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On February 11, 2004, about 2110 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-180, N6473J, registered to and operated by the private pilot, collided with trees and the ground during approach to Bacon County Airport, Alma, Georgia. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 with no flight plan filed. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed. The private pilot, the pilot-rated passenger, and the rear-seated passenger received fatal injuries, and the airplane sustained substantial damage. The flight departed St. Lucie County International Airport, Fort Pierce, Florida, at 1902.
According to witnesses, the pilot departed Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the airplane alone about 1800 and flew the airplane to Fort Pierce, Florida, to pick up the two passengers. According to air traffic control records, the flight departed Fort Pierce, Florida, at 1902 and proceeded north under visual flight rules (VFR) with flight following at 4,500 feet mean sea level (MSL). At 2055, while approximately 22 nautical miles southeast of the Bacon County Airport, Alma, Georgia, the pilot contacted Jacksonville Center air traffic control and stated he "would like to start a slow descent" toward the airport. The controller stated, "november seven three juliet roger maintain VFR." A review of radar data revealed the airplane descended directly toward the airport on an approximate 336-degree magnetic ground track. The last recorded radar position for the flight was at 2102 approximately 9 nautical miles southeast of the airport at 2,400 feet MSL. According to air traffic control personnel, the location and altitude were consistent with the normal limits of radar coverage. At 2104, the controller stated to the pilot, "radar contact lost squawk VFR change to advisory frequency approved," and the pilot acknowledged. No further radio or radar contact was made with the flight.
When the flight failed to arrive at its destination, family members initiated a search. Air and ground search parties detected an Emergency Locator Transmitter signal and found the downed airplane about 1600 on February 12, 2004, in a wooded area 0.9 nm south southeast of the runway 33 threshold, approximately 1,100 feet left of a straight-in course for runway 33.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane. A review of records on file with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed the pilot received an "Authorization for Special Issuance" of a third-class medical certificate under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 67.401. The authorization stated the third-class medical certificate was valid until March 31, 2004. The medical certificate was issued with the limitation, "must wear corrective lenses for near vision."
The pilot's logbook was not recovered for examination. A review of FAA airman records revealed an FAA Form 8500-8, Application for Airman Medical Certificate, was signed by the pilot and an aviation medical examiner on April 11, 2004. On the application form, for the heading "Total Pilot Time (Civilian Only)," the pilot wrote "[approximately] 5500" under block 14 "To Date." The pilot made no entry for the heading "Total Pilot Time (Civilian Only)" under block 15 "Past 6 months."
The Piper PA-28-180, serial number 28-4900, was manufactured in 1968 and was powered by a Lycoming O-360-A4A 180-horsepower engine. The maintenance logbooks for the airframe, engine, and propeller were not recovered for examination. The tachometer reading at the accident site was 3714.09 hours, and the hobbs meter reading was 1507.3.
The airplane received 31 gallons of fuel prior to departing Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. According to the line service manager of the fueling facility, the pilot had requested 15 gallons of fuel be added to each side, and the fueler exceeded the requested amount by one gallon.
The automated weather observing system at the Bacon County Airport reported at 2104 winds calm, visibility 1 3/4 statute miles with light rain and mist, clouds scattered 600 feet above ground level (AGL), ceilings broken 1,600 feet AGL and overcast 2,100 feet AGL, temperature 11 degrees centigrade, dew point 11 degrees centigrade, altimeter setting 30.15 inches. At 2125, the station reported winds calm, visibility 1 3/4 statute miles with light rain and mist, ceilings broken 500 feet AGL, broken 1,100 feet AGL, and overcast 1,600 feet AGL, temperature 11 degrees centigrade, dew point 11 degrees centigrade, altimeter setting 30.14 inches, remarks: ceiling variable between 300 feet AGL and 800 feet AGL.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Examination of the accident site revealed the fuselage was found at the north end of a wreckage debris path that extended 310 feet along a 008-degree magnetic heading from a pine tree broken approximately 58 feet above ground level. Treetop branches approximately three feet long were found at the base of the broken pine tree.
