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On November 16, 2001, at 1839 central standard time, a Piper PA-32R-301, N9224X, piloted by a private pilot, departed controlled flight and impacted terrain 3 miles north-northwest of Spearville, Kansas. An explosion and post-crash fire ensued. Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was being conducted under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 without a flight plan. The pilot was fatally injured. The cross-country flight originated at LaCrosse, Kansas, approximately 1820, and was en route to Dodge City, Kansas (DDC).
At 1806, the pilot contacted the Wichita Flight Service Station (AFSS), Wichita, Kansas, by telephone and requested the weather from LaCrosse to Dodge City. The AFSS controller told the pilot, "(you're) gonna have conditions lowering in the dodge city area out there you have quite a bit of cloud cover and moisture moving in from the uh south moving northwest --- (unintelligible)."
The controller went on to tell the pilot that "dodge city radar shows ... some scattered light showers and that's about all you're gonna see out there ... as far as precautions they have issued one for i f r over the southwestern quarter of kansas now and let's see what that says o k calling for occasional ceilings below a thousand and three and strata and fog uh through zero three hundred zulu to be developing over remainder of western kansas and western oklahoma through texas through zero nine hundred zulu so actually it looks like it's likely to spread and right now uh dodge is showing southeast winds at one one and seven miles visibility broken ceiling one thousand one hundred overcast at one thousand six hundred and temperature one ---". The controller continued, "and garden city is i f r they're down to eight hundred broken one thousand three hundred overcast and liberal is reporting eight miles visibility ceiling four hundred foot overcast so v f r really at this point is not recommended into that area."
The pilot stated, "o k but dodge is eleven hundred right now and what was your dew point temperature spread?"
The controller responded, "uh dodge has a temperature of one three and a dew point of one two so only a one degree spread there.
The pilot said, "oh man o k."
The controller then said, "so i'd say a probably in a cup next hour to hour and a half you're gonna probably see uh below a thousand foot ceilings in that area."
The pilot said, "o k that's what i needed."
Approximately 1830, a witness observed the airplane fly over his house heading southwest. The witness said the airplane turned south and went into a fog bank. The witness then said the airplane came out of the fog bank heading west and diving. The airplane hit the ground and exploded. The witness said the airplane's lights were on and the engine was running.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with single-engine land airplane rating. According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aeromedical records, the pilot reported an estimated 1,800 total flying hours at his last aeromedical examination on December 15, 1999. The pilot's wife estimated that he had approximately 2,000 total flying hours.
The pilot successfully completed a biennial flight review in the accident airplane on October 22, 2000. The flight review was conducted in the accident airplane.
The pilot held a third class medical certificate dated December 15, 1999. The certificate contained limitations stating, "Not valid for night flying or by color signal control".
The airplane, serial number 32-13055, was manufactured in 1993 and owned by Saratoga Limited Liability Corporation, Dodge City, Kansas. The airplane was used primarily for business.
According to the airplane's logbooks, the airplane underwent an annual inspection on October 15, 2001. The total airframe time recorded at the annual inspection was 710.2 hours. This was the last entry recorded in the logbook.
According to the owner of the fixed base operator at DDC, the pilot departed for La Crosse, Kansas, on November 16, 2001, at approximately 1300. La Crosse is 65 miles north-northwest of DDC and would take approximately 30 minutes to fly there.
At 1856, the National Weather Service at DDC, 12 miles southwest of the accident site, reported winds 150 degrees at 13 knots, ceilings of 600 feet agl broken, 1,000 feet agl overcast, 5 miles statute miles visibility with mist, temperature 54 degrees Fahrenheit (F), dew point 53 degrees F, and altimeter 30.27 inches of Mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The National Transportation Safety Board's on-scene investigation began on November 17, 2001, at 1400.
The accident site was located in a field 0.7 miles north of Back Trail Road, an east-west running 2-lane gravel road.
The accident site began with a 23 foot long ground scar that ran from east to west along a 260-degree heading. At the start of the ground scar were broken pieces of blue fiberglass, numerous blue-colored paint chips, pieces of clear glass, and pieces of green-colored glass. The broken frame for the right wing tip position light and strobe light was located 2 feet south of the start of the ground scar. Approximately 3 feet west of the start of the ground scar were two pieces of the right outboard wing. The first piece was 30 inches long. The other piece was 5 feet long. Both pieces were crushed aft and charred. At the end of the ground scar was a 5-foot long and 2-foot wide hole. The hole was 30 inches at its deepest point at its center. One propeller blade, pieces of the propeller hub, pieces of the engine alternator, pieces of clear Plexiglas, and broken pieces of the cowling were visibly located in the hole. The propeller blade was torsionally bent, charred, and showed trailing edge nicks. The cowling pieces were charred and consumed by fire. The remaining two propeller blades, the propeller hub, spinner, and pieces of the cowling were buried within the hole. The spinner was crushed and broken aft. The propeller hub was broken open and fragmented. The two remaining propeller blades were bent forward and showed chordwise scratches and leading edge nicks.
