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On January 13, 2002, about 0049 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-24-250, N8263P, registered to and operated by a private individual, as a Title 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight, crashed in Micanopy, Florida. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The private-rated pilot, and one commercial pilot-rated passenger, received fatal injuries, and the airplane was destroyed. The airplane departed from the Gainesville Regional Airport, Gainesville, Florida, the same day, about 0035.
According to an official with the FAA Gainesville Flight Service Station, the flight departed early Sunday morning, and during the departure, the pilot stated that he was "departing VFR to the south." There was no further communications with the pilot of the accident airplane.
An individual with Flightline Inc., at Gainesville Regional Airport, stated that he refueled N8263P, and at the pilot's request, he added 30 gallons of fuel. He stated that the pilot said he wanted the extra fuel as a safety precaution, but elected not to "top-off" the airplane. According to the refueler, at the time he was refueling the accident airplane, the clouds were low, and there was light rain. He further stated that he heard the two occupants of the airplane state that they had just flown from Pennsylvania, and they joked about being tired, and "dragging", after being in the airplane for such a long time. He further stated that they were concerned about leaving, and said about two or three times that they were too close to their final destination of Williston, Florida, and they did not want to stay in Gainesville, Florida.
According the FAA Atlanta Communications Center, the wreckage of N8263P was discovered at 0815, on January 15, 2002, by search and rescue assets, who had been conducting aerial searches for the missing aircraft.
The pilot held a FAA private pilot certificate with airplane single engine land privileges, issued on February 2, 1997. He also held a third-class FAA medical certificate issued on June 13, 2000, with the stated limitation that the pilot wear corrective lenses for near and distant vision while exercising the privileges of the certificate. The pilot's logbook was not obtained by the NTSB, and according to the pilot's last application for a medical certificate, dated June 13, 2000, the pilot indicated he had accumulated 306 total flight hours.
The pilot-rated passenger held a FAA commercial pilot certificate with airplane single and multiengine land instrument privileges, issued on April 19, 2001. In addition, he also a FAA second-class medical certificate issued on December 6, 2001. Copies of the pilot rated passenger's logbook were obtained by the NTSB and according to information contained therein, at the time of the accident the passenger had accumulated about 283 total flight hours. There was no record of the passenger having obtained any flight related experience in a Piper PA-24-250. The passenger had a total of about 227 flight hours in single engine airplanes, of which about 48 hours were simulated instrument experience, 8 hours were of actual instrument experience, and 30 hours of night flight experience. He had also flown about 25 hours in the last 90 days, 4 hours in the last 30 days, and an undetermined number of flight hours in the last 24 hours.
The accident airplane was a Piper Aircraft Corporation model PA-24-250, serial number 24-3516, manufactured in 1963. At the time of its last inspection the airplane had accumulated about 5680 total flight hours. It was equipped with a Lycoming model IO-540-C1B5 reciprocating engine, which produced 250 horsepower, and a McCauley model B3D32C412-C three bladed propeller.
Maintenance records showed the airplane was last inspected on July 13, 2001, when it received an annual inspection, and at the time of the accident, the airplane had accumulated an unknown number of flight hours since the last inspection. The airplane's engine and propeller had both accumulated about 41 total flight hours since major overhaul. The airplane's static system, altimeter, and transponder were last tested on August 7, 2000, and its emergency locator transmitter was last tested on July 10, 2001.
Visual meteorological condition prevailed at the time of the accident. The Gainesville Regional Airport, Gainesville, Florida 0053, surface weather observation was wind from 210 at 11 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, sky condition was scattered clouds at 2,200 feet and 3,000 feet, broken clouds at 10,000 feet, temperature 17 degrees Celsius, dew point temperature 14 degrees Celsius, and altimeter setting 29.86 inHg.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane wreckage was located by search and rescue personnel on January 15, 2002, on a pine tree farm, in a field consisting sparse trees and brush, in geographic position 29 degrees 25.54 minutes North latitude, and 082 degrees 21.00 minutes West longitude. The farm is located in a rural portion of northwestern Marion County, in the area of NW 198th Street Road.
Examination of the crash site showed a debris path of about 300 feet long, oriented along a heading of about 312 degrees, and an impact angle of about 20 degrees. A tree which marked the beginning of the debris path had incurred damage at about the fifty foot level, and the first signs of ground impact, i.e. a small crater was located about 100 to 150 feet from the tree. The main wreckage as it lay, was oriented in about an east to west direction, in a relatively open area of the field consisting of small pine sparse brush.
All components of the airplane which are necessary to sustain flight were located in the vicinity of the impact area, and examination of the engine, airframe, or flight controls revealed no evidence of preaccident anomalies. The fuselage had twisted and a large portion of the undersurface of the airplane was visible. The airframe had incurred fire damage localized to the cabin area and there was also impact related buckling damage as well. The left wing had sustained impact damage and the upper skin of the wing had buckled. Both the auxiliary and main fuel tanks were breached and destroyed. The aileron had separated from its attachment points, and it had received impact damage but the balance weight remained attached. The bell crank had also remained attached, and the bell crank’s primary arm had separated from the bell crank with the cable was still attached to the separated arm. Cable continuity was established between the broken bell crank arm and the cabin, and the balance cable had separated at the wing root but cable continuity was established between the bell crank and the cable's separation point. The primary cable was still attached to the control chain in the cockpit. The left flap remained attached and the flap mechanism, and it displayed eight threads which corresponded to a fully retracted flap setting. The landing gear was in the retracted position.
The right wing had separated from the airplane fuselage at the wing root and it also had been destroyed. The aileron incurred damage but it remained attached to its attachment points. Flight control cable continuity was established from the aileron to a point near the wing root where the cables were separated. The flap had also incurred some damage and had separated from its attachment points. The right main landing gear was in the retracted position and had been damaged
The main fuselage/cabin area was destroyed/consumed in the postimpact fire. The empennage had bent around to the front right side of the airplane and it also had sustained impact and fire damage. The rudder remained attached at the middle attachment point and cable continuity was established from the rudder to the cabin area. The rudder cables were attached to the rudder bar, one cable was separated eight inches from the bar, and the bar was destroyed by fire. The left side of the stabilator sustained impact damage and the right side sustained impact and fire damage. Control cable continuity was established from the stabilator to the cabin. The stabilator trim drum showed no threads which corresponds to a nose down trim setting.
The airspeed indicator showed 0 knots, the altimeter setting was 29.79 inHg, and the suction gauge indicated 6.9 inHg. The number one communication radio was set to a frequency of 118.6 and the number one navigation radio was set to a frequency of 113.7. The fuel selector setting showed that the left main tank had been selected. All other gauges, switches, instruments, and controls were destroyed, and had either incurred impact damaged, or were damaged in the fire damaged which rendered them unreadable.
The six cylinder Lycoming engine had separated from the airframe and had not incurred fire damage. Examination of the engine showed that the crankcase sustained impact damage and was fractured in several places on the front and right side. The number one and number two cylinder assemblies had dislodged and had fractured just below their flanges at the crankcase, and the fracture signatures were consistent with overstress. The valve covers, top spark plugs and all accessory components were removed., and the engine examined. A borescope being used to inspect internal power section and top end components. Due to the impact damage the crankshaft could not be rotated. The oil sump had broken open, and all fluid lines and hoses were destroyed. The oil suction and pressure screens were clean. The fuel injector servo was separated from the engine, but when examined the injector inlet screen was found to be clean and the fuel flow divider diaphragm intact. Fuel was found in the fuel injector servo and the fuel flow divider. The throttle was found at a setting consistent with it being full open, and the mixture control had been set to about 1/2. The fuel pump incurred damage the internal components of the drive mechanism were intact. The starter and generator were impact damaged. Both magnetos remained attached to the crankcase and when examined they produced sparks at all towers. The ignition harness was destroyed. The top spark plugs were light gray in color and contained combustion deposits consistent with normal operation. The vacuum pump system hoses were destroyed and the pump remained intact and secure on the case. When examined the vacuum pump drive coupling, internal rotor, and vanes were found to be intact. The muffler was crushed/flattened and had separated from the engine. After the heat shroud was removed a crack was found in an area near the tailpipe where previous welding had occurred. Examination of the engine's lubrication, induction, fuel injection, ignition, as well as the accessories did not reveal the presence of any preaccident anomalies.
The three bladed McCauley propeller exhibited signatures consistent with power being developed at impact, and it had separated from the engine, and the hub had fractured with the flange still bolted to the crankshaft. One of the propeller blades that had separated had been bent rearward about 45 degrees near the root of the blade, and displayed torsional bending and had leading edge nicks and scratches as well. The other two blades were broken loose at the hub and displayed torsional bending. One of these two blades also displayed chord wise scratches on its front side. The propeller governor had also incurred impact damage and its control arm had separated.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Postmortem examination of the pilot was performed by a Medical Examiner with the District Five Medical Examiners Office, Florida. The cause of death was attributed to injuries incurred in an airplane crash and conflagration. No findings which could be considered causal to the accident were reported. Postmortem toxicology studies on specimens obtained from the pilot were performed by the FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Samples were tested for volatiles and drugs and none were found to be present.
Postmortem examination of the pilot-rated passenger was performed by a Medical Examiner with the District Five Medical Examiners Office, Florida. The cause of death was attributed to injuries incurred in an airplane crash and conflagration. No findings which could be considered causal to the accident were reported. Postmortem toxicology studies on specimens obtained from the passenger were performed by the FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Samples were tested for carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles and drugs, and none were found to be present.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
According to radar data obtained from the Cross City, Florida ARSR-4 radar facility, the airplane departed Gainesville Regional Airport at approximately 0035, and proceeded in the direction of Williston, Florida. Radar data shows that the flight path of the airplane consisted of numerous course changes, altitude variations between 1900 feet and 800 feet, and groundspeed variations between approximately 150 knots and 91 knots, over a period of about 13 minutes duration, terminating when radar contact was lost. Data showed that during the last 36 seconds of radar coverage, the airplane was in a right descending turn. Between 24 to about 36 seconds prior to loss of radar contact, the average rate of descent was about 500 feet per minute, and the average groundspeed was 161 knots. During the interval of about 12 to 24 seconds before contact was lost, the average rate of descent and groundspeed were 1,000 feet per minute and 105 knots respectively. About 12 seconds prior to loss of radar contact, the average rate of descent and groundspeed was about 2,500 feet per minute, and the speed about 150 knots. The airplane was at an altitude of about 800 feet when radar contact was lost at 0048:34, and it was in geographic position 29 degrees 26.2 minutes North latitude, 082 degrees 21.43 minutes West longitude.
Advisory Circular 60-4A states that pilots may become spatially disoriented because, "Surface references and the natural horizon may at times be obscured, although visibility may be above visual flight rule minimums. Lack of natural horizon or surface reference is common on overwater flights, at night, and especially at night in extremely sparsely populated areas, or in low visibility conditions...The disoriented pilot may place the aircraft in a dangerous attitude." Advisory Circular 61-21A, Flight Training Handbook, states that in these situations, "false sensations often are generated, leading the pilot to believe the attitude of the airplane has changed when, in fact, it has not...These false sensations may lead to the well-known "graveyard spiral.'"
The airplane wreckage was released to Edd Taylor, Williston Jet Inc. Williston, Florida, on March 22, 2002. The muffler was retained for further examination, and was returned to Mr. Edd Taylor, Williston Jet inc., on April 17, 2002.