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On August 28, 2002, at 1849 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28R-180, N4988J, operated as a rental airplane, was destroyed following an impact with power lines which crossed the Muskegon River near Newaygo, Michigan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The 14 CFR Part 91 business flight was not operating on a flight plan. The private rated pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. The flight departed from Cherry Capital Airport, Traverse City, Michigan, at 1800, en route to Three Rivers Municipal Dr Haines Airport, Three Rivers, Michigan.
According to the Newaygo County Sheriff’s report, a witness stated, "...he was fishing just below Hardy Dam on the Croton side of the Muskegon River. He stated the plane in question came just over the Hardy Dam, swooped all the way down the Muskegon River on the Croton side and went extremely low on the river. At the first turn, he made an extreme hard bank around the curve. [The witness] advised [the officer] that the pilot was very 'dare devilish' and also not a normal pilot that would fly a plane in a normal fashion. He was flying it very erratic."
A second witness stated, "...she witnessed a plane heading south/southeast very low to the water and saw it go underneath two power lines stretching across the Muskegon River. [The witness] explained that part of the plane hit the power wires and continued on with a very loud engine noise, yet it was not puttering at all, it was just a steady, loud engine noise. [The witness] explained the plane continued to head in the same direction losing control and going down towards the water. [The witness] explained the plane hit the water and made a large boom shaking everything in the area. [The witness] stated the plane did not float at all, but when it hit the water it continued going straight into the water. [The witness] never saw the plane again. [The witness] described the plane as a white, smaller style plane with a front engine prop."
A third witness stated, "...he was approximately 1,000 yards upstream of the crash. He advised [the officer] that the plane was only 20' above the water on the Muskegon River headed for the power lines. They did not see the power lines and the tail/fin section of the plane was severed by the power lines..."
The pilot, age 55, held a private pilot certificate with a single engine land rating. Based upon logbook entries, he accumulated a total flight time of 859.3 hours. He received his last biennial flight review, which consisted of 1.5 hours of ground training and 1.8 hours of flight training, on July 27, 2001. He received a third class medical certificate on July 25, 2001, with the following limitation: "must have available glasses for near vision."
The 1968 Piper PA-28R-180, serial number (S/N) 28R-30743, was powered by a Lycoming IO-360-B1E engine rated at 180 horsepower. The airplane received its last inspection during an annual inspection dated March 29, 2002, at a total time and tachometer time of 3,686.8 hours and 1,473.0 hours, respectively. The engine was also inspected at that time and had accumulated a time since overhaul of 1,762.7 hours.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane was submerged in 25-30 feet of water in an upright position facing north-northeast. The left wing was separated from and lying in front of the fuselage. The engine and the attached propeller were located about 25 yards north of the main wreckage.
Markings consistent with a wire strike were present on the leading edge of the left wing inboard of a wing tear about seven feet from the wing root. The wing tear extended rearward and outboard at a 30 degree angle to the wing chord line. The left wing's outboard section was separated. The entire left flap and a inboard portion of the left aileron was attached to the left wing. The outboard section of the left wing was not recovered.
Examination of the flight control system confirmed flight control continuity from the control surfaces to the flight controls.
Examination of the engine revealed no anomalies.
The Hobbs meter and tachometer indications were 2,188.25 hours and 1,561.1 hours, respectively.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy of the pilot was performed on August 29, 2002.
The Federal Aviation Administration's Final Forensic Toxicology Fatal Accident Report of the pilot was negative for all substance tested.
According to the Newaygo County Sheriff’s Office Diver, the left front seat was occupied by a passenger who was "buckled in" and the right front seat was occupied by the pilot who was also "buckled in"
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Federal Aviation Regulation 91.119, Minimum safe altitudes, states: Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:
(a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.
(b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.
(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.
The FAA, Textron Lycoming, and The New Piper, Inc. were parties to the investigation.
The wreckage was released on August 30, 2002.