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On November 6, 1997, at 1904 mountain standard time, a Piper PA-34-200T, N2119D, was destroyed when it broke up in flight and impacted terrain 15 miles south of Myton, Utah. The commercial certificated pilot, the sole occupant aboard, was fatally injured. Dark night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a VFR flight plan had been filed but had not been activated. The airplane, owned and operated by American Aviation, Inc., of Salt Lake City, Utah, was being operated as a non-scheduled domestic cargo flight under Title 14 CFR Part 135. The flight departed Grand Junction, Colorado, at 1829.
According to American Aviation, the airplane departed Salt Lake City, Utah, approximately 0700, and flew to Grand Junction, Colorado. It left there approximately 1000 and flew to Durango, Colorado. The flight was returning to Salt Lake City via the same route when the accident occurred. The cargo consisted of undeveloped film, bovine milk specimens and human biological specimens. The operator said that this trip was made daily, and the pilot flew this trip every other day. Examination of the airplane trip log, however, showed the pilot had made the trip on November 3, 4, and 5. [According to FAA Regulations, the maximum duty period for single pilot Part 135 operations is 14 hours. No more than 8 hours may be flown in a 24 hour period. Minimum rest period is 10 hours. According to the FAA, the pilot did not exceed the flight and duty time limits. The operator does not maintain a dedicated rest area for its pilots at either airport. According to the Durango, Colorado, fixed base operator, transient pilots have use of the pilot lounge.]
At 1828, the pilot of N2119D was cleared to taxi to runway 29 at Grand Junction, and cleared for takeoff at 1829. The pilot had filed a VFR flight plan, but never requested that it be activated. He contacted Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) at 1843, and was identified on radar at a position 28 nm northwest of Grand Junction. Denver ARTCC provided the pilot VFR traffic advisories at 1847, 1849, 1851, and 1853. After being handed off, the pilot contacted Salt Lake City ARTCC at 1858 and advised he was at 12,500 feet msl. He was given the Vernal, Utah, altimeter setting. At 1904, the airplane disappeared from the radarscope. No distress calls were received. Between 1906 and 1926, the controller tried to reestablish radio contact with the pilot, but to no avail. Search and rescue operations were initiated, and the wreckage was located the following afternoon.
The accident took place on the 158 degree radial and 9 miles from the Myton VORTAC. The GPS (Global Positioning System) location of the accident site was 39 degrees, 59 minutes, 9.2 seconds north latitude and 110 degrees, 4 minutes, 6.3 seconds west longitude. The accident site elevation was approximately 6,075 feet msl.
The pilot, Joel Robert White, age 30, was born on November 15, 1966. He held Commercial Pilot Certificate No. 528318666, dated October 26, 1994, with airplane single/multiengine land and instrument ratings. He held a Flight Instructor rating, dated February 20, 1994, endorsed for single engine airplanes and instruments. He also held a Ground Instructor rating, dated April 24, 1992, endorsed for instruments. His first class airman medical certificate, dated August 27, 1997, contained no restrictions or limitations.
Prior to being employed by American Aviation in November 1995, Mr. White flew for a year as a charter pilot for L.A.B. Flying Service in Juneau, Alaska, and two years as a flight instructor for Instruction Unlimited in Phoenix, Arizona. His most recent proficiency check was accomplished in N8285Y, a Piper PA-28-181, on September 12, 1997. His previous proficiency check was accomplished in N2119D, the accident airplane, on February 11, 1997. Mr. White had been trained to, and demonstrated on this latter proficiency check, lower than standard takeoff minimums. Both proficiency checks were satisfactory.
Mr. White's logbook was never located. The following flight times were taken from a resume submitted to American Aviation in October 1995, and the November 1995 and 1996 flight time summaries maintained by the company:
OCTOBER '95 NOVEMBER '95 NOVEMBER '96
Total Time 1,576 1,620 2,584 Pilot-in-Command 1,500 Instructor Pilot 393 Cross-Country 1,041 1,500 2,011 Total Instrument 191 150 467 IFR (Hood) 108 76 128 IFR (Simulator) 65 60 207 IFR (Actual) 18 14 132 Total Night 81 120 253 Night Cross-Country 101 225 Multiengine 28 17 907 Single Engine 1,580 1,677 Previous 12 Months 900 963 Previous Month 40 52
According to FAA's Airman Medical Certification Branch, when Mr. White applied for his first class airman medical certificate on August 27, 1997, he estimated his total time to be 3,000 hours, of which he estimated 400 hours had been accrued in the previous six months.
