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On December 4, 1993, at 1148 mountain standard time, a Piper PA-18-150, N4417Z, operated by its owner, crashed into the Mazatzal Wilderness Area, about 8.5 nautical miles southwest of Payson, Arizona. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the personal flight, and no flight plan was filed. The airplane was destroyed. The commercial pilot and passenger were fatally injured.
Members of the pilot's family reported that the accident airplane was based at the Phoenix-Deer Valley Municipal Airport, Phoenix, Arizona. The airplane departed from Deer Valley at 0944, and the pilot did not report experiencing any difficulties.
Management at the Payson (uncontrolled) Airport, located about 50 nautical miles northeast of Deer Valley, reported that at 1000 the pilot requested and received a landing advisory. The pilot landed and taxied to parking.
At 1030, the pilot and passenger were observed in the airport's coffee shop eating breakfast. Management described the pilot as not appearing to have been in a hurry and rather "laid back." Management further reported that the pilot briefly discussed the model of engine in his airplane and said that he planned to fly to the Phoenix area after departing Payson.
Prior to taking off, the pilot purchased 34.6 gallons of fuel which he was observed pumping into all three fuel tanks. No oil was purchased. Management indicated that nothing unusual was noted with the appearance of the airplane.
The airplane's takeoff and departure from runway 24 appeared to have been uneventful. Management estimated that the airplane took off at 1130. A bystander reported seeing the airplane's initial climb and reported it appeared normal. No unusual engine sounds were noted.
Members of the pilot's family reported that they believed the pilot had planned to return to the Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix where the airplane was based.
No person reported observing the accident airplane after it departed Payson. The National Transportation Safety Board estimated the accident time based upon: (1) the analog portion of the pilot's wrist watch which was found stopped at 1148; and (2) an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal which was first detected in the accident site area at 1212.
An examination was performed of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) recorded radar data for the area between Payson and the crash site during the period 1125 to 1205. No aircraft track between these points was found. The Safety Board did not establish the airplane's route of flight from Payson to the crash site.
A review of the pilot's FAA airman records indicated that he was issued a private pilot certificate in 1976 and a commercial pilot certificate in 1978. He was issued instrument, seaplane, and glider ratings in 1978, 1980, and 1990, respectively. Also, the pilot had been issued a certified flight instructor certificate in 1979; however, that certificate expired during the 1980's.
On an insurance application form dated September, 1993, the pilot reported that his flying time was, in part, as follows: 2,200 hours total time, 100 hours in conventional gear aircraft, and 50 hours in the PA-18-150.
Based upon the Safety Board's review of the pilot's personal flight record logbook the Safety Board estimated that, by the accident date, the pilot's total flight time was approximately 2,200 hours. His total experience flying N4417Z since purchasing it in August, 1993, was about 37 hours. During the 90-day period preceding the accident, the pilot indicated that he had only flown in the accident airplane, and he had logged about 22 flight hours.
The airplane had received a series of modifications as indicated by changes to its equipment list and weight and balance data. The Safety Board noted that a third seat had been installed in the baggage area, the main landing gear was equipped with tundra tires, and a 32-gallon capacity fuel tank was installed in the belly along with an electric fuel transfer pump.
The empty weight for the airplane was last revised on September 15, 1993, and it was 1,160.2 pounds. The airplane's maximum certificated gross weight was 1,750 pounds. Accordingly, the useful load was listed as 589.8 pounds.
The Safety Board calculated that when the airplane took off from Payson, if all of its fuel tanks were completely full, its gross weight would have been about 1,912 pounds. This was calculated based upon the following weights: oil = 15 pounds; fuel (32- gallon belly tank) = 192 pounds; fuel (36-gallon wing tanks) = 216 pounds; pilot (per FAA 5/13/92 medical certificate) = 204 pounds; passenger (per DMV 2/18/93 record) = 115 pounds; and baggage (Safety Board's estimate) = 10 pounds.
