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On November 6, 1997, about 1845 eastern standard time, a Champion 7ECA, N9556S, struck trees at an altitude of about 1240 feet mean sea level (MSL) while in cruise flight near Pine Mountain in Hamilton, Georgia. The airplane was operated by the private pilot under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91, and visual flight rules. Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site, and no flight plan was filed for the cross-country flight. The flight departed Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina about 1400 on the same day. The pilot sustained fatal injuries, and the airplane sustained substantial damage.
The airplane was reported missing by concerned family members on November 7, 1997, at 0856, when the pilot failed to show up for his brothers college graduation, and was subsequently located by the Civil Air Patrol, on top of Pine Mountain at 1311 the same day. According to the pilot's personal flight log his intended destination was Pensacola, Florida, with intermediate stops for fuel at Thomson, Georgia, and Greenville, Alabama. Thomson, Georgia airport personal confirmed that the airplane landed about 1630, on November 6, 1997, purchased 26.5 gallons of 100LL fuel and departed about 1700. Witnesses at the Thomson airport stated that the weather when he took off was marginal VFR and deteriorating rapidly. They stated that they believed that he was an instrument rated pilot when he took off.
The pilot held a private pilot's certificate with a single engine land rating. His pilot certificate was issued July 11, 1997 and had accumulated 244 hours total flight time and 166 as pilot in command in make and model. The pilot held a current first class medical issued on May 22, 1997, which contained a limitation that the pilot must wear corrective lenses while exercising the privileges of the airmen's certificate. Additional pilot information is contained on page 3 of this form, under the heading First Pilot Information.
N9556S, a 1965 Champion 7ECA, serial number 291, was a 3 seat, single engine airplane. The airplane was registered to Gerald D. Chapman, father of the pilot. No engine or aircraft logs were recovered, however, the Hobbs Meter found in the wreckage indicated that the airplane had accumulated 1783 hours.
The meteorological report for Columbus, Georgia (CSG) Elevation 397 feet, on November 6, 1997, at 1756 were, winds 300 at seven knots; visibility ten statute miles in light rain; sky 9000 broken, temperature/dew point 52/50 degrees Fahrenheit, and altimeter setting 30.06 inches of Hg. The meteorological report for Columbus, Georgia on November 6, 1997, at 1846 near the time of the accident was; winds 300 at four knots; visibility four statute miles in haze; sky 400 feet broken, 1200 feet overcast; temperature/dew point 46/41 degrees Fahrenheit, and altimeter setting 30.06 inches of Hg., at night. Witnesses near Pine Mountain stated that the visibility at the time of the accident was about 1/4 mile in haze/fog. Additional information about the weather is contained on pages 3 and 4 under the section titled Weather Information.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Global Positioning System (GPS) Coordinates for the accident site were North 32 degrees 46 minutes 1 second, and West 084 degrees 54 minutes 7 seconds. According to the Atlanta Sectional Aeronautical Chart the elevation at the accident site was about 1190 feet msl.
Examination of the surrounding area found two broken tree limbs 50 above the ground. Approximately 100 feet past the two tree limbs on a 330 degree heading, another tree was found broken at a point about 20 feet above the ground. At a point where the tree broke was a large section of the tree that appeared to have been cut away. On the surface of the cut was a foreign residue similar in color to the grey/black color noted on the propeller. Another tree several feet to the left of the broken tree, was found knocked down. This tree had several feet of bark removed or scraped at a point about 20 feet above the ground extending downward to about 6 feet above the ground. The tree came to rest across the airplane wreckage. At about 30 feet past the base of the fallen tree was the airplane wreckage resting inverted against another tree. This tree had scoring and marking of the tree bark two to three feet above the ground similar to the previous tree.
Examination of the wreckage found the engine folded back 180 degrees and resting on the underside of the right wing. One propeller blade had penetrated the wing skin and fuel cell near the trailing edge of the wing. Tree limbs, leaves and bark were found imbedded in the crushed cylinder heads on the top side of the engine. The propeller spinner was found dented and molded around the propeller hub. Examination of the propeller blades found one blade slightly "S" curved, while the other blade was curved aft at the tip. Both blades exhibited damage consistent with impact with a tree and sudden stoppage.
The left wing was crushed from the tip to about three feet outboard of the wing root. The wing folded and came to rest under the fuselage. The right wing remained intact with crush damage noted on the wing tip. The right wing strut was still attached to both the fuselage and the wing. It had a bend directly above the fuselage attachment point. The wingtip had spanwise wrinkling from the leading edge to the trailing edge, and was crushed so the rear spar protruded out the end.
The empennage was inverted, and the horizontal stabilizers, elevators, vertical stabilizer, and rudder were relatively undamaged. Continuity of the flight controls was established to all tail surfaces.
The cabin area was crushed aft, the left cabin door separated and was found resting on the right wing near the tip. The cockpit instrument panel had separated from the cockpit and was located outside of the airplane on the ground. The left side of the instrument panel was crushed and bent aft. The pilot's seat had partially separated from its floor track, and the seat back was broken and crushed between the cockpit floor and ceiling.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
A toxicological examination was completed December 19, 1997 by the FAA's Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory. The report was negative for all substances tested. A post mortem examination of the pilot was conducted at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Division of Forensic Sciences, 3121 Panthersville Road, Decatur, Georgia 30034
The wreckage was released to Gerald D. Chapman, 2950 Sunset Dr., New Smyrna Beach, Florida 32168.