N2119D (s/n 34-7970026) was manufactured by the Piper Aircraft Corporation in 1979. It was equipped with Teledyne Continental TSIO-360-EB and LTSIO-360-EB engines (s/n 265744-R, left; 266272-R, right), each rated at 200 horsepower, and two Hartzell BHC-C2YF-20 2-blade, all metal, full feathering propellers (s/n AN 6978A, left; AN 6901, right).
According to the airplane's maintenance records, the last annual inspection was performed on August 13, 1997, when the airplane had accrued 11,165.6 hours total time in service (4,972.3 hours Hobbs meter time). The last 100-hour inspection was performed on October 31, 1997, when the airplane had accrued 11,450.8 hours total time in service (5,257.5 hours Hobbs meter time). At that time, both engines had accrued 1,640.3 hours since major overhaul. The engines had been overhauled on July 29, 1996, when they had accrued 1,944:44 hours (airframe total time was 9,801.2 hours). After the accident, both engines were disassembled and examined. No preexisting discrepancies were found.
On January 11, 1996, the airplane's transponder, altimeter and encoder, and pitot-static system were functionally checked and calibrated for IFR use. On September 12, 1997, the airplane was weighed. Its empty weight and center of gravity was 3,084.0 pounds and 85.15 inches aft of datum, respectively. On October 17, 1997, the KI-525A and KC-295B autopilot computer were removed and sent to the manufacturer for repair. According to the work order, the unit caused the "autopilot to track heading bug approx. 15 degrees to left." Corrective action was to "adjust the heading pickoff and align."
On November 4, 1997, two days before the accident, the Hobbs meter was replaced when it read 5,273.1 hours. The airplane, at that time, had accrued 11,466.4 hours total time in service. At the accident site, the Hobbs meter was found to be extensively damaged. After extrapolation, it indicated 6.0 hours.
According to data retrieved from the U.S. Naval Observatory, sunset occurred at 1712 and moonrise occurred at 1222. Moon phase was described as "waxing crescent with 38% of the Moon's visible disk."
At 1856, 27 minutes after N2119D took off and 8 minutes before it disappeared from radar, the following weather observation was made at Grand Junction: WIND CALM; VISIBILITY 10 STATUTE MILES; SKY CLEAR; TEMPERATURE 5 DEGREES C.; DEW POINT -3 DEGREES C.; ALTIMETER 30.15 INCHES OF MERCURY.
At the same time, Salt Lake City, its destination, reported the following weather observation: WIND 220 DEGREES AT 6 KNOTS; VISIBILITY 12 STATUTE MILES; SKY CLEAR; TEMPERATURE 8 DEGREES C.; DEW POINT 6 DEGREES C.; ALTIMETER 30.06 INCHES OF MERCURY.
Winds aloft data was obtained from NTSB's staff meteorologist. At Grand Junction, the wind at 12,188 feet was from 255 degrees at 18 knots. At Salt Lake City, the wind at 12,804 feet was from 230 degrees at 27 knots.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The on-scene investigation commenced and terminated on November 8, 1997. Wreckage was scattered approximately 1/2-mile on a magnetic heading of 200 degrees. The flap torque tube was in the flaps retracted position.
The rudder, vertical stabilizer, and horizontal stabilators were found near the beginning of the debris field. The rudder had separated from the vertical stabilizer, was found on the side of a plateau, and bore black scuffing marks on the upper fairing and on the right surface about midspan. The top fairing and counterweight had separated from the rudder but were recovered. The trim tab was separated from the rudder. Pieces of the nose cone were found 3/8-mile from the fuselage on a magnetic heading of 210 degrees. The rudder was found 15 feet from the nose section.
