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On February 17, 2004, at 0545 central standard time, a Piper PA-28-180, N7876W, piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed during an in-flight collision with terrain approximately 3 miles southeast of Rich Hill, Missouri. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site. The flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91 without a flight plan. The pilot and passenger sustained fatal injuries. The flight departed the Allen County Airport (K88), Iola, Kansas, approximately 0445 with an intended destination of Spirit of St. Louis Airport (SUS), St. Charles, Missouri.
The accident pilot contacted the Wichita Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) at 0407 on the morning of the accident flight. He requested a weather briefing for a visual flight rules (VFR) flight from K88 to SUS and stated that he would be leaving in 45 minutes. The pilot did not file a flight plan and no record of further contact with the accident pilot or aircraft was located.
A witness located approximately five miles northeast of K88 reported that she was on her porch having coffee about 0445 that morning. She stated she heard an airplane fly, what seemed to be, directly over her house. She noted that she went off the porch in an effort to see it, but it was not visible due to the dense fog. She recalled that it was still completely dark at that time. She added that it was "so unbelievably foggy" that she could not see the house across the street. She estimated that distance to be about 100 feet.
A second witness who resided approximately one mile northwest of the accident site reported that he was awakened from a "deep sleep" to the sound of an airplane engine. He described it as similar to that of a model airplane but "magnified one-thousand times." He noted the time as 0544 according to his bedside clock.
This witness stated that he got out of bed and looked out of the window. He reported seeing the aircraft's lights at what appeared to be "tree top height" about 1/4 to 1/2 mile to the east-southeast. He went outside but at that point the aircraft was out of site. He heard no sound at all at that time.
He recalled that it was foggy, however, he was not sure of the visibility. He commented that there was a thin layer of ice on his vehicle's windshield as well. As it got light that morning, he noted that there was a low cloud layer.
Approximately 0830, this witness decided to drive to the location he had last seen the airplane's lights. He subsequently located the accident site in a conservation area. He stated he encountered a sheriff's deputy in the area and reported the location of the aircraft.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane-single engine land rating issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on March 7, 2003. He held a third class airman medical certificate issued on October 15, 2002. There were no limitations associated with his medical certificate.
A copy of the pilot's logbook was reviewed. His total logged flight time was 158.3 hours and included 119.0 hours pilot-in-command, 11.1 hours simulated instrument, and 0.2 hours actual instrument flight time. The logbook listed 31.2 hours of night and 68.1 hours of cross-country flight time. He had logged 24.4 hours within the previous 90 days and 4.0 hours within the previous 30 days.
The most recent entry was dated January 22, 2004, and was in the accident aircraft. The pilot had logged 54.9 hours in the accident aircraft. This also comprised his total flight time in PA-28 series aircraft. His initial flight in the accident aircraft was on June 27, 2003.
The accident aircraft was a 1968 Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee (serial number 28-1900). It was a four-place, single-engine, low wing airplane. It was powered by a Lycoming O-360-A3A reciprocating engine (serial number L-7319-36A), installed in a carbureted, normally aspirated configuration.
The airplane was issued a Certificate of Aircraft Registration in the accident pilot's name on August 11, 2003. A temporary Aircraft Registration Application, dated June 27, 2003, listing the accident pilot as the applicant and bearing the pilot's signature, was found in the aircraft.
According to the aircraft logbooks, an annual inspection had been completed on May 7, 2003, at a tachometer time of 4227.71 hours. A pitot-static system inspection was completed on June 5, 2003.
Weather reporting services in the immediate vicinity of the accident site were not available. The departure airport, K88, located 49 miles west of the accident site, was the closest weather reporting facility. The visibility recorded at 0505 at K88 was 1 statute mile (sm). The temperature and dew point were -4 degrees Celsius and -6 degrees Celsius, respectively. Sky/cloud conditions were not recorded. At 0545, the recorded visibility was 1 sm.
Airports in the vicinity of Kansas City, about 50 miles north and northwest of the accident site, recorded instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) prior to and at the time of the accident. Lee's Summit Municipal Airport (LXT), New Century Air Center (IXD) and Johnson County Executive Airport (OJC), at 0453, all recorded visibilities of 1/4 sm in fog and vertical visibilities of 100 feet. At 0553, LXT recorded 3/4 sm in mist and 100 feet vertical visibility. IXD and OJC recorded 1/4 sm in freezing fog and 100 foot vertical visibility.
