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On June 18, 1999, about 0945 hours Pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-28R-200, N2706R, collided with trees near Bass Lake, California. Memley Aviation of Fresno, California, operated the rented airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The flight departed Fresno-Chandler Downtown Airport about 0855. The pilot, who lived in Bass Lake, told the operator he was taking visiting family members up to take pictures of the lake and then fly over Yosemite National Park. The private pilot and his three passengers sustained fatal injuries; the airplane was destroyed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed. The first major wreckage pieces investigators discovered were at 37 degrees 22.18 minutes north latitude and 119 degrees 32.46 minutes west longitude.
An instructor pilot for the operator stated he conversed with the pilot prior to departure and discussed the pilot's itinerary. The pilot indicated he was going to fly visiting family members over his home near Bass Lake, and then head up into the mountains toward Yosemite National Park. The instructor stated he looked into the fuel tanks and observed fuel in the left tank level with an internal tab and fuel in the right tank about 1 inch above the tab. He estimated about 38 gallons of fuel were onboard at departure. The instructor estimated they would be within gross weight limits and had adequate fuel for he planned flight. He told the pilot that due to the warm temperatures, the pilot should expect slow climb rates above 5,000 feet. He advised the pilot to stay above 8,500 feet during the flight, and the pilot indicated that he thought that was a good idea.
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controller from the Fresno Tower/TRACON reported she provided advisories to the pilot beginning at 0906. She approved a climb from 3,500 feet to 4,500 feet as the airplane approached Millerton Lake, which was 15 nm north of Fresno. The pilot requested to continue his climb as he approached the Friant VOR, which was 20 nm north of Fresno and 12nm south of Bass Lake. The controller advised the pilot he was leaving her airspace and terminated radar service at 0922. About 0930, witnesses observed a low wing white airplane with a solid stripe flying about 1,000 feet over Bass Lake, elevation 3,500 feet.
A campground host at the Chilkoot Campgrounds was sitting next to his trailer about 3 miles north of Bass Lake. This trailer's orientation was along a magnetic bearing of 350 degrees at an estimated elevation of 4,700 feet. He stated the airplane flew by to the north, parallel to his trailer. He estimated the trees in this area were over 100 feet tall. He estimated the airplane was approximately 100 feet over the trees and 100 feet west of his trailer. He heard the airplane for 3 or 4 seconds before it arrived at his position, and stated that the engine was running smoothly. Then he heard the sound increase as it passed by and thought the pilot was adding power. He lost sight of the airplane due to the trees and several seconds later heard two separate sounds of what he described as metal crunching.
A review of FAA records revealed the pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land and instrument airplane. He obtained a second-class medical certificate on May 28, 1999. Family members provided excerpts from the pilot's logbooks, and the Safety Board investigator reviewed these entries. The investigator estimated the pilot accumulated a total time of 350 hours. The last biennial flight review recorded occurred on March 14, 1997. The pilot recorded 1.7 hours in this make and model. The majority of his previous complex time was in a Beech F-33.
A review of FAA records indicated the airplane was a Piper PA 28R-200, serial number 28R-35256. An entry in the airplane's maintenance records recorded an annual inspection on March 16, 1999, at a tachometer time of 205.2 hours, and a Hobbs meter time of 5,103.7 hours. This entry listed 5,403.7 hours total time on the airplane, 245.7 hours total time on the engine, and 222 hours total time on the propeller. On May 19, 1999, the airplane underwent a 100-hour inspection, at a tachometer time of 301 and a Hobbs meter reading of 5,214.4 hours. After the accident, investigators observed the tachometer at 324.5 and the Hobbs at 5,242.5.
The airplane's engine log recorded the installation of a Textron Lycoming IO 360-C1C factory remanufactured engine, serial number RL-22971-51A, on January 12, 1997. Tachometer time at installation was 5,158.7. A new tachometer reading 0.0 was installed at 5,198.5.
Maintenance records recorded installation of a new McCauley three-bladed propeller on April 24, 1998, and a revision of the airplane's weight and balance data. This data listed the airplane's empty weight at 1,539 pounds; its new useful load at 1,061 lbs.; moment of 128,854.76 inch-pounds; and the center of gravity at 83.73 inches aft of the datum.
Records provided by the operator indicated that the airplane was filled with 20.06 gallons of 100 Low Lead on June 16, 1999. From that time until the accident flight, the airplane flew for 0.8 hours.
An aviation routine weather report (METAR) for the Fresno Yosemite Airport was issued at 0856. The winds were from 120 degrees at 4 knots; visibility was 10 statute miles; skies were clear; the temperature was 81 degrees Fahrenheit; and the altimeter setting was 29.92 InHg.