A review of meteorological data from airports located in Flagstaff, Prescott, and Scottsdale was consistent with the weather reported in the Payson area by airport management personnel. The sky was clear, the temperature was in the mid-50's, and the wind was westerly at less than 10 knots. There was no reported moderate or severe turbulence in the Payson area.
According to the FAA coordinator, a search of nearby FAA facilities did not reveal evidence that any air-to-ground communications or services had been provided to the accident airplane during the accident flight.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
From an examination of the accident site and airplane wreckage, the airplane collided with terrain while descending in a nose-low attitude. Evidence was observed of fallen tree limbs circumferentially around the vicinity of the accident site. The airplane was found near the top of a box canyon.
The airplane was on its right side, and was on a magnetic heading of 085 degrees. It was in a 5-degree nose-low and 50-degree right wing-low attitude. The airplane was located at the bottom of a ravine at 34 degrees, 09.9 minutes north latitude, by 111 degrees, 28.7 minutes west longitude, on a magnetic bearing of 219 degrees from the Payson Airport.
All flight control surfaces were found at the accident site. Fuel was observed in the right wing tank and in the fuel line between the auxiliary (belly) tank and the fuel transfer pump.
The propeller assembly was found sheared from the crankshaft mounting flange, and it was partially buried beneath rocks in front of the engine. The blades were observed bent into an "S" shape, were torsionally deformed, and bore numerous chordwise scratches and leading edge gouges.
The continuity of the cable flight control system was established between all flight control surfaces and the forward control stick. There was no evidence of fire.
The airframe and engine were recovered from the accident site and were examined at the facilities of Air Transport in Phoenix, Arizona. Recovery personnel reported to the Safety Board that during its operation the turn coordinator became energized and its gyro rotated. Also, fuel was noted leaking out of the right wing fuel tank's sight gauge. After the recovery operation, the Safety Board made the following additional observations:
1. No evidence was found of preimpact failure to the wing spar, or to the lift struts upper and lower attachment points.
2. The tail's upper and lower support (guy) wires were found attached.
3. The engine's crankshaft was rotated and the continuity of the valve and gear train was confirmed.
4. The fuel selector control handle was rotated through all positions, and it seated. The electric fuel pump from the belly auxiliary tank was energized and fuel flowed from the pump.
5. About 9 threads were exposed both above and below the elevator trim jack screw.
At the conclusion of the engine and airframe examination, the FAA's airworthiness inspector reported to the Safety Board that no evidence of preimpact mechanical failures were found.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
On December 6, 1993, a postmortem examination was performed on the pilot on behalf of Gila County, by the Office of the Medical Examiner, Forensic Science Center, 2825 E. District Street, Tucson, Arizona, 85714.
At the direction of the Safety Board, toxicology tests were performed on the pilot by the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute, Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory. The test results were reported to the Safety Board on July 11, 1994.
The FAA's laboratory manager reported finding evidence of therapeutic levels of dihydrocodeine and salicylate in the pilot's blood and urine. No ethanol or other drugs were found. The Physicians' Desk Reference provided, in part, the following information regarding the central nervous system depressant drug, dihydrocodeine, as listed for the drug Synalgos-DC:
"Dihydrocodeine is a semisynthetic narcotic analgesic, related to codeine, with multiple actions qualitatively similar to those of codeine; the most prominent of these involve the central nervous system and organs with smooth-muscle components. The principal action of therapeutic value is analgesia."
Also, the following warning was listed: "Dihydrocodeine may impair the mental and/or physical abilities required for the performance of potentially hazardous tasks, such as driving a car or operating machinery."
The airplane wreckage was recovered from the accident site and placed in storage at the facilities of Air Transport, Phoenix, Arizona. On December 9, 1993, following completion of the wreckage examination, it was verbally released (in person) to the owner's assigned insurance adjuster. No parts were retained.