Whiteman Air Force Base (SZL), located approximately 54 miles northeast of the accident site, at 0455 and at 0555, recorded visibility at 1 sm in mist, a broken ceiling at 400 feet agl and overcast clouds at 1,500 feet agl. Both the temperature and dew point were -1 degree Celsius at each recording time.
Airports south of the route of flight reported visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prior to and at the time of the accident. Joplin Regional Airport (JLN), located about 55 miles south of the accident site, at 0453, recorded: 7 sm visibility, few clouds at 4,900 feet agl, and an overcast ceiling at 7,000 feet agl.
At 0553, JLN recorded weather conditions were: 6 sm visibility in mist, a broken ceiling at 4,600 feet agl, and overcast clouds at 5,500 feet agl.
The area forecast in effect at the time of the accident was for broken ceilings at 1,000 feet agl and cloud tops at 5,000 feet mean sea level (msl) over the eastern one-third of Kansas, with visibilities at 3 sm in mist. The southwest quarter of Missouri was forecast to have overcast ceilings at 5,000 feet agl and visibilities at 3 sm to 5 sm in mist. The northwest quarter of Missouri was forecast for overcast ceilings at 1,000 feet agl and cloud tops to 4,000 feet msl, with visibilities at 3 sm in mist.
Satellite data from the Geostationary Operations Environmental Satellite number 12 (GOES-12) was reviewed. Satellite imagery taken at 0532 depicted an area of low stratus and fog over the region, which included the departure airport and the accident site. The radiative temperature observed over the accident site was consistent with cloud tops of approximately 5,000 feet msl.
AIRMET Sierra (update 2) was issued at 0245. The AIRMET warned of IFR conditions west-northwest of a line from Dubuque, Iowa, to a point 30 miles east of Oswego, Kansas, and north of a line from 30 miles east of Oswego, Kansas, to Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. The route of flight and accident site were within the region covered by the AIRMET.
According to U.S. Naval Observatory data, civil twilight began at 0641 in the vicinity of Rich Hill, Missouri, on the morning of the accident. Sunrise was at 0708. Moonrise was at 0537.
The pilot received a pre-flight weather briefing from Wichita AFSS at 0407. The briefer advised the pilot that VFR flight was not recommended and that an advisory for IFR conditions was in effect for the eastern two-thirds of Kansas and western Missouri.
During the conversation, the briefer provided conditions at the Emporia Municipal Airport (EMP), located 47 miles northwest of the departure airport, and at Chanute Martin Johnson Airport (CNU), located 13 miles south of the departure airport. Reported EMP conditions were overcast clouds at 200 feet agl and 3/4 sm visibility in mist. CNU conditions were clear below 12,000 feet agl and 6 miles visibility in mist.
The briefer commented on the limited weather reporting in the area, stating: "The problem in that area where you are there is very limited weather reporting . . . except for Emporia and Chanute and . . . they're just drastically different." The pilot replied: "Well we're pretty close to Chanute so I think I'll be OK."
The NTSB meteorology factual report and the complete pre-flight weather briefing transcript are included in the docket information associated with this report.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located in the Four Rivers Conservation Area. This area was uninhabited and encompassed approximately 13,730 acres of waterfowl wetlands.
The aircraft was located on a 150-foot wide by 10-foot high hill, situated between a small river and a marsh area. The site was about 300 feet west of a wooded area and adjacent to a dirt/gravel access road. The coordinates of the main wreckage were determined to be 38 degrees 02.67 minutes north latitude, 94 degrees 16.06 minutes west longitude, at an elevation of 736 feet msl.
Initial impact was at the edge of the river on the north side of the hill. Coordinates of the initial impact point were 38 degrees 02.68 minutes north latitude, 94 degrees 16.08 minutes west longitude. Elevation at this point was measured as 738 feet msl. The impact ground scar was approximately 5 feet wide by 8 feet long.
Two paths of disturbed vegetation, about 6 feet wide each, emanated from the impact point and proceeded over the hill in the direction of main wreckage. The main wreckage came to rest on the opposite side of the hill about 120 feet from the initial impact. The debris path was oriented along a 123-degree magnetic heading.