The Ponderosa Portable Raws Ranger Station, which is approximately 13 miles from the accident site on a bearing of 150 degrees, provided additional weather information. It was in the Sierra National Forest Ranger District at 37 degrees 12 minutes 39 seconds north latitude and 119 degrees 25 minutes 27 seconds west longitude at an elevation of 4,530 feet. A reading taken at 0930 indicated the winds were from 222 degrees at 2 knots; the temperature was 70 degrees Fahrenheit; and the relative humidity was 41 percent.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Investigators from the Safety Board, New Piper Aircraft Corporation, and the FAA examined the wreckage on scene. The first identified point of contact (IPC) was the transponder antenna, which investigators located at the base of a tree. Nearby tree limbs displayed diagonal fracture surfaces that were shiny and smooth.
Approximately 120 feet to the northwest of the IPC was the primary point of contact (PPC). Investigators found limbs and branches at the base of a tree, which appeared to have a flat top. At the base of this tree, a 30-foot section of the treetop, which fractured in several sections, was oriented 275 degrees. The base of this section exhibited a shiny scar approximately 3 feet long around half of its circumference; the fracture surfaces were crisp and clean. Another 18-foot section folded back over this piece, and angled 30 degrees left. Investigators located the baggage door 5 feet right of the base of this tree as they looked along the debris path, which was oriented on a magnetic bearing of 275 degrees.
Ten feet left of the PPC was the outboard 6 feet of the left wing. This piece was inverted, and crushed up and aft on the inboard portion. Investigators found the entry step 14 feet into the debris path and 21 feet left of the debris centerline. Six feet left of the step was the right stabilator tip. Forty-nine feet into the debris field and 14 feet left was the ruptured left fuel tank. Its inboard leading edge exhibited a cylindrical crush mark on top that went down and aft. The separated right wing, 80 feet into the debris field and 5 feet left, was leaning against a tree. Its top surface pointed back toward the PPC and the leading edge pointed down with the wing root nearest the debris path centerline. Its inboard section had a cylindrical impression 6 inches deep into the leading edge, and the right fuel tank had ruptured. The propeller dome was by this wing. The propeller blades were between 100 and 130 feet into the debris field. The remainder of the airplane with the engine attached was on a bearing of 245 degrees and 168 feet from the PPC. The fuselage fractured and separated aft of the rear seat. The battery was 90 feet past the fuselage on the debris path centerline.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The coroner for Madera County completed an autopsy of the pilot. The FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory performed toxicological testing of specimens of the pilot. The results of analysis of the specimens were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles, and tested drugs.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Textron Lycoming and the New Piper Corporation were parties to the investigation. Investigators from the two companies and the Safety Board investigator examined the wreckage at Plain Parts, Sacramento, California, on July 1, 1999. Investigators observed a trace of fuel in the line from the fuel selector valve to the engine. The fuel selector valve was between the left and right tanks, approximately 0.25 inches off the detent. Blowing through the valve indicated it was open to the left position, and it moved freely between positions.
Recovery personnel removed the engine during the recovery operation. Investigators suspended it from a hoist for examination. A borescope inspection revealed no mechanical deformation on the valves, cylinder walls, or internal cylinder head. The engine rotated freely and the valves moved in sequence. The vacuum pump turned, the fuel pump plunger moved up and down, and the gears in the accessory case turned. The top spark plugs were removed, and all spark plugs were gray with no mechanical deformation, which corresponded to normal operation according to the Champion Aviation Check-A-Plug AV-27 Chart. Thumb compression was obtained on all cylinders. Both magnetos were rotated manually and spark was obtained for each cylinder. The oil sump screen was clean and open. The governor screen was clean. All vacuum pump vanes were whole, in position, and moved freely. The vacuum pump drive gear remained unbroken.
The fuel pump's rubber diaphragm was unbroken and investigators blew air through the lines. The plunger in the fuel distribution valve moved freely, the rubber diaphragm was unbroken, and investigators did not observe any contamination. The fuel nozzles were open and the screens were clean.
Rotational scoring was observed on a shiny portion of the starter housing.
All three propeller blades exhibited S-bends. The hub tang sheared off on one blade, and bent opposite the direction of rotation on another.
The Safety Board investigator used the Paws information to compute a density altitude of approximately 6,500 feet. The investigator used topographic charts to estimate the height of the terrain surrounding the accident site. Within 1 nm, the terrain rose about 1,000 feet to the east, 500 feet to the west, and 1,200 feet to the north.
The insurance agent reported that family representatives completed additional testing not under the supervision of the Safety Board. The agent reported that these representatives successfully ran the engine at Pacific Continental Motors in Van Nuys, California, on December 2, 1999, after replacing the fuel servo. Precision Air, Inc., in Miami, Florida, bench checked the accident fuel servo. It operated to manufacturer's specifications at all simulated power settings, and Precision noted no anomalies during the test.
The Safety Board released the wreckage to the operator's representative on July 1, 1999.