On September 18, 1997 about 0535 eastern daylight time, N3102R, a Piper PA-28R-180 was destroyed and consumed by fire after it collided with rising, wooded terrain shortly after takeoff from the Danbury Municipal Airport, Danbury, Connecticut. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight plan was filed. The certificated airline transport pilot, and two passengers were seriously injured; a third passenger received minor injuries. The flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91, and the intended destination was Fairmont, West Virginia.

The pilot said that on climb out, he "experienced power failure and crashed into trees." He obtained a weather briefing the night before, and he used a short field takeoff with two notches of flaps. He said he established a positive rate of climb of 300 feet per minute (fpm), and when he selected gear up, the rate decreased to 100 fpm. He said it felt like it ran out of power, and the stall warning horn came on just after the first tree strike.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Inspector, the pilot reported that he experienced degraded climb performance of the airplane during the takeoff climb from runway 26. The airplane then struck trees, about 1/4 mile beyond the runway. The airplane wreckage was strewn a distance of about 200 feet, and oriented on a 250-degree magnetic heading. The wings separated during the impact sequence, and the fuselage came to rest on its left side, and was destroyed by fire.

The FAA Inspector reported that the three passengers said that the engine appeared to be operating normally. He said there were scars in the trees with 8 inch diameter cuts similar to propeller strikes. He said the pilot reported that there was no problem with the flight control system, and examination did not disclose any evidence of mechanical malfunction with the engine or the airplane.

The pilot stated that he computed a weight and balance, but that it was destroyed in the fire. He said he estimated the passengers weights and their baggage. The airplane's calculated takeoff weight was 2,517 pounds, based upon the weights the pilot had used.

The three passengers in the airplane said that they did not see the pilot complete a weight and balance, and neither did he ask them their personal weights, or the weights of their baggage. One of the passengers said he was worried about all the weight in the airplane, and that he heard the stall warning horn just before the airplane struck trees.

The actual weights of the passengers and baggage were obtained. These weights computed a takeoff weight of 2,733 pounds. According to the owner's operating manual, the certificated maximum takeoff gross weight was 2500 pounds.

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