On December 4, 1997, at 1815 central standard time (cst), a Piper PA-34-200T, N8189P, piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed during a collision with the ground following an engine failure shortly after takeoff. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The 14 CFR Part 91 flight was operating on an IFR flight plan. The pilot received serious injuries. The flight was departing Lee's Summit, Missouri, when the accident occurred.

The pilot said the takeoff was performed on a dark night with winds at 20-knots, gusting to 25-knots. The pilot said the takeoff was normal. He said the airplane "...veered hard to the left..." shortly after he retracted the landing gear. The pilot said the left engine's manifold pressure had "...dropped significantly. It took full right rudder and full right aileron to keep the plane somewhat level."

The pilot said he attempted to fly back to the airport for landing. He stated that due to the low altitude and the turbulence " was difficult to determine the status of all of the control systems. When it appeared that my altitude was too low to reach the runway I began to feather the left engine." He said he attempted to maintain a wing's level, pitch up attitude " the event I could not reach the runway." According to the pilot, the right engine appeared as though it was not developing sufficient power. He said he was not able to determine the reason for this because of the turbulence and difficulty he had in controlling the airplane.

According to the pilot, he was unable to see the ground due to the darkness. The airplane was landed in a bean field that had an up slope terrain profile. The pilot said he believed the airplane's nose was the first part of the airplane to collide with the ground.

The pilot's written statements were confirmed during a telephone interview. He added that shortly before the ground collision he realized the airplane was not climbing and he began feathering the left engine's propeller. He said the airplane flew through the tops of trees while he was going through the feathering process. Shortly after the tree encounter, the airplane collided with the ground.

The on-scene investigation revealed the left engine's propeller was not feathered and the landing gear was in the DOWN position when the airplane collided with the ground. A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Principal Operations Inspector (POI) interviewed the pilot on December 12, 1997. During the interview the pilot reportedly stated he could not recall whether the landing lights were ON or OFF. The POI asked him if he was aware of anything unusual about the magneto switch guard cover (cover). The pilot responded that he was not aware of anything out of the ordinary about the switch guard.

The magnetos are located on the cockpit's left side panel. The magnetos have a spring-loaded guard cover that needs to be rotated away from the magneto switches when turning them ON or OFF. This guard cover is not self-erecting, it relies on springs in the hinge assembly to keep it positioned over the magneto switches.

During the on-scene investigation, the POI observed that the springs for the magneto switch guard cover were broken. The guard cover normally covers the 4 magneto switches. These switches are positioned above a row of switches that include the landing light, navigation lights, and anti-collision light switches. The guard cover was found laying over the second row of switches.

Inspection of N8189P's engines revealed no anomalies that would prevent production of power. The right engine's fuel injection distribution block had fuel in it. The left engine's distribution block did not have any fuel in it. The engine driven fuel pump had fuel in it. The three blades of the left engine's propeller were not bent. The propeller had separated from the engine at the crankshaft and was found about 50 feet from the airplane. It was positioned vertically on the ground with one blade partially buried in the dirt. The crankshaft's separation surfaces had shear lips on both parts.

One blade of N8189P's right engine propeller was bent about 90 degrees about 1/3-span outboard from the spinner base. The second blade was bent about 70 degrees aft about 1/3-span outboard from the spinner base. The third blade was bent forward about 10-degrees.

The POI reported the left engine's magneto switches were in the OFF position. The left magneto switch for the right engine was found in the OFF position. The magneto switch guard was found attached to its base. It was angled away from the magneto switches and in close proximity to the next row of switches.

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