On December 4, 2002, about 1210 Pacific standard time, a Piper PA-28-140, N15969, collided with desert terrain near Phelan, California. The airplane was operated by Midfield Aviation, and rented by the student pilot under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The airplane was substantially damaged. The student pilot, the sole occupant, was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local area instructional flight, and no flight plan had been filed. The flight departed the Apple Valley Airport (APV), Apple Valley, California, at an undetermined time. The flight was scheduled to terminate at APV.

According to personnel at the flight school, the student pilot had rented the airplane for two flights, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. They stated that the morning flight was to practice maneuvers in preparation for his private pilot check ride. Flight school personnel did not know what the afternoon flight was for.

According to witnesses on the ground who were 1/4 mile southwest of the accident site, the airplane was about 500 feet above the ground. Both witnesses heard a loud engine noise and looked towards the sky. They saw the accident airplane in a nose-down spiral. The witnesses did not see the airplane contact the ground due to high vegetation in the area. They called 911, and then went to see if they could help the pilot. The witness did not hear anything prior to the loud engine noise.

First responders to the accident site noted that the pilot was secured in the seat by his seatbelt.


A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed the pilot held a student pilot certificate.

The pilot held a second-class medical certificate issued on February 6, 2002. It had no limitations or waivers the limitations. The pilot's combined student pilot and medical certificate had the following endorsements dated July 14, 2002, in the accident aircraft make and model:

Solo flights
Solo cross-country flights

An examination of the pilot's logbook indicated an estimated total flight time of 105.5 hours. He logged 13.7 hours in the last 90 days, and 10.9 in the last 30 days. He had an estimated 35.7 hours in this make and model.


The airplane was Piper PA-28-140, serial number 28-7325215. A review of the airplane's logbooks revealed a total airframe time of 2,700.4 hours at the last annual inspection. An annual inspection was completed on October 20, 2002.

There were no shoulder harnesses installed in the airplane, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did not require them.

The airplane had a Textron Lycoming O-320-E3D engine, serial number L-33093-27A, installed. Total time on the engine at the last annual inspection was 2,635.4 hours. A field overhaul of the engine had been signed off on October 9, 2001. The engine had accrued 300 hours at the last annual inspection.


Investigators from the National Transportion Safety Board, FAA, New Piper Aircraft, and Textron Lycoming examined the wreckage at the accident scene.

The accident site was situated in the desert in a sparsely populated residential area northwest of Phelan. The main wreckage area distribution; including airplane debris and ground impressions, were contained in a linear distribution off the left wing, approximately 40 feet in length. The first identified point of contact (IPC) was a right wing ground impression. The ground impression was the approximate length of the wing with an intact green lens cap found towards the tip of the impression. The airplane came to rest about 5 feet from the IPC on a southeasterly heading.

Both wings remained attached at their respective wing roots, and the fuel tanks ruptured. The entire wingspans of both the left and right wings exhibited aft crushing from the leading edge to their respective wing spars. The flaps were in the retracted position. The aileron cables for both wings remained attached to their respective bellcranks.

The empennage remained intact and connected to the fuselage. The stabilator rudder cables remained connected at their respective attach points. The stabilator trim drum displayed 13 threads, which according to the manufacturer's representative was consistent with a nose-down trim setting.

The propeller exhibited leading edge gouging, chordwise striations along the span of both blades. One propeller blade had S-bending.

The forward cockpit was destroyed. The engine remained connected to the engine mount and firewall. The instrument panel was destroyed. The throttle and mixture control levers were in the intermediate positions. The fuel selector handle separated from the fuel valve. However, the manufacturer's representative determined that the valve was selected to the left fuel tank. The fuel gascolator screen was free of debris.

There were no visually obvious mechanical anomalies noted with the engine.


The San Bernardino County Coroner conducted an autopsy on the pilot on December 5, 2002. The FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed a toxicological analysis, from samples obtained during the autopsy. The results of the analysis of the specimens were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles, and tested drugs.


Investigators examined the airframe and powerplant at Aircraft Recovery Service, Littlerock, California, on December 5, 2002.

There were no discrepancies noted with the airframe. According to the airframe representative, the front left seat bottom was crushed in downward direction and to the left.

Investigators removed the engine, and slung it from a hoist. The spark plugs were removed. According to the Champion Aviation Check-A-Plug AV-27 chart, all of the spark plugs, with the exception of the number 2 top and bottom spark plugs, displayed coloration consistent with normal operation. According to the Champion chart, the number 2 top and bottom spark plugs were consistent with carbon-fouled operation. No mechanical deformation was noted with any of the spark plugs.

A borescope inspection revealed no mechanical deformation on the valves, cylinder walls, or internal cylinder heads. Investigators manually rotated the engine. Mechanical and valve train continuity were established, and thumb compression was obtained in all cylinders in firing order.

Both magnetos were displaced from their respective mounting pads. The ignition harness remained connected to both magnetos; however, sustained varying degrees of impact damage along its entirety. Both magnetos were manually rotated and produced spark at their respective posts.

Investigators disassembled the carburetor. Both carburetor floats were crushed, with the left float crushed more than the right float. There were no mechanical anomalies noted with the engine.


The Safety Board investigator released the wreckage to the owner's representative.

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