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On December 30, 2001, about 1810 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28R-180, N7427J, was substantially damaged when it impacted Long Island Sound, near Milford, Connecticut. The certificated commercial pilot was fatally injured. An instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed for the flight which departed the Burke Lakefront Airport (BKL), Cleveland, Ohio, about 1530, destined for the Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial Airport (BDR), Bridgeport, Connecticut. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
A review of air traffic communications revealed that the pilot contacted the Bridgeport Air Traffic Control Tower at 1753, and stated he was nine miles northwest of the airport, inbound for landing. The tower controller instructed the pilot to "report right base runway two nine," which the pilot acknowledged. At 1756, the pilot reported, "I've lost sight of the field, I'm looking for it."
The pilot was asked to report his position and he stated he was "straight over the shoreline and a little bit to the east of the airport." The controller unsuccessfully attempted to visually locate the airplane by having the pilot flash his landing light several times.
At 1757, the pilot again reported that he did not have the airport in sight, and in response, the controller reported that he would illuminate the runway lights to their full intensity. At 1758, the pilot stated, "I believe I see the airport now," and reported he was "due south" of it.
About 30 seconds later, the controller was still unable to locate the airplane, so he instructed the pilot to contact New York Approach Control for vectors to the airport.
At 1758, the pilot contacted New York Approach Control and stated, "need your help, I need Bridgeport." The approach controller issued vectors to the pilot for the approach, and at 1807, the pilot reported he was "established and descending to one thousand five hundred." The approach controller cleared the pilot for the VOR Runway 29 approach, and instructed him to contact the Bridgeport Tower. The pilot acknowledged the clearance and then contacted the tower controller again, stating that he was "inbound on the vor two nine approach."
The pilot was instructed to report his position when he reached SCRAB intersection, and at 1809, he reported "abeam scrab." About 18 seconds later, the controller stated, "cherokee two seven juliet not in sight, runway two niner cleared to land." No further transmissions were received from the pilot.
A review of radar data revealed that a target emitting the same transponder code assigned to the accident airplane approached the Bridgeport area from the northwest. It then proceeded off the coast about 8 miles east of the airport , before initiating a gradual, descending right turn back towards the airport. The last 2 minutes of radar data indicated the airplane's general track was on a heading of about 300 degrees, descending about 1,300 feet per minute. The last radar contact was at 1808, at an altitude of 200 feet, at 41 degrees, 10.93 minutes north latitude, 73 degrees, 01.62 minutes west longitude. The last radar contact was about 350 degrees magnetic, 3/4 nautical mile from SCRAB intersection.
The U.S. Coast Guard and the Connecticut State Police initiated search and rescue operations after the accident. On January 4, 2002, the airplane was located in 38 feet of water, about 2 miles southeast of Milford, Connecticut.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine and multi engine land, airplane single engine sea, and instrument airplane. The pilot also held a flight instructor certificate. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration second class medical certificate was issued on July 9, 2001, at which time, he reported 1,520 hours of total flight experience.
The pilot's logbook was not located. However, on June 7, 2001, he reported to his insurance company that he had 1,000 hours of flight experience in make and model, 52 hours of which, were in the last 90 days.
A review of airframe and engine logbooks did not reveal any anomalies. The airplane's most recent annual inspection was completed on August 25, 2001, at a total aircraft time of 4,911.2 hours. The tachometer reading at the time of the accident was 4,994.9 hours.
The weather at Bridgeport, at 1754, was reported as, winds from 300 degrees at 13 knots, gusts to 17 knots, 10 statute miles of visibility, clear skies, and altimeter setting 29.88 inches Hg.
According to information provided by the United States Coast Guard, sunset occurred at 1620, and the moon appeared above the horizon at 1638. The moon provided 99 percent illumination throughout the night.
Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial Airport contained two intersecting runways. One runway, oriented 110 and 290 degrees, was 4,761 feet long and 150 feet wide. It was bisected by a runway oriented 060 and 240 degrees that was 4,677 feet wide and 150 feet wide.