An 18-inch by 12-inch piece of the engine's upper cowling was embedded in the east edge of the hole. The piece was broken aft and charred.
The airplane's engine, firewall, part of the instrument panel, and several radios and engine instruments were located on the south edge of the hole. The engine was broken off at the engine mounts. A 4-inch piece of the front top of the crankcase was broken out. The oil pan was broken off the bottom of the engine, fragmented, charred, and consumed by fire. The bottom of the engine was charred and melted. The top of the engine was covered with charred fiberglass residue. The firewall was broken forward, charred and melted. The instrument panel, radios, and engine instruments were charred, melted, and consumed by fire.
Approximately 7 feet from the west edge of the hole, on a 290-degree heading, there was a 6-foot section of the airplane's cabin. The cabin section was broken open, crushed aft, charred, melted and consumed by fire.
A debris field extended outward from the west edge of the hole for approximately 93 feet along a 240-degree heading. Numerous airplane parts were located within the debris field to include pieces of the instrument panel and glareshield, broken and charred flight and engine instruments, bent and charred cabin seats, the broken and charred nose gear strut, engine components, pieces of wing skin, pieces of clear Plexiglas, publications, and personal effects. The vegetation and soil in the area associated with the debris field was charred by fire.
At the end of the debris field on a 240-degree heading from the ground scar and hole was the airplane's right wing, right main landing gear, carry-through spar, bottom and aft fuselage, flight control bars and cables and empennage. The fuselage was broken open crushed aft, melted, and consumed by fire. The right wing was crushed aft along its entire span, charred and melted. The right flap was broken aft and charred. The right aileron was broken downward. Control continuity to the right aileron was confirmed. The right main landing gear was broken from it mounts and charred. The left main tire was charred and consumed by fire.
The airplane's stabilator, trim tab, and tail cone were broken aft and charred. The left and right stabilator tips were broken aft longitudinally and consumed by fire. The vertical stabilizer and rudder were broken right, bent, charred and melted. Flight control continuity to the stabilator and rudder was confirmed.
The airplane's left wing was located 129 feet from the hole on a 260-degree heading. The wing was crushed aft along its entire span, charred, and melted. The leading edge was broken out, charred, and consumed by fire. The left wing tip was broken aft longitudinally. The left flap was in the up position. The inboard 2 feet of the flap was bent upward approximately 10 degrees. The left aileron was crushed aft and charred. Control continuity to the left aileron was confirmed. The left main landing gear was intact and in the up position. The left main landing gear leg spar mount was broken. The left main tire showed no damage.
Approximately 27 feet and 50 feet north of the airplane's fuselage right wing, and empennage were the bottom and top doors to the aft cabin. The top door was broken out at the hinges. The top frame and window were broken, charred and consumed by fire. The bottom door was broken out, charred and consumed by fire. In the immediate vicinity of the aft cabin door sections were the broken rotating beacon, the clear tail position light, and cabin interior pieces.
A second debris field extended outward from the airplane's right wing, aft fuselage, and empennage for 96 feet within a 100-degree arc between a 130-degree and a 230-degree heading. Within the second debris field were several pieces of the wings fuel tanks, a 4-foot long, 20-inch wide bottom wing skin panel, a wing rib, a nose gear door, the external plug port, pieces of cabin carpet, a rudder pedal, brake, and brake line, broken battery pieces, and a seat. The seat frame was bent and charred. The seat cushion and back were consumed by fire.
The furthest airplane component was the nose wheel. It was located 275 feet from the airplane's right wing, aft fuselage, and empennage, on a 210-degree heading. The wheel fork was broken aft 6 inches out from the axle. The tire was intact and showed several cuts in the tread and the walls. The outer wheel rim of the wheel was bent and nicked around the edge.
An examination of the airplane's engine and remaining systems components revealed no pre-impact anomalies.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Ford County, Kansas Coroner conducted a post-mortem medical examination of the pilot at Dodge City, Kansas, on November 18, 2001.
FAA toxicology testing of specimens from the pilot was negative for all tests conducted.
The Ford County Sheriff's office was notified of the accident at 1839 and responded to the scene. A burned area of grass and soil began at the start of the ground scar and extended westward for 105 feet. The burned area was 260 feet wide north to south. The burned area contained most of the airplane's wreckage.
Parties to the investigation were the FAA Flight Standards District Office, Wichita, Kansas, and Textron Lycoming.
The airplane wreckage was recovered and released to Southwest Towing, Incorporated, Dodge City, Kansas.