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On July 18, 2002, about 1842 eastern daylight time, a Beech C24R, N18860, was destroyed during an in-flight break up and subsequent collision with terrain in Grindstone, Pennsylvania. The certificated commercial pilot and passenger were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan had been filed for the flight that departed the Lawrence Municipal Airport (LWM), Lawrence, Massachusetts, and was destined for the Washington County Airport (AFJ), Washington, Pennsylvania. The personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
According to information received from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), at 1317, the pilot contacted the Bridgeport Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS), and received a weather briefing for the flight. Visual meteorological conditions were reported for the area around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; however, conditions were expected to deteriorate with thunderstorm activity forecasted about the pilot's estimated time of arrival at AFJ.
The pilot departed LWM about 1450. At 1800, air traffic control (ATC) provided the pilot with advisory information regarding convective Significant Meteorological Advisories (SIGMETs), and a Center Weather Advisory for widely scattered level three to five thunderstorms and isolated level six thunderstorms.
At 1828, the airplane was descending from 7,000 to 5,000 feet on an assigned heading of 265 degrees. Pittsburgh ATC then advised the pilot of "...some level five weather at your uh twelve o’clock and five miles..." The pilot acknowledged, and reported observing lightning ahead. At 1832, the pilot asked if his position was far enough south to turn towards AFJ without going through the weather and ATC advised the pilot that a right turn direct to AFJ would position the airplane about 2 miles south of the weather. The pilot then indicated he was turning toward AFJ. At 1834:37, the pilot stated "we hit some severe turbulence" and deviated to the south.
At 1838:39, the controller advised, "it looks like you can uh I don't know if your gonna get to uh washington before the weather hits but for now a heading of two eight zero should keep you clear of all the weather i'm showing." The pilot acknowledged and reported he was deviating south again because "we hit another patch of severe turbulence." There were no further radio communications from the pilot.
Radar data indicated that the airplane continued on a westerly flight path for approximately 4 minutes. During that time, the airplane's altitude remained constant at 4,700 feet. At 1842:20, the airplane began a descending left turn. At 1842:25, radar data indicated the airplane was at 4,400 feet. The last radar target was observed 9 seconds later, at an altitude of 3,100 feet.
A witness who lived less than 1/4 mile from the accident site stated he was in his driveway when he heard the sound of an airplane engine, he described as "revving up." When he looked up he saw "lots of parts falling from the clouds." The engine noise continued for 3 to 5 seconds and he then heard a loud "thud." The witness further described the engine noise as "running pretty smooth." He also stated he observed "really black clouds" in the area; however, he did not see any lightning or hear any thunder.
Another witness who lived less than a 1/4 mile from the accident site stated she heard the sound of an airplane in the distance that was "getting closer at a rapid speed." She went outside and observed an airplane nose down descending toward the trees. She further said "it looked like [the airplane] pulled back up, skidded off the tree tops, and pieces started falling off it." She said the airplane's left wing was missing and she was not certain if the right wing was still present. The airplane then descended nose down, behind trees.
The accident occurred during the hours of daylight approximately 40 degrees, 2 minutes north latitude, and 79 degrees, 48 minutes west longitude.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a single and multiengine land airplane rating. He was also instrument rated. In addition, the pilot held a certified flight instructor certificate with instrument, single and multiengine airplane privileges.
Review of the pilot's logbook revealed he had accumulated approximately 4,312 hours of total flight experience, which included about 4,150 hours in single engine airplanes. He had logged approximately 243 and 217 hours of flight experience as actual and simulated instrument flight time, respectively.
The pilot's most recent biannual flight review was on May 20, 2002. He was an active flight instructor and had logged about 165 hours of total flight experience during the 12 months preceding the accident, which included about 10 hours logged as actual or simulated instrument flight experience.
The pilot's most recent FAA second class medical certificate was issued on January 11, 2002.
Review of maintenance records revealed the airplane had been operated for about 60 hours since its most recent annual inspection, which was performed on May 10, 2002. The airplane's most recent pitot static system check was performed on June 27, 2001.
The airplane was owned and operated by a local flying club. It was flown the day prior to the accident on a 2.3 hour IFR training flight. According to the pilot of that flight, the flight was conducted in visual flight rules and he did not experience or note any mechanical problems with airplane.
A weather observation taken at AFJ, at 1855, reported: winds from 330 degrees at 12 knots, with 17 knot gusts; visibility 2 statue miles with thunderstorm activity, scattered clouds at 200 feet, ceiling 2,000 feet broken, 3,300 feet overcast; temperature 23 degrees C; dew point 19 degrees C; altimeter 29.98 in/hg.
Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) 8 imagery revealed that at 1832, the radiative temperature at the accident site corresponded with cloud tops at 8,100 feet. At 1840 the radiative temperature corresponded with cloud tops at 24,400 feet, followed by 26,300 feet, at 1845. Radiative temperatures observed 11 miles north of the accident site indicated cloud tops at 39,800 feet.
The following weather advisories encompassed the accident site area:
Convective Sigmet 38E, was valid from 1655 until 1855 and advised of a line of thunderstorms 30 nautical miles wide moving from 300 degrees at 20 knots, with tops to flight level 420 (42,000 feet).
Convective Sigmet 44E, was valid from 1755 until 1955, and advised of an area of thunderstorms moving from 300 degrees at 20 knots, with tops to flight level 420 (42,000 feet).
A Center Weather Advisory valid from 1750 until 1950, advised of widely scattered level 3 to 5 thunderstorms, and isolated embedded level 6 thunderstorms, with moderate rain and cloud tops from flight level 400 (40,000 feet) to flight level 480 (48,000 feet.) Moving from 300 degrees at 20 knots.
The airplane wreckage was located about 27 miles east-southeast of AFJ, and was scattered over the ground about 1/2 mile on a heading of about 120 degrees. The main wreckage was found inverted in a wooded area adjacent to a house. The rudder was separated from the vertical stabilizer at the hinge points and was found in the impact crater. The airplane's left and right horizontal stabilizers, right wing, and a portion of the left wing were missing from the main wreckage area.
The first component recovered on the debris path was the left horizontal stabilizer, followed by the outboard 81 inches of the left wing, the right wing flap and aileron, and the right wing from root to tip, which was found about 1/4 mile north-northwest of the main wreckage. The airplane's right horizontal stabilizer was located by a local resident several weeks after the accident. Additionally, several small fragments of the airplane’s windshield were scattered along the debris path.
Examination of the left and right side of horizontal stabilizer spar revealed downward bending. Downward bending was also noted on the right wing main spar. Additionally, the right wing upper and lower spar caps were bent downward and the spar web was compressed and fractured to a point about 41 inches outboard of the wing root.
The right wing contained some upper and lower wing skin wrinkling, and the inboard aft 42 inches of the wing skin was torn and bent downward. The right wing leading edge did not exhibit any significant impact damage. The portion of the left wing which remained attached to the fuselage was compressed rearward to the spar. The separated portion of the left wing did not contain any leading edge impact damage.
Due to the fragmented nature of the wreckage, flight control continuity could not be confirmed through the wreckage; however, it was noted that the right wing aileron cables were intact from the aileron control mounting bracket, through the bell crank, to the point of the cable separation near the right wing root.
The engine was found partially buried in the ground and had sustained significant impact damage. The engine was recovered to a facility in Clayton, Delaware, where it was examined on July 22, 2002. The propeller mounting flange was partially separated and bent toward the crankcase. One propeller blade was separated from the hub and contained chordwise scratches, a curled tip, and was bent rearward. The other blade was twisted forward and also contained chordwise scratches. A torch cutter was used to cut off the propeller mounting flange and the engine was rotated via an accessory drive gear. Valve train continuity was noted on cylinders 2, 3, and 4. The pushrods for the number 1 cylinder were crushed and distorted. Due to impact damage, thumb compressions were not attained; however, piston movement was noted on all cylinders and crankshaft continuity was observed through the accessory section. The top spark plugs were removed. Their electrodes were worn, but intact. The number 1 and 3 top spark plugs were oil fouled.
Both magnetos were separated from the engine. The left magneto was destroyed; however, the right magneto produced a spark on all towers when rotated.
Both the engine oil suction screen and fuel inlet filters were absent of contamination. Additionally, fuel was observed in the fuel manifold, engine driven fuel pump, and fuel servo.
The vacuum pump sustained impact damage and was partially separated from its mount; however, the shear shaft remained intact. The vacuum pump internal drum was fractured, but the vanes were intact.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot and passenger, on July 20, 2002, at the request of the Fayette County Coroners Office, Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
Toxicological testing was conducted by the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The airplane wreckage was released on July 22, 2002, to a representative of the owners insurance company.