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On October 15, 1993, at 2225 central daylight time, a Piper PA- 32R-300, 4147Q, piloted by a commercial pilot providing pilot service to the owner/operator, crashed shortly after takeoff from the Stuart-Atkinson Airport near Atkinson, Nebraska. The airplane, a truck, a stock trailer and a hog barn were destroyed by impact and postimpact fire. The instrument rated pilot and four passengers received fatal injuries. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, an IFR flight plan was filed. The flight operated under 14 CFR Part 91, and departed Atkinson, Nebraska about 2224, with an intended destination of Lincoln, Nebraska.
The pilot flew the four passengers (two married couples) to Atkinson so they could attend a high school football game. After the high school football game they intended to continue the flight to Lincoln, Nebraska, where they planned to attend a college football game the next day.
The daughter of one of the couples drove the airplane occupants to the airport after the game. She stated as they drove they discussed the increasingly foggy conditions. She reported the pilot did not think the fog would be a problem on takeoff, but was more concerned with conditions for landing in Lincoln. She indicated she "...asked him a lot of questions because he was a relatively new pilot for the bank...wanted to be sure he knew what he was doing."
The passengers' daughter reported the pilot telephoned for weather information, then performed a preflight inspection and loaded the airplane for departure. She stated the pilot spent a long time (estimated 20 to 25 minutes) on the ground with the engine running before takeoff. She reported he "...kept repeatedly turning the plane in circles...I don't know if he was trying to decide if the fog had gotten worse, or...that the engine wasn't working right...as they finally (took off)...their liftoff was minimal. The fog was now heavier than before and was still moving in." The daughter watched the airplane lift off, then got in her car to leave the airport. She heard the explosion and saw the blaze of the fire as she drove away.
Another witness was driving westbound on the highway past the airport when he saw the airplane lights on the right side of his car. He stated at first he thought the airplane was still on the ground because it was so low. He stated there was increasingly dense fog in the area. Witness statements and records of conversation are appended.
A truck, stock trailer and a shed were destroyed by impact and postimpact fire. A hog confinement building was damaged, and several hogs were injured by fire/debris.
The pilot completed his flight training and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Arizona, in Spring, 1992. He held commercial pilot certificate Number 506136515, with airplane single and multiengine land, and instrument ratings, issued May 13, 1991. He was issued a flight instructor certificate on July 23, 1992. The pilot was issued a Second Class Medical Certificate with no restrictions or limitations on August 4, 1993.
The pilot's total flight time was reported to be 615.4 hours, including 98.5 hours in the accident make and model airplane. He reported 16.9 hours total actual instrument time, of which 1.7 hours were within the preceding 30 days.
Local residents reported the weather was clear with good visibility during most of the football game, but a patchy ground fog developed as the game ended. They stated the fog seemed to move in from the northwest, and became extremely dense later that night. The passengers' daughter reported when they arrived at the airport the fog was "...not that bad...we could see 10 yards above...clear skies." She stated the fog was much heavier by the time the airplane took off. Crash/Fire/Rescue personnel reported it "...Really got foggy the further west we went...we were going about 35 to 40 MPH. Could not see beacon of airport until we were straight south of airport. Never (saw) the fire until we turned the corner and went north." Witness statements are appended.
Records indicate the pilot contacted Columbus Automated Flight Service Station (OLU AFSS) at 1628, 2049, and at 2156. He was advised of flight precautions for IFR conditions with low ceilings and visibilities, becoming more widespread through the night. He received forecast and current weather information for Norfolk, Columbus, Valentine and Lincoln, Nebraska. The pilot filed an IFR flight plan during the second telephone call, and obtained instructions for picking up his IFR clearance. The briefer advised him of the clearance line telephone number, and confirmed if the pilot could depart in VFR conditions he could pick up the IFR clearance from Minneapolis Center once airborne.
The pilot received an updated weather briefing immediately prior to departure. The briefer issued the nearest weather reporting station's (Norfolk, Nebraska) most recent weather data, which reported a ceiling of 2,600 broken, 7 miles visibility, with a temperature of 49 degrees, dew point 47 degrees, and winds out of 300 degrees at four knots, and an altimeter of 29.87 " Hg. With reference to the flight precautions for low ceilings and visibilities, the briefer advised the pilot "...you might see some of that activity, I guess...Norfolk says it will start coming down anytime up there." The pilot reconfirmed he could obtain his IFR clearance from Minneapolis Center after takeoff. Air Traffic Control (ATC) transcripts and statements are appended.
The Stuart-Atkinson Airport is an uncontrolled airport located approximately 3 miles west-northwest of the town of Atkinson. The airport is attended between 0800 and 1800 hours. A rotating beacon operates dusk to dawn, and Runway 11-29 (4,040' X 50', asphalt) is equipped with low intensity runway lights. There is no weather observation facility at the Stuart-Atkinson airport. There is no published instrument approach for the airport.
The airplane was observed in low, level flight after it lifted off from the runway. It impacted a parked truck and stock trailer at a hog confinement pen located approximately 1/4 mile west of the departure end of Runway 29 at Stuart-Atkinson Airport.
The main cabin wreckage was located on the ground on the east side of the truck. Landing gear and wing trailing edge flaps were in the retracted position. Airplane debris was located on the bed of the truck. The engine, accessories, instrument panel, and a 300 pound tool box from the truck bed were located against the broken concrete block wall of the hog barn, west of the truck. The propeller assembly was separated from the engine and was located on top of concrete block rubble in the hog barn. A postimpact fire ensued.
Postaccident examination revealed no evidence of preimpact mechanical malfunction of airframe, engine, accessories or systems. Photographs are appended.
Autopsy examination of the pilot revealed no evidence of preexisting disease. The autopsy (#ME-93-344) was conducted on October 17, 1993, by Dr. B. Y. Roffman, MD., at the Douglas County Hospital, 4102 Woolworth Ave., Omaha, Nebraska, 68105, (402) 444-7000.
The airplane wreckage was released to the owner's representative upon completion of the onscene investigation on October 17, 1993.
The wreckage release form is appended.