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On August 18, 2000, at 1530 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32R-301, N411JL, was substantially damaged during a forced landing and ditching in the Atlantic Ocean near Kennebunkport, Maine. The certificated airline transport pilot/owner and one passenger received minor injuries. A second passenger was seriously injured, and two additional passengers were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight that originated at Pease International Tradeport (PSM), Portsmouth, New Hampshire, approximately 1500. An IFR flight plan was filed for the flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91 and destined for Liverpool, Nova Scotia.
In a telephone interview, the pilot/owner said the purpose of the flight was to go to Canada for a weekend of boating. He said the takeoff and climb to altitude were uneventful, and that the airplane was in cruise flight at 9,000 feet with the autopilot engaged, when he heard a loud report from the engine compartment. He also stated:
"We were at 9,000 feet and I heard a muffled 'bang', and then the windshield was covered with oil. I pushed 'Nearest Airport' on the GPS and it indicated that Biddeford was 19.4 miles away on a heading of 340.
I pulled the throttle back as soon as it blew, I assumed it was a connecting rod. This one didn't vibrate as much as I would have expected. I throttled back to reduce the vibration and I had about a 500 foot-per-minute rate of descent. At about 4 to 5 thousand feet it seized. I was talking to center the whole time and I told her I couldn't make the beach.
I had three boats in sight. There was a 130-foot cabin cruiser and I circled that, but thought they might have trouble getting us into the boat, so I went for the sailboat. I stabilized at 80 knots and hit the water a lot harder than I expected. I couldn't tell which way the swells were going. I was trying to land parallel but I couldn't read the seas. I had to look out the side window and had a hard time judging my flare. In fact, I don't think I flared at all. It seemed a swell came up and smacked the nose."
The pilot described his exit from the airplane and the help he was able to provide his wife for her egress from the wreckage. He said that he, his wife, and one passenger all met at the ocean surface.
In a telephone interview, the middle row passenger stated that he had flown in the accident airplane several times and was quite familiar with the emergency exits and their operation. He also stated said that in the early portion of the trip, he monitored the progress of the flight on a hand-held GPS receiver. According to the passenger:
"There was a loud noise and the windshield was covered with oil, and the oil trailed down the sides. I thought to myself, 'We've thrown a rod and there's a hole in the crankcase.' We made a sharp turn towards land and the engine ran for several minutes until it seized at last."
The passenger also noted that during the descent, he checked the airplane's position against waypoints he had stored in the GPS, and determined that the airplane would be unable to reach land. He said that during this time he accepted a life vest from the pilot, donned it, and partially inflated it.
"We were at 30 feet and about 80 to 85 knots. We hit with a loud thump. I don't think we yawed or rolled, but we pitched down. We slammed into the ocean. The impact was just tremendous."
The passenger described his egress through the cabin door and that he was only aware of his own exit from the airplane.
Pleasure boaters rescued three of the five occupants approximately 5 miles southeast of Walker's Point, Kennebunkport, Maine. Search, rescue, and recovery efforts by the United States Coast Guard and the Maine State Police for the remaining two occupants were unsuccessful. The search for the airplane was suspended on August 25, 2000.
The accident occurred during the hours of daylight at 43 degrees, 12.0 minutes north latitude and 070 degrees, 14.0 minutes west longitude.
The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multi-engine land and glider/commercial pilot. He also held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single and multi-engine land, instrument airplane, and glider.
The pilot's most recent second-class medical certificate was issued October 4, 1999.
The pilot also held a mechanic's certificate with ratings for airframe and powerplant.
The pilot reported approximately 20,350 hours of flight experience, 850 hours of which were in make and model.
Examination of the airplane's maintenance records revealed that it was on an annual inspection program and that the last annual inspection was completed July 1, 2000, at 3,343.2 aircraft hours. The airplane's most recent 50-hour inspection was completed on August 9, 2000, at 3,393.8 aircraft hours.
The airplane's engine was a Lycoming IO-540-K1G5D that was overhauled, then shipped from the Lycoming factory on April 23, 1991. According to Lycoming company records, the engine had not been returned to the factory since that date.
