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On March 20, 2001, about 1400 Pacific standard time, a Piper PA-28-140, N8769N, was destroyed when it collided with mountainous terrain in a remote area of Mt. Rainier National Park, approximately 11 nautical miles south Greenwater, Washington. The airplane was owned by the pilot, and was being operated as a visual flight rules (VFR) personal/pleasure flight under the provisions of Title 14, CFR Part 91, when the accident occurred. The private pilot, and the one passenger aboard the airplane were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight. The flight originated from the Auburn Municipal Airport, Auburn, Washington, approximately two hours prior to the accident. The accident occurred during the hours of daylight at 46 degrees, 59 minutes north latitude, 121 degrees, 35 minutes west longitude.
On March 20, 2001, family members of the passenger notified the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the airplane was overdue at its planned destination in Auburn, Washington. Seattle Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) issued an ALNOT (alert notice) at 2120, and a search for the missing aircraft was initiated by Washington State Department of Transportation. The following day, about 0645, the aircraft wreckage was located in a heavily wooded area approximately 11 nautical miles south of Greenwater, Washington.
According to friends and family members, the pilot and passenger of the airplane were co-workers. On the day of the accident, the two left their place of employment with the intention of going on a sight seeing flight. The pilot departed Crest Airpark in Kent, Washington, and proceeded to the Auburn Municipal Airport to pick-up his passenger/co-worker. According to family members, the accident aircraft departed the Auburn airport about 1030, and was scheduled to arrive back at the airport in Auburn between noon and 1300.
At the time of the accident, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. The pilot's flight logbook indicated that he had accumulated approximately 975 flight hours in single-engine airplanes, 26 of which were accumulated in the 90 days preceding the accident. The pilot's logbook also indicated that the pilot had successfully completed a flight review in accordance with 14 CFR 61.56 on May 23, 1999.
Medical records obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration, indicated that the pilot held a second-class medical certificate dated December 13, 2000. The medical certificate carried limitations requiring the pilot to wear/possess glasses for vision correction.
The airplane, a Piper PA-28-140, was issued a standard airworthiness certificate on February 19, 1969. It was powered by a Lycoming O-320-E2A engine rated at 150 horsepower. Maintenance records indicated that the airplane's last inspection, an annual inspection, was accomplished on March 17, 2000. At the time of the inspection, the airframe had accrued approximately 2,567 hours total time.
The 1355 Aviation Routine Weather Report (METAR) at McChord Air Force Base, Washington (TCM) approximately 38 miles west of the accident location, reported variable winds at 4 knots; visibility 7 statute miles; few clouds at 3,000 feet above ground level (AGL); scattered clouds at 20,000 feet AGL; temperature 13 degrees C; dew point temperature 4 degrees C; altimeter setting 30.22 inches Hg.
The 1455 METAR observation at TCM, reported winds from 280 degrees true at 7 knots; visibility 7 statute miles; few clouds at 3,000 feet AGL; few clouds at 20,000 feet AGL; temperature 13 degrees C; dew point temperature 3 degrees C; altimeter setting 30.20 inches Hg.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Personnel from the National Transportation Safety Board and National Park Service accessed the wreckage on July 11, 2001. The airplane wreckage was located on the northern slope of Mt Rainier, at an elevation of approximately 4,500 mean sea level (MSL). The terrain angle was approximately 40-45 degrees and was covered with medium length conifer trees. A large conifer tree, with fresh scarring, was observed approximately 100 feet east (upslope) of the main wreckage. The magnetic bearing between the conifer tree and the main wreckage/burn area was approximately 266 degrees. The wreckage distribution path traveled down slope and measured approximately 220 feet in length. The airplane's propeller was located near the end of the wreckage distribution track, approximately 65 feet west (down slope) of the fuselage/cockpit burn area. Numerous fragmented pieces of the airframe and system components were scattered between the airplane's initial impact point and the propeller.
All aircraft components were located at the crash site. The forward section of the airplane (to include the engine, cockpit area and instrument panel) was located at the base of a large conifer tree, and was destroyed by impact forces and fire. The tree measured approximately 75-80 feet in length. The top of the tree, a section measuring approximately 45 feet in length, was sheared off. A section of the airplane's right wing, and associated wing flap and aileron, were located approximately 10 feet east of the fuselage/cockpit area. The wing section was separated from the fuselage at the wing root. Extensive rearward crushing was noted to the leading edge of the right wing. Fragments of the airplane's left wing, aileron and flap assembly were found in the central burn area. The wing section and associated components were totally consumed by fire and impact forces. The aft section of the airplane was located 30 feet west of the fuselage/cockpit burn area. The tail section separated from the fuselage near the aft bulkhead. The horizontal stabilator, vertical stabilizer and rudder were still attached to their respective attaching points. The outboard end of the right hand stabilator was melted away. Control continuity was established from the empennage control surfaces forward to the area where the tail had separated from the main fuselage. The airplane's propeller assembly was located approximately 110 feet west (down slope) of the fuselage/cockpit area.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy on the pilot was conducted by the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office, Tacoma, Washington, on March 22, 2001. According to the postmortem report, the pilot's cause of death was attributed to "multiple blunt injuries." The manner of death was listed as accidental.
The FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, conducted toxicology testing on the pilot. According to the postmortem toxicology report, Trazodone was detected in the pilot's blood, liver and urine. The report also indicated that Salicylate was detected in the pilot's urine (see attached toxicology report for specific values).
Extensive impact and thermal damage was noted to the frontal area, oil sump, and the aft accessory region of the engine. Both crankcase halves, piston cylinders and overhead components were intact and showed no evidence of a catastrophic type failure. Portions of the exhaust tubing and intake tubing were crushed and distorted. Internal examination of the piston cylinders utilizing a bore scope revealed no signs of a pre impact failure. Both magnetos and their respective ignition harnesses sustained thermal and impact damage. The spark plugs sustained external thermal damage; however, the electrodes exhibited normal operating wear patterns. The carburetor was broken away from its mounting pad. The carburetor floats showed signs of hydraulic type crushing. The engine's starter was broken away from its respective mounting pad. Thermal damage was noted to the vacuum pump, engine-driven fuel pump and oil cooler.
The propeller separated from the crankshaft flange as a unit. Aft bending, rearward twisting (approximately mid-span) and leading edge abrasions were noted to propeller blade A. Forward bending and leading edge abrasions were noted to propeller blade B. The six propeller mounting bolts were found with the aft spinner bulkhead, and were sheared off in the area of the threaded shanks.
At the conclusion of the onsite examination the aircraft wreckage was transported to storage facilities in Redmond, Oregon.
At the request of the NTSB, personnel from Specialty Aircraft Company disassembled the aircraft's engine at their facility in Redmond, Oregon. The mechanic reported that the disassembly and examination revealed no evidence of a pre impact internal component failure or anomaly (photographs attached).
On September 24, 2001, the airframe, engine and associated components were released to Phoenix Aviation Managers, Bellevue, Washington.