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On October 24, 1997, at 1912 central daylight time, a Piper PA-28RT-201 airplane, N8146R, was destroyed when it impacted terrain during an uncontrolled descent near Hazen, Arkansas. The airplane, leased from D and M Enterprises of Oshkosh, Inc., Pine River, Wisconsin, and operated by Golden Eagle Aviation, League City, Texas, was flown by a private individual under Title 14 CFR Part 91. The non instrument rated private pilot and the passenger received fatal injuries. Dark night visual meteorological conditions prevailed with broken to overcast ceilings along the flight route. A VFR flight plan was filed for the personal cross country flight which departed North Little Rock Airport, Little Rock, Arkansas, at 1852, en route to Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
During personal interviews, conducted by the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC), local authorities, witnesses, and the operator, reported that the airplane departed Houston Gulf Airport, League City, Texas, at noon, on October 24, 1997. The pilot flew to Longview, Texas, where the aircraft was topped with 19 gallons of fuel and the passenger boarded the aircraft. An en route refueling stop was made at Little Rock, Arkansas, where the airplane was again topped with 19 gallons of fuel. The airplane departed from runway 18 at Adams Field, Little Rock, Arkansas, and diverted to North Little Rock Airport to secure an open cockpit door. The airplane departed North Little Rock and established contact with Little Rock Departure Control. See the communications section of this report for further information.
A witness, driving his vehicle on the road to the headquarters of the Wattensaw Wildlife Management Area, noticed the airplane lights, stopped his vehicle, and observed the airplane flying "about 200 [to] 300 feet elevation going very slowly in an easterly direction. The [air]plane appeared to make a turn to the north. The [air]plane appeared to be going straight down." The witness reported the accident and local authorities initiated a ground and airborne search; however, night, terrain and weather conditions hampered the search. The airplane was located at 1314 the following day in the Wattensaw Wildlife Management Area.
A review of the pilot's logbook, FAA records, and operator's records, by the IIC, revealed that the pilot began flight training in October 1994, was issued a third class medial certificate on November 14, 1996, and obtained his private pilot certificate on May 9, 1997. The pilot's total aircraft flight time was 132.0 hours, of which 7.7 hours were at night. On September 19, 1997, the pilot logged 2 night landings in the PA-28-161 airplane, and on the following night he made a solo night cross country flight during which he logged 2 night landings. From August 24 through September 13, the pilot received 3.5 hours of dual instruction in the accident airplane (PA-28RT-201) and was given a complex airplane endorsement. On September 26, 1997, the pilot was approved by the operator to rent the airplane (N8146R) for solo daytime flights.
The aircraft (S/N 28R-8018032) was issued the FAA standard airworthiness certificate on January 17, 1980, and the aircraft was registered to the current owner on October 24, 1996. A review of the aircraft maintenance records, by the IIC, revealed that the last annual inspection was performed on May 21, 1997, at a total aircraft time of 1,929.0 hours. Tachometer reading at the accident site was 2,188.8 hours.
Weather reports were reviewed by the IIC. The National Weather Service (NWS) surface observations (METAR) for the vicinity of the accident were reporting the winds from 100 to 140 degrees at 4 to 5 knots, visibility 7 to 10 statute miles, sky condition 2,700 feet broken to 3,100 feet overcast, with temperatures and dewpoints in the sixties. The area forecast for Arkansas included marginal VFR conditions with widely scattered rain showers and thunderstorms with tops to 40,000 feet msl (FL40), and light to moderate turbulence below 18,000 feet msl. In the vicinity south of Little Rock, the atmosphere behind an upper level short wave remained moist and unstable. Increasing vertical motion and elevated instability were forecasted across the area during the evening hours with very warm frontal boundary areas. Areas north of the frontal boundary remained scattered to broken with winds calm or light and variable from the north.
A review of air traffic control data and transcripts (enclosed) revealed that the pilot received a weather briefing and filed a VFR flight plan. During the weather briefing the pilot expressed his concern about IFR conditions. During a standard weather briefing, the pilot was informed of the broken to overcast conditions and turbulence below 18,000 feet msl. The VFR flight plan route out of Little Rock, Arkansas, initiated with the Victor 124 (V124) airway which was the 059 degree radial of the Little Rock VOR.
At 1852:28, the pilot advised the Little Rock departure controller that the flight was airborne from the North Little Rock Airport and flying VFR to the east northeast. At 1852:48, the airplane was leaving 700 feet msl and climbing to 2,000 feet msl. At 1854:18, the pilot was given a heading of 090 degrees to join V124 about 18 miles northeast of the Little Rock VOR. The aircraft climbed to 2,500 feet msl. At 1907:08, the controller advised the pilot that the flight was joining Victor 124, approved a frequency change, and a VFR transponder squawk .
At 1909:54, the controller advised the pilot that he flew the airplane through the airway and was about 3 to 4 miles south of V124. At 1910:14, the pilot advised that he was trying to intercept the 059 degree radial. No additional communications with the pilot were recorded. The controller last observed the aircraft transponder squawk of 1200, at an altitude of 2,100 feet msl 30 nautical miles northeast of the Little Rock VOR. A single ELT hit was noted at 1912.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION:
The wreckage distribution path of 121 feet was along a measured magnetic heading of 035 degrees with the final resting site in the heavily wooded Wattensaw Wildlife Management Area approximately 30 miles northeast of Little Rock, Arkansas. See the enclosed diagram for additional details.
Various portions of the aircraft components (vertical stabilizer, rudder, wings) were found at the base of the trees. The aircraft came to rest inverted 60 feet from the initial impact point with the engine and propeller buried in the ground. The airspeed indicator reading was 190 knots. The turn indicator showed the right wing low. The magneto switch was in the "BOTH" position. The attitude indicator (EDO-Aire model 5000E-8, S/N 97117H) was disassembled and no scoring was found on the buckets of the gyro rotor. All flight control components, except the right aileron balance weight, were found at the site. Flight control continuity was confirmed. The integrity of the flap system, the landing gear system, and the fuel system were compromised. No fuel samples were obtained.
The left wing was separated from the fuselage at the wing root. A semicircular indentation consistent with the tree diameter was found in the leading edge of the outboard left wing. The inboard 4 feet of the right wing remained attached to the airframe and the leading edge was crushed aft to the main spar. There was a semicircular indentation crushing in the leading edge of the right wing outboard of the fuel tank.
Impact destruction of most of the engine components and all the accessories precluded their examination. The engine controls were separated from the cockpit with the throttle, propeller, and mixture full forward. The crankshaft propeller flange was bent aft approximately 45 degrees and the propeller was removed for examination of the engine. When the crankshaft was rotated hand compression was noted to the #3 and #4 cylinders, and there was continuity to the accessory gears. The diaphragm and filter of the fuel distributor valve assembly were intact and clear of debris.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION:
Autopsies were performed by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, at Little Rock, Arkansas. Aviation toxicological testing for the pilot was performed by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The CAMI toxicological findings were negative.
TEST AND RESEARCH:
The engine was examined on December 8, 1998, at Clinton, Arkansas, and engine continuity was established. When the crankshaft was rotated, compression was noted for cylinders #3 and #4. The push rods were removed from the #4 cylinder and installed at the #1 cylinder and #2 cylinder, respectively. Compression for these cylinders was then confirmed.
The airplane was released to the owner's representative.