The vertical stabilizer was found on the south side of the plateau about 1/4-mile from the main wreckage. The forward attach fitting was bent to the left, and the rear attach fitting was bent down and to the right. It did not exhibit black scuffing marks as did the rudder. The empennage, with the mating forward and rear attach fittings, separated from the tail bulkhead and was found along with the left wing tip near the vertical stabilizer.
The horizontal stabilator was found in two pieces. The right horizontal stabilator was ripped out of the empennage and, along with the tail bulkhead, was found 1/16-mile west of the fuselage on a magnetic heading of 280 degrees. There was diagonal wrinkling of the skin. Attached to the stabilator were the counterweight and trim drum assembly, the latter exposing 17 threads. According to the Piper Aircraft Corporation, 0 threads equates to full nose up trim, 10 threads is equivalent to neutral trim, and 19 threads is indicative of full nose down trim. The left stabilator was found on the west slope of a plateau, 1/2-mile from the main wreckage, and on a magnetic heading of 230 degrees. The stub of the spar was bent down.
The inverted left wing and was found approximately 200 feet from the inverted fuselage on a magnetic heading of 250 degrees. It had separated from the fuselage at the root. The spar was bent down and twisted aft. Much of the wing leading edge was missing and there was a breech between the inboard and outboard fuel tanks. The flap remained attached. The aileron cables remained attached to the bellcrank, but the aileron had separated and was located 1/8-mile to the north. The engine remained attached to the wing, and the propeller remained attached to the engine. Both blades were broken inside the hub. The tip was missing from the ascending blade. The descending blade was bent 180 degrees opposite the direction of rotation.
The right wing, including the flap and aileron, remained attached to the fuselage but was bent down. Portions of the skin were separated from the structure and were wrinkled. The flap was up. The engine remained attached to the wing. The separated propeller hub with one blade attached lay nearby. The blade was curled forward about 8 inches from the tip.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Postmortem examination of the pilot was conducted by the Utah Medical Examiner's Office. Toxicological screening conducted by FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute disclosed no ethanol in the urine and no drugs in the liver fluid. Tests for carbon monoxide and cyanide could not be performed. Toxicological screening performed by the Utah Medical Examiner's Office was in agreement with that made by CAMI, but it noted carboxyhemoglobin was less than 10 percent.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
On April 8, 1988, the engines were disassembled and inspected at the facilities of Spanish Fork Flying Service, Spanish Fork, Utah. No evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction was found.
The left wing, right stabilator, and vertical stabilizer inboard and outboard spar butts were sent to NTSB's metallurgical laboratory for examination. According to the metallurgist's factual report, all the fractured surfaces were "consistent with overstress separations," and there was no evidence of "preexisting cracking such as fatigue or stress corrosion." The left wing exhibited "negative loading on both the upper and lower spar cap fractures." The right horizontal stabilator spar exhibited "down [negative] loading producing buckling deformation of the spar." Fracture damage to the vertical stabilizer "was consistent with the top of the fin pivoting to the right around the lower attachment to the fuselage."
NTAP (National Track Analysis Program) data was analyzed by a Radar ViewPoint computer program. According to the data, two transponder-equipped airplanes were detected flying towards each other. The first target, squawking a transponder code of 1477, was identified as N2119D, and was tracked between 1902:51 and 1904:07, flying in a southeast-to-northwest direction at an encoded altitude of 12,600 feet msl. The second, an unidentified aircraft squawking a transponder code of 1200 (the common VFR code), was tracked between 1907:00 and 1912:07, flying in a northwest-to-southeast direction at an encoded altitude of 13,600 feet msl. Based on the average computer generated ground speed of the unidentified airplane, it would have been approximately 14 miles away when radar contact with N2119D was lost. It could not be determined if either airplane's landing light was illuminated, but it is not uncommon for pilots to turn on the landing light for identification and collision avoidance purposes.
In addition to the Federal Aviation Administration, parties to the investigation included the New Piper Aircraft Corporation and Teledyne Continental Motors.
The left wing, right stabilator, and vertical stabilizer spars were released to the insurance company on December 15, 1997. The remainder of the airplane had been released to the insurance company on November 8, 1997.