The fuselage rested nose-down and inverted at the base of trees scraped and broken approximately 55 feet above ground level. The empennage was attached, and trees supported the fuselage and empennage at an approximate 45-degree angle. The firewall was crushed aft, the cabin roof was crushed, and the engine mounts were partially separated from the firewall. The engine was attached to the mounts and displaced aft, the propeller flange was fractured, and the propeller was separated. A tree seven inches in diameter was severed nearly through and broken off at a linear diagonal slash mark; the tree was found adjacent to the fuselage. Smaller tree branches that were severed completely through at similar linear slash marks were found along the wreckage debris path.
The vertical stabilizer was attached to the empennage and displaced to the right with the rudder attached. Control cable continuity established from the rudder horn to the cockpit pedals. The stabilator and trim tab were attached, and the control cable continuity was established from the control surfaces to the cockpit controls.
The inboard portion of the left wing was attached to the fuselage, and the left flap was attached. The leading edge of the wing root was crushed aft with circular indentations, and the left wing outboard of the flap was separated. The fuel tank was breached, and fuel was observed leaking from the tank. The outboard five feet of the left wing was found along the wreckage debris path with the aileron attached at the outboard hinge. The left aileron control cable and balance cable were attached to the bell crank on the separated portion of the left wing, and both cables were separated outboard of the wing root. The inboard portion of the aileron control cable was attached to the cockpit yoke chain. The flap mechanism was positioned consistent with 10 degrees flap extension.
The right wing was attached to the fuselage with the flap and aileron attached. The leading edge of the outboard right wing was crushed aft with circular indentations and was separated. The fuel tank was breached, and fuel was observed leaking from the tank. Continuity for the right aileron control cable was established from the bell crank to the cockpit yoke chain, and the balance cable was attached to the bell crank. The flap mechanism was positioned consistent with 10 degrees flap extension.
Examination of the engine revealed the air induction box was crushed. The carburetor was damaged with damage to the throttle, mixture, and carburetor heat controls. Disassembly of the carburetor revealed the screen, bowl, and main nozzle were clean, the float was intact with no evidence of leakage, and the needle valve was free of obstruction. The fuel pump was removed for examination and could be actuated by hand. The oil suction screen and the oil filter were free of debris, and the oil cooler was crushed. The spark plugs displayed no evidence of abnormal wear or improper gap settings. The magnetos and ignition harnesses were removed for examination, and both magnetos sparked through all leads when rotated by hand. Borescope examination of the piston domes, cylinder walls, and valves revealed no evidence of abnormality. Compression developed on all four cylinders when the crankshaft was turned from the accessory drive gears, and continuity of the crankshaft, camshaft, accessory drives, and valve train was established. The engine-driven vacuum pump was fractured at the flange; the unit rotated freely, and the drive coupling was intact. Examination of the propeller revealed one blade displayed twist deformation and the tip was curled aft approximately 90 degrees, and the other blade was bent slightly aft.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Division of Forensic Sciences, on February 14, 2004. The report stated the cause of death was "blunt force trauma of the chest." Forensic toxicology was performed on specimens from the pilot by the Federal Aviation Administration Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The report stated no carbon monoxide, no cyanide, and no drugs were detected in the blood, and no ethanol was detected in the vitreous.
An unbound Jeppesen approach plate dated "2 Feb 01" for the Alma, Georgia, "VOR or GPS Rwy 33" approach was found on the ground near the wreckage in a plastic sleeve.
A hand-written flight plan was found in the wreckage; it contained distance, heading, and time information for "FXE [direct] FPR [direct] AMG [direct] D73." At the top of the plan was written "VFR" and "IFR."
The total weight of cargo recovered from the airplane was 296 pounds.
The wreckage was released to a representative of U.S. Aviation Underwriters on July 19, 2004.