paul Municipal Airport, at 0756 cdt, reported the weather as 3,000 foot broken, 10 miles visibility, temperature 61 degrees F, dewpoint 53 degrees F, winds from 210 at 13 knots gusting to 21 knots, and an altimeter setting of 29.47".
The maximum demonstrated crosswind velocity for the airplane is 17 knots.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane was recovered from the Mississippi River. The right wing was separated from the airplane and was not located. The upper and lower spar caps were separated at the outboard bolt line. The left wing remained attached to the fuselage at the front and main attach points which were bent forward. The aft attach point was separated. The inboard section of the left wing near the wing root was crushed back as was the outboard half of the leading edge. The left wing aileron received minor damage and was free to move. The aileron control cables remained attached. The flap remained attached to the wing and it had contained minor damage.
The fuselage was bent downward in the middle. The right side of the fuselage sustained heavy impact damage. The engine and firewall were partially separated in the forward baggage area. The upper portion of the main cabin door was separated and remained attached to the lower portion only by the weather stripping.
The aft cabin and cargo doors were in place and secure. The forward baggage door received moderate damage. The surrounding structure was displaced and it had sustained heavy damage. The forward baggage door latch was found in the closed (latched) position. The catch was fully extended. The latch and lock operated normally with the exception that the latch could be closed when the key was removed and the lock was in the locked position. The latching mechanism cover plate was removed and no anomalies were noted. The forward baggage door striker plate was intact and no signs of wear were noted.
The vertical stabilizer and rudder were intact with little damage. The majority of the left horizontal stabilator was torn from the airplane and was missing. The right horizontal stabilator was attached and had crush damage along the leading edge.
The engine remained attached to the engine mounts, but most of the mount tubes were bent and broken. The engine mounts were partially separated from the firewall. The engine was removed from the airplane and transported to Buldoch Aviation at the Anoka County Airport for an engine run. After preparing the engine for the test run it was started during which time it ran with no anomalies noted.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
A post mortem examination of the pilot was conducted on July 3, 1997, at the Regina Medical Center, Hastings, Minnesota.
A toxicological examination of specimens from the pilot were tested at the Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aeromedical Institute in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The tests were negative for those substances tested with the exception of Quinine which was found in the urine.
Parties to the investigation were The New Piper Aircraft and Textron Lycoming.
Upon completion of the investigation the wreckage was released to a representative from the USAIG insurance.