Runway 29 was equipped with runway end identifier lights, as well as a 4-box visual approach slope indicator (VASI) on the left side of the runway.
A review of the published instrument approach procedure for the VOR Runway 29 approach at BDR, revealed the final approach course was 275 degrees. In addition, the decision altitude for the approach was 380 feet, and the VOR frequency was 108.8 mhz.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
According to a representative of the Connecticut State Police, the airplane came to rest on the ocean floor, upright and intact. During the recovery process, the right wing and tail section were separated from the airplane.
The airplane was examined on January 5, 2002. The left wing remained attached to the fuselage, and exhibited one leading edge dent about mid-span. The left main landing gear was observed in the down and locked position. The left flap and aileron remained attached to the wing at all attachment points, and flight control continuity was established from the control yoke to the flight control surfaces. The left fuel tank was intact, and the fuel cap was secure. Approximately 6 gallons of fuel was drained from the left fuel tank.
Examination of the right wing revealed it was separated from the fuselage at the wing root. The wing displayed leading edge compression, from the outboard edge of the fuel tank to the wingtip. The right flap and aileron were attached to the wing at all attachment points. Flight control continuity was established from the control yoke to the wing root, and from the wing root to the flap and aileron control surfaces. The right fuel tank was intact, and the fuel cap was secure. Visual inspection of the fuel tank revealed that it was filled with aviation gasoline to the "tab", which equated to about 17 gallons. The right landing gear was observed in the down and locked position.
Examination of the empennage revealed it was separated from the fuselage aft of the cargo compartment. The vertical stabilator was angled about 60 degrees to the left, and disconnected from the empennage at its forward attachment point. The rudder was connected to the vertical stabilator at the top attachment point. Rudder and stabilator trim cable continuity was established from the cockpit controls to the empennage separation point. Rudder and stabilator trim cable continuity was also established from the empennage separation point to the control surfaces.
Examination of the cockpit revealed the throttle control was about 1/4-inch open, and the propeller and mixture controls were in the full forward position. The landing gear control handle was observed in the down position, and the fuel tank selector was positioned to the left tank. The airspeed indicator displayed a reading of 60 knots, and the vertical speed indicator displayed a reading of 1,900 feet per minute rate of descent. The frequency selected in the VOR receiver/indicator was 108.8, and the course heading selected on the OBS was 275 degrees.
The propeller remained attached to the engine, and the engine remained attached to the airplane. All three propeller blades displayed S-bending, and a visible 3/4-inch deep gouge was observed 6 inches from each propeller blade tip.
Thumb compression and valve train continuity was confirmed to all cylinders and the engine rotated freely through the accessory drive section, by manual rotation of the propeller.
Both magnetos were removed from the engine and when rotated, produced spark on all towers.
Fuel was observed in the engine-driven fuel pump and an odor of fuel was present in both the fuel distributor unit, and the fuel screen.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Farmington, Connecticut.
The FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The airplane was equipped with a Garmin 155 Global Positioning System (GPS). The GPS unit was retained from the wreckage, and examined at the manufacturer's test facility, on February 13, 2002, under the supervision of an FAA inspector. No data was extracted from the unit due to its submersion in salt water for an extended period of time.
According to a pilot who departed Bridgeport at 1635, the moon rose above the horizon shortly after his departure and remained "full bright" for the duration of his 1 hour and 10 minute local flight. He stated that he could "easily see" the city of Bridgeport, and the runway end identifier lights for Runway 29. The pilot reported that for the duration of his flight, he experienced no problem with the visibility, and the moon and the city lights remained "bright."
According to the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3),
"In addition to night vision limitations, pilots should be aware that night illusions could cause confusion and concerns during night flying....On a clear night, distant stationary lights can be mistaken for stars or other aircraft. Even the northern lights can confuse a pilot and indicate a false horizon...As a result, pilots need to rely less on outside references at night and more on flight and navigation instruments."
Examination of fuel records from the Burke Lakefront Airport, revealed that the pilot purchased 11 gallons of fuel on December 29, 2001, which filled the fuel tanks.
The wreckage was released on January 5, 2002, to a representative of the Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial Airport.