On April 17, 2002, at 0855 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-12, N4480M, was substantially damaged when it struck a tree while making an approach to Ashlawn Airport (3PN1), Clifford, Pennsylvania. The certificated private pilot and his passenger were seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. No flight plan had been filed for the flight, between Seamans Field (9N3), Factoryville, Pennsylvania, and Clifford. The personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

Due to the extent of his injuries, the pilot was unable to remember the accident.

According to the passenger, the pilot had previously made "thousands" of landings at the airport. At the time of the accident, the passenger was in the rear seat, the airplane was "running well," and "everything was perfect." As the airplane approached the airport, the sun appeared to be coming up over the horizon, and the pilot was flying west to east towards it.

As the airplane was nearing its final approach to runway 15, the passenger was looking out the right side - watching a red car below - when he was suddenly knocked unconscious. When he awoke, he found that the airplane had crashed into a marsh. He unbuckled his safety belt, and exited the airplane. He attempted to remove the pilot, but could not do so due to the pilot's head being jammed in the corner doorframe and his own personal injuries.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, the approach path to runway 15 had been cut into a stand of trees, which had not yet developed spring foliage. The airplane struck a tree on the left side of the approach path, and came to rest in the marsh, with the nose pointing about 310 degrees magnetic.

On-scene examination of the wreckage revealed that one of the propeller blades was bent back, and the nose cone had spiral scoring. Engine oil and spark plugs appeared to be new. The tanks were full of fuel, and the inspector was able to drain fuel from the carburetor.

A review of accident site photographs provided by the insurance adjuster revealed treetop damage, including a bent-over main trunk near the top of one tree.

On May 13, 2002, the engine and propeller were examined at a storage facility in Clayton, Delaware. The bent propeller blade exhibited leading edge nicks, and chordwise and lengthwise scratching. The unbent propeller blade exhibited small leading edge nicks.

There were no external engine anomalies noted. The case halves, cylinder assemblies, rear accessory housing, front and rear accessories, and the air/oil sump housing were intact. The crankshaft was rotated by hand, and valve train continuity was confirmed. Compression was also confirmed on all cylinders. Oil on the dipstick was golden brown in color. When the bottom spark plugs were removed, water drained from cylinders 1 and 4.

The right magneto was rotated by hand. A spark was obtained from each distributor tower to the magneto case by the aid of a jumper wire. The left magneto drive shaft and impulse coupling were also rotated by hand. The magneto was water-soaked, and sparks from the distributor towers to the case could not be obtained.

The carburetor inlet screen was free of contamination, except for a light coating of corrosion at the base of the screen opposite the fitting. The throttle arm was actuated, which resulted in a discharge of a fuel and water mixture from the accelerator pump nozzle.

Weather, recorded at an airport about 20 nautical miles to south, at 0854, included calm winds, clear skies, and a visibility of 8 statute miles. According to calculations from the U.S. Naval Observatory, the sun, about the time of the accident, was approximately 28 degrees above the horizon, at an azimuth of 101 degrees true (113 degrees magnetic.)

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