At the time of the accident, the engine had accumulated 4,839.6 hours of total time. The engine had accrued 1,689.6 hours since major overhaul (SMOH).
Examination of the engine maintenance records revealed the #2 cylinder was removed, repaired, and re-installed in July 1997, at 669.6 hours SMOH.
Oil analysis was done on engine oil samples taken at 30-hour intervals. The samples were tested for metal and silicone content. Additionally, the operator used an Engine Trend Monitoring Data system and plotted data every 100 hours to follow parameters that included cylinder compression checks, oil analysis information, and oil consumption rates.
The Lycoming factory-recommended time between overhauls for the IO-540 K series engines was 2,000 hours.
The weather reported at Portland, Maine, approximately 20 miles north of Kennebunkport, included a 5,500-foot broken layer with 10 statute miles visibility. The winds were from 170 degrees at 13 knots.
The airplane was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean and brought to a pier in Portland, Maine on October 4, 2000. The airplane was examined at the pier on October 5, 2000, and all major components were accounted for except the right wing. Coast Guard personnel recovered the right wing on the day of the accident.
The windshield was no longer installed, and both windshield posts were broken. The cockpit and cabin areas were intact.
The engine was attached to its mounts. The propeller and spinner were attached to the engine, and all three propeller blades displayed similar aft bending at mid-span. The blades were locked in the hubs in a high pitch position.
Examination of the engine revealed it was severely corroded. The engine oil sump and the accessory drive case were completely eroded due to corrosion. There was an 8-inch by 5-inch hole in the top of the engine case. The camshaft was exposed and completely fractured aft of the #3 intake lobe.
The #4 connecting rod was fractured about mid point. The upper half of the connecting rod was attached to the piston pin, and the piston was staked in the cylinder. The lower half of the #4 connecting rod and its corresponding bearing cap were not attached to the crankshaft, and were not recovered.
Removal of the #2, #4, and #6 cylinders revealed that the #6 connecting rod was also fractured. The connecting rod was bent and entangled in with the crankshaft, counterweights, and the crankcase. The #6 connecting rod bearing cap and portions of their attach bolts were severely disfigured by impact, and found loose in the oil sump area of the crankcase.
Disassembly of the engine was suspended, and the engine was shipped to the Lycoming engine factory in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The engine examination was completed at the Lycoming engine factory, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, on October 10, 2000.
The engine was completely disassembled, and the case halves were separated. Separation of the halves revealed a broken fragment of the #4 connecting rod bearing cap with an impact-damaged cap bolt attached. The yoke end of the #4 connecting rod and the remainder of the corresponding bearing cap were not recovered.
The crankcase displayed bearing saddle surface fretting and evidence of bearing movement on the #2, #3, and #4 main bearings. The backs of the main bearings were shiny and frosted.
The #1, #2, #3, and #5 connecting rods did not sustain impact damage. Further examination of these connecting rods revealed that bore size met the manufacturers specifications, and serial numbers stamped on the crankshaft matched. These connecting rods and their corresponding bearing caps all displayed galling in the bearing bore.
The #2 and #6 connecting rods displayed heat damage.
The connecting rods were examined at the Safety Board's Materials Laboratory in Washington, D.C. on March 23, 2001. According to the metallurgist's report, microscopic examination of the fracture surface on the #4 connecting rod displayed features consistent with high stress, low cycle fatigue. According to the report:
"Portions of the fracture surfaces on the rod cap piece for the number 4 connecting rod were obliterated by post-fracture damage. However, the remaining portions of the fracture surface were matte gray and rough, consistent with overstress fracture. No darkening was observed, as would be consistent with heat damage. The corresponding connecting rod bolt was bent and was cracked on the tensile bend surface. The thread peaks were damaged consistent with stripping out under a combined tensile and bending load.
The yoke end of the number 6 connecting rod was darkened consistent with heat damage and had impact damage. One of the connecting rod bolts was fractured, and... The fracture surface appeared rough with crack arrest lines visible through about sixty percent of the diameter, features consistent with low cycle, high stress fatigue. The fatigue features emanated from a shiny, faceted area... Under high magnification using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), the faceted area was observed to be intergranular fracture."
The wreckage was released on October 4, 2000, to a representative the owner's insurance company.