The propeller was separated from the crankshaft and was located at the initial impact point ground scar. It was oriented vertically with one blade below ground level and the other blade protruding upward. The spinner was at ground level.
The cabin door was separated and located about 8 feet from the initial impact point. The window was broken out.
The right aileron had separated completely and was located approximately 15 feet from the initial impact point. Two pieces associated with the right wing were located in the debris path near the aileron.
The carburetor, attitude indicator and directional gyro were separated from their respective mounting bases and distributed in the debris path.
The main wreckage consisted of the remainder of the right wing, the left wing, the cabin area and the empennage. The right wing skin panels were torn from the sub-structure. The spar was exposed and bent aft relative to the direction of impact. The right flap was located under the wing spar. It was deformed and dented.
The left wing remained attached to the fuselage. It came to rest inverted. The outboard one-half of the leading edge was deformed and crushed in a manner consistent with impact damage. The inboard one-half of the leading edge skin was torn away as far aft as the forward spar. The left aileron and flap were attached. Aileron and flap control rods were attached and intact.
The cabin area was exposed. The instrument panel, cockpit flight controls and throttle quadrant were destroyed. The aileron control column sprockets were broken off of the control columns. The sprocket chains remained attached to the control cables. The rudder pedals and torque tubes were deformed.
The empennage and vertical stabilizer were rotated, as a unit, to the left (relative to the aircraft and the impact path) with the top of the stabilizer resting on the ground. The rudder was attached and was free to move, although movement was limited by stabilizer and rudder damage. The control cable bracket and cables were secure. The stabilator was separated from the airframe and was resting next to the aft fuselage and vertical stabilizer. The control surface was intact, but was dented and deformed. The control rod was securely attached to the stabilator and the control cables.
The stabilator trim jackscrew was intact and positioned with six threads protruding above the collar. This was consistent with a neutral or slight nose-up trim setting, according to the manufacturer.
Flight control continuity was traced from each control surface to the cabin area. The flap torque tube pivot arm was oriented forward (relative to the aircraft) consistent with a zero-degree flap deflection (flaps up).
The engine was separated from the aircraft firewall. It was located approximately 15 feet from the main wreckage.
Internal engine continuity was verified via crankshaft rotation. This was accomplished through the aft accessory section due to separation of the propeller. Each cylinder exhibited compression. The spark plugs were light gray and the electrodes were eroded, both consistent with normal wear.
The carburetor was disassembled and examined. No anomalies were observed. The magnetos were removed. Each produced a spark across the ignition leads when rotated by hand.
Both propeller blades exhibited S-bending and twisting toward low pitch. The assembly had separated at the engine crankshaft. The failure exhibited a 45-degree shear plane consistent with torsional overload.
The vacuum pump was removed. The drive spindle was intact, however, the pump could not be rotated using hand pressure. The unit was disassembled. The vanes and housing were intact and appeared undamaged. The rotor was cracked between the center hole and one of the vane relief slots.
The attitude indicator instrument case was damaged. The attitude indicator gyro exhibited rotational scoring.
The tachometer indicated 4288.22 hours at the accident site. A recording hour meter was not observed at the accident site.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed by the Jackson County Deputy Medical Examiner on February 18, 2004, in Kansas City, Missouri.
The FAA Civil Aero Medical Institute toxicology report stated that no drugs included in the Institute's screening profile were detected.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Radar track data was obtained from the U.S. Air Force. Review of the data indicated a single "1200" VFR transponder beacon code in the vicinity of Rich Hill, Missouri about the time of the accident. The target's ground track was plotted using a commercially available computer program and is included in the docket material associated with this report.
The initial radar contact was at 0508:38 approximately 1-1/2 mile east of K88 at 3,700 feet msl. The aircraft associated with the beacon code proceeded east-northeast and reached a maximum altitude of 5,200 feet msl.
Final radar contact was at 0539:10 at 4,900 feet msl. The coordinates of this contact were 38 degrees 03.18 minutes North latitude and 94 degrees 16.29 minutes West longitude. The location of the final radar contact was about 1/2 nautical mile from the accident site. The magnetic course from the last radar location to the site was 156 degrees.
In the 1-1/2 minutes immediately prior to the final radar data point, the aircraft entered a marked right turn. The turn began about 0537:34 at 4,900 feet msl. The radar track depicted was consistent with a gradually decreasing turn radius.
The lowest expected