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On July 3, 2001, approximately 2125 central daylight time, a Piper PA-32R-300 single-engine airplane, N5883V, was destroyed when it impacted a utility pole and water while maneuvering near the Southern Seaplane Airport near Belle Chase, Louisiana. The private pilot, who was the registered owner of the airplane and the sole occupant, received fatal injuries. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a flight plan was not filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. The cross-country flight departed Jonesville, Louisiana, approximately 2030, and was destined for the Southern Seaplane Airport.
Radar data obtained from the New Orleans Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base (NAS JRB, located two miles south of the Southern Seaplane Airport) radar facility depicted the airplane approaching the Southern Seaplane Airport from the northwest. The airplane initially descended to 400 feet msl; however, the airplane's altitude fluctuated between 500 and 200 feet msl as it over flew the airport on two separate occasions. The last radar return depicted the airplane at 100 feet msl on a southwest ground track, approximately 0.5 miles northeast of the Southern Seaplane Airport.
Numerous witnesses, who were located near the accident site, reported that they observed the airplane flying low, impact a utility pole, burst into flames and descend into the Intracoastal Canal.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. The pilot was issued a third class medical certificate on February 16, 2000, with the following limitation: "must have available glasses for near vision." According to this last medical certificate application, he had accumulated a total of 2,000 flight hours. The pilot's logbook was not located and it is unknown how much flight time he had accumulated in the accident airplane.
According to the pilot's friend, the pilot had landed at the Southern Seaplane Airport on three or four separate occasions; however, he did not think that the pilot had previously flown to that airport at night.
According to FAA registration data, the pilot had owned the accident airplane since May 22, 2001. The FAA inspector recovered the aircraft's maintenance records from the wreckage. According to the aircraft's logbook, the airplane underwent its last annual inspection on March 1, 2001.
At 2155, the New Orleans NAS JRB weather observation facility reported calm wind, visibility 7 statute miles, scattered clouds at 3,000 feet and 20,000 feet, temperature 26 degrees Celsius, dew point 23 degrees Celsius, and altimeter setting of 30.14 inches of Mercury.
According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, the sun set at 2006 on the evening of the accident, and the end of civil twilight occurred at 2033.
The Southern Seaplane Airport is a private use, non-towered airport located 2 miles northwest of Belle Chase, Louisiana. The airport utilizes a 3,200-foot long asphalt runway and a 5,000-foot long water runway. The asphalt runway, 2-20, has low intensity runway edge lights, which can be activated by the pilot on frequency 119.8. The airport has a rotating beacon; however, it was listed as indefinitely out of service at the time of the accident.
According to the pilot's friend, who was waiting for him at the airport, he could not remember seeing the runway edge lights illuminated. He and his wife added that the only light they noted was one located at the parking lot.
The main landing gear were located on the waterway's bank approximately 75 feet from the base of the pole. The nose landing gear was found floating in the water. The FAA inspector, who responded to the accident site, stated that he observed tire marks on the upper side of the utility pole. The airplane came to rest inverted underwater.
The airplane was recovered on July 4, 2001, and was examined by the FAA inspector. Photographs of the wreckage revealed that the wings were separated from the fuselage at their roots; however, they remained attached to the aircraft via the aileron control cables. The empennage remained attached to the fuselage and the rudder and elevator control cables extended from the control surfaces to the cockpit. The lower side of the horizontal stabilizer sustained fire damage. The flap handle and flaps were found in the retracted position. The landing gear actuator was found in the extended position. Examination of the two communication radios revealed that the communication frequencies selected were 123.80 and 122.80.
The propeller and throttle controls were found in the full forward position. The mixture control was found in the idle cut-off position. The propeller remained attached to the engine and one of the blades was bent aft approximately 90 degrees. The other blade displayed chord wise scrapping near its tip. The engines exhaust pipes were found flattened.
An autopsy on the pilot was performed at the Plaquemines Parish Coroner's Office. According to the coroner's report, the pilot tested positive for 141 mg/dL of ethanol in vitreous fluids. A toxicological test was conducted by the Civil Air Medical Institute, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The toxicological tests were positive for the following:
161 mg/dL ethanol in blood
188 mg/dL ethanol in brain
153 mg/dL ethanol in lung
154 mg/dL ethanol in spleen
15 mg/dL acetaldehyde in blood
2 mg/dL acetaldehyde in brain
23 mg/dL acetaldehyde in lung
18 mg/dL acetaldehyde in spleen
1 mg/dL n-propanol in blood
1mg/dL n-propanol in brain
2 mg/dL n-propanol in lung
1 mg/dL n-propanol in spleen
According to the coroner, some of the ethanol production could be attributed to post-mortem ethanol production; however, the amount of ethanol in vitreous fluids (0.14%) indicated that the pilot was intoxicated at the time of the accident.
The airplane was released to the owner's representative on October 2, 2001.