On March 14, 2003, at 1730 central standard time, a Piper PA-28-180 single-engine airplane, N5264L, was substantially damaged upon collision with trees and terrain during a forced landing near Bonham, Texas. The airplane was owned and operated by a private individual who purchased the airplane 3 days prior to the accident. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight being conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The non-instrument rated private pilot, sole occupant of the airplane, was seriously injured. The flight's planned destination was the Springerville Municipal Airport (Q35), near Springerville, Arizona. The next intermediate refueling stop was planned at the Grayson County Airport (F39), near Sherman, Texas. The 407-mile cross-country flight originated from the Key Field Airport (MEI), near Meridian, Mississippi, at approximately 1415.

The airplane was painted at a maintenance facility at Elmore, Alabama, prior to being delivered to its new owner in Arizona. A private pilot was contacted by the maintenance facility to flight-deliver the airplane to the owner in Arizona. The pilot received a one-hour check-out flight by a flight instructor. The flight departed from the Wetumpka Municipal Airport (08A), near Elmore, Alabama, at approximately 1730 the previous afternoon.

The pilot remained overnight at the Key Field Airport. Her departure from MEI was delayed due to weather moving through the area. A representative of a FBO at the Key Field Airport reported that the airplane's 50-gallon fuel system was topped-off with 32.1 gallon of 100LL aviation fuel on March 13, 2003.

After departure, the pilot reported staying clear of clouds at 2,000 feet, until the cloud layer broke-up allowing her to climb to her en route cruise altitude of 6,500 feet for the rest of the flight. The 90-hour pilot reported that she flew on the right tank for the first 30 minutes of the flight, changing the fuel selector every hour thereafter. The pilot added that to switch the fuel selector, she had to move her left leg and look at the fuel selector every time she switched tanks since she was unable to feel the detent to make sure the selector was in the proper position.

Approximately 30 miles from Sherman, Texas, the flight encountered a broken layer of clouds and the pilot elected to descend from 6,500 feet to 3,000 feet msl. The pilot added that she applied carburetor heat during the descent to 3,000 feet.

About 10 minutes after leveling-off at 3,000 feet, while 25-nautical miles from the planned refueling stop, the engine lost power. After trimming the airplane to attain the maximum glide, she initiated her emergency descend and "tried carburetor heat, mixture, fuel pump, switching tanks, and checking the magnetos" to no avail.

Due to the recent rains in the area, the pilot stated that most of the open fields flooded with water; however, she spotted a field that was on a slight incline, and appeared to be dry. The pilot was too low to make the field and the airplane collided with matured trees just short of the field. There was no fire and the pilot was able to egress the airplane on her own and walk to a nearby road to summon for help.

Examination of the airplane by an FAA inspector, who traveled to the accident site, revealed that the right wing separated from the fuselage. Both fuel cells were compromised; however, fuel was found in the gascolator and the fuel line to the carburetor. One propeller blade was bent aft wards and the other one was undamaged and did not show any signs of rotational damage. The 1968 model airplane (serial number 28-4562) was powered by a Lycoming O-360-A3A engine and featured a 50-gallon capacity fuel system of which 48-gallons are usable.

At 1653 local, Grayson County Airport (GYI), near Sherman-Dennison, was reporting calm wind with 12 miles visibility, scattered clouds, temperature 72 degrees Celsius, dew point 48 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 29.96 inches of Mercury.

The wreckage of the airplane was recovered to a secure location for further evaluation and examination. The wreckage was examined on March 28, 2003, under the supervision of the FAA inspector. The engine was removed from the airframe and after installing a test propeller, the engine was successfully run at 2,400 rpm with oil and fuel pressures within limits.

Further examination of the fuel system revealed that the fuel selector placard (Piper P/N 63832) was the correct type for this airplane; however, the pointer (handle) was not the correct type for this model aircraft. The installed pointer was to be used on later models of the airplane (S/N 28-7105001 and up). This pointer has the fuel valve shaft indexed differently than the correct pointer (Piper P/N 63949) for this model, and the pointer would not properly align with the placard. The examination concluded that the unknown person who installed the last placard and pointer had re-drilled the holes in the placard and cocked it about 45 degrees so the pointer would align with the placard and the detents in the valve.

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