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On July 29, 2001, about 1445 Pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-32-260 (Cherokee Six), N3479W, was destroyed after colliding with trees and terrain approximately 3/4 mile north of Pierce County/Thun Field Airport, Puyallup, Washington. The airplane was co-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. The private pilot-in-command, and the 5 passengers aboard the airplane were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local sightseeing flight.
According to friends and family members, the pilot, accompanied by his son and two companions, arrived in Puyallup two days before the accident. They spent the preceding week flying the accident airplane cross-country from Connecticut to Puyallup, with intermediate overnight stops in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Miles City, Montana.
On the morning of the accident, the pilot and five passengers boarded the airplane for a local sightseeing flight. A co-owner of the airplane, who is a rated pilot, stated that from the ground he observed what seemed to be a normal takeoff from runway 34, but shortly thereafter the airplane started a descending turn to the west and the witness lost sight of the airplane.
A second witness, who stated he observed the accident from the airport, reported that the airplane turned to the west shortly after departure. He stated that during the turn, the airplane appeared to stall, "... and then went down."
Another witness reported that the airplane appeared to have a higher than normal climb angle during takeoff. He stated that during the initial climb, the airplane's wings "...dipped to the left and right" just before colliding with trees.
Shortly after the accident (approximately 3-4 minutes), emergency services personal located the airplane wreckage in a residential area north of the airport. The airplane collided with multiple trees before coming to rest in the back yard of a two story single-family residence.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane ratings. A review of the pilot's personal flight time logbook revealed that he had logged approximately 470 hours of flight time in single-engine airplanes, including approximately 13 hours in make and model during the 30 days preceding the accident. A logbook entry indicated that the pilot successfully completed a flight review on July 1, 2001.
Medical records obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration disclosed that the pilot held a second-class medical certificate dated April 16, 2001. The medical certificate carried limitations requiring the pilot to wear/possess glasses for vision correction.
The accident airplane, a 1966 Piper Cherokee Six, has been co-owned by the pilot since January 2000. The six-seat airplane was powered by a Lycoming O-540 series engine rated at 260 HP. Maintenance records indicated that the last maintenance inspection, an annual inspection of the airframe, engine and propeller, was completed on February 17, 2001. The airplane had accumulated approximately 64 hours from the time of the inspection to the time of the accident.
The 1355 Aviation Routine Weather Report (METAR) at McChord Air Force Base, Washington (TCM), approximately 8 miles east of the accident location, reported variable winds at 6 knots; visibility 7 statute miles; broken clouds at 5,000 and 10,000 feet above ground level (AGL); temperature 19 degrees C; dew point 9 degrees C; altimeter setting 30.22 inches Hg.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane wreckage was examined at the accident site by investigators from the NTSB, FAA, The New Piper Aircraft Corporation, and Textron Lycoming on July 29 and 30, 2001. The wreckage was located in the back yard of a single-family residence, approximately 3/4 of a mile north of the Pierce County Airport. All aircraft components were located at the crash site, and the wreckage field encompassed an area approximately 65 feet in length (from east to west.) A large ground scar measuring approximately 10 feet in length and 3-1/2 feet wide was located 12 feet east of the wreckage. The ground scar orientation was consistent with the airplane heading of 275 degrees magnetic. A large conifer tree with fresh scarring, approximately 30 feet up the 75-foot tree, was noted approximately 35 feet east of the main wreckage. Two additional conifer trees with fresh scarring (topped) were located approximately 60 feet east of the main wreckage.
The main wreckage consisted of the engine, engine compartment accessories, fuselage and tail section. The forward section of the fuselage, engine and cowlings were pushed aft and were bent upward. The propeller assembly was still attached to the crankshaft flange and aft bending was noted to both blades.
Both wings separated from the fuselage at the wing root and were located east of the main wreckage. Extensive rearward crushing and deformation was noted to the inboard leading edge of the left wing. The aileron was intact and found attached to its respective hinge points. The left flap and left inboard fuel tank sustained extensive impact damage and had separated from the wing structure. Rearward crushing, leading edge and trailing edge damage was noted to the right wing structure. The right fuel tip tank and aileron had separated from the wing structure and were located along the wreckage distribution path. The right flap had separated into two pieces and was located adjacent to the right wing structure.
The stabilator and associated trim tab had separated from the tail at the hinge attach points. The left side stabilator displayed extensive leading edge damage and the outboard section of the control surface was torn away from the main structure. The right side stabilator displayed extensive leading edge aft crushing and bending. The vertical stabilizer and rudder were found attached at there respective attach points and hinge mechanisms. Rearward crushing was noted to the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Postmortem examination of the pilot was conducted by the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office, Tacoma, Washington, on July 30, 2001. According to the postmortem report, the pilot's cause of death was attributed to "multiple traumatic injuries." The manner of death was listed as accidental.
Toxicology samples were shipped to the Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for analysis. According to the toxicology report (attached), results were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, and controlled substances.
According to the PA-32-260 Flight Manual, the maximum takeoff gross weight of the airplane is 3,400 pounds. The airplane's most current Weight/Balance and Equipment List, dated March 17, 2000, listed the airplane's empty weight as 1827.8 pounds; the center of gravity was listed as 81.0 inches and the moment arm was 148,048.75 inch pounds. The airplane's useful load was listed as 1,572.0 pounds.
The weights used to determine the airplane's gross weight at takeoff was based on the airplane's most current weight and balance records, the actual weight of the occupants (381 lbs. in row 1, 362 lbs. in row 2 and 419 lbs. in row 3) as provided by the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office, and the actual weight of the baggage and personal effects (159 lbs.) weighed after the accident by the Investigator-In-Charge. The baggage was scattered around the accident site and the exact location/station of the baggage could not be determined.
The fuel system was compromised and the actual quantity of fuel in the airplane was estimated to be 40 gallons (240 pounds). According to witnesses, the airplane's inboard fuel tanks were topped off prior to the first flight of the day, and had been flown once, for approximately 45 minutes, prior to the accident flight.
The estimated gross weight of the airplane at takeoff was 3,388 pounds.
On July 31, 2001, personnel from Textron Lycoming and the National Transportation Safety Board conducted an engine examination at Person Air, Olympia, Washington.
Impact damage to include rearward crushing and bending was noted to the frontal area of the engine assembly and the exhaust and intake tubing. Both crankcase halves, cylinders, overhead components and engine accessories were intact. Piston, valve train, aft accessory gear continuity and cylinder compression was established by manually rotating the crankshaft. Both magnetos and their respective ignition harnesses were intact and produced spark when manually rotated. The vacuum pump and engine driven fuel pump were found intact and attached to their respective mounting pads.
Disassembly and examination of the internal engine components revealed that the crankshaft, pistons, connecting rods and counterweights were intact. Camshaft lobe spawling was noted.
The carburetor, which was broken away from its mounting flange, was free of contaminants and the inlet finger screen was clear. The floats and float assembly were intact.
Propeller blade "A" displayed aft bending approximately 10 degrees from the hub to approximately mid-span of propeller blade "A". Additional aft bending of 20-30 degrees was noted from mid-span to the end of the blade. Propeller blade "B" was bent aft from the hub to the tip approximately 40-50 degrees. Chord wise scratching, paint removal and polishing was noted to both propeller blades.
On October 26, 2001, the airplane, engine and associated components were released to PAC Northwest, Inc., Redmond, Washington.