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On May 26, 2002, about 1815 Alaska daylight time, a tundra tire-equipped Piper PA-18 airplane, N4347Z, was destroyed by impact damage and postimpact fire after colliding with tree-covered terrain, during takeoff from a remote airstrip located about 38 miles northeast of Lime Village, Alaska. The airplane was being operated as a visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country personal flight under Title 14, CFR Part 91, when the accident occurred. The certificated commercial pilot, seated in the front seat, and the sole passenger, a certificated private pilot, seated in the aft seat, received fatal injuries. The airplane was jointly owned by both the pilot and passenger. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated at the accident airstrip at 1815, and was en route to the Birchwood Airport, Chugiak, Alaska.
During the on-scene portion of the investigation on May 27, a witness, who is also a certificated commercial pilot, related to the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC) a conversation he had with the accident pilot the day before the accident. He said that while landing at the airstrip the day before the accident, the accident pilot inadvertently landed short of his intended touchdown point. The pilot told the witness that while he was on short final, the airplane descended below his intended glide path. When the pilot applied full engine power to arrest the decent, the engine "hesitated" momentarily, and the airplane's main wheels contacted the airstrip's overrun area. The witness reported that there was no damage to the airplane following this event. He added that after talking with the pilot, and after ground running the airplane's engine, all agreed that the engine anomalies were due to carburetor ice.
The witness reported to the NTSB IIC, that on the day of the accident, as the accident airplane started its takeoff run to the southeast on the 1,300 foot long gravel covered airstrip, the airplane's engine sounded "normal" as if it was producing full power. He said that as soon as the airplane began its takeoff roll, he saw a large thunderstorm cell approaching the airstrip from the northeast. He explained that high winds, from the northeast at 15 to 25 knots, and very heavy rain showers preceded the fast moving thunderstorm cell. He estimated the fast moving thunderstorm cell passed over the departure end of the airstrip just as the accident airplane was departing. The witness said that he was unable to see the departure end of the airstrip due to trees that border the airstrip. He said that about two minutes after the accident airplane departed, he noted a plume of black smoke at the end on the airstrip. He said that when he arrived at the accident site, the airplane was fully engulfed in flames.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single engine land, multiengine land, and single-engine sea ratings. He also held an airplane instrument rating. The most recent third-class medical certificate was issued to the pilot on April 13, 2001, and contained the limitation that he possess corrective glasses for near vision. No personal flight records were located for the pilot. On the pilot's medical certificate application dated April 13, 2001, the pilot indicated that his total aeronautical experience consisted of 1,376 hours, of which 22 were accrued in the previous 6 months.
The airplane and engine had an annual inspection on March 12, 2002. At that time, the airplane and engine had accumulated a total time in service of 1,617.9 hours.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
On May 27, 2002, the NTSB IIC, accompanied by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operations inspector from the Anchorage Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), examined the airplane wreckage at the accident site.
All of the airplane's major components were located at the main wreckage area, in an area of tree-covered, flat terrain, about 1,500 feet beyond departure end of the airstrip, and approximately 5 degrees to the right of the airstrip centerline. The average height of the trees in this area was 20 feet.
A path of wreckage debris, from an area of broken trees to the wreckage point of rest, was on a magnetic heading of 123 degrees. (All headings/bearings noted in this report are orientated towards magnetic north.) The path of wreckage debris measured about 129 feet from the initial impact point to the wreckage point of rest.
Several trees were broken and toppled at the wreckage site. Various small tree sections along the path of wreckage debris displayed sharp cuts orientated on about a 45 degree angle to the vertical axis of each section.
The first pieces of airplane wreckage discovered along the debris path were small portions of paint chips, Plexiglas windshield fragments, and torn shreds of airplane fabric. These items were not fire damaged.
The main portion of the airplane wreckage was located lying upright, with the nose of the airplane orientated on a 351 degree heading. Several trees and limbs were knocked down and burned within the main wreckage area.
With the exception of small portions of the airplane's wingtips and the empennage, a postcrash fire destroyed the entire airplane.
The empennage was intact, but displayed substantial thermal damage. The empennage was twisted and torn in a clockwise direction in relation to the main fuselage, just forward of the vertical stabilizer attach point. The empennage was located standing in a near vertical position, wedged into a broken portion of a tree. Both elevators remained attached to the stabilizers.
The flight control surfaces remained connected to their respective attach points. Due to impact and fire damage, the flight controls could not be moved by their respective control mechanisms. The continuity of the flight control cables was established from the cabin/cockpit area to the point of impact related damage. The instrument panel was consumed by fire.
Both wing-mounted fuel tanks, and the 32-gallon belly-mounted auxiliary fuel tank, were consumed by the postimpact fire.
The engine sustained fire and impact damage. The propeller blades had substantial leading and trailing edge gouging and chord-wise scratching.
No evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunction was discovered during the on-scene wreckage examination.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
A postmortem examination of the pilot was conducted under the authority of the Alaska State Medical Examiner, 4500 South Boniface Parkway, Anchorage, Alaska, on May 28, 2002. The examination revealed that the cause of death was due to fire-related / smoke inhalation injuries.
A toxicological examination was conducted by the FAA's Civil Aero Medical Institute (CAMI) on September 20, 2002, and was negative for alcohol or drugs.
The Safety Board did not take custody of the wreckage. No part or components were retained by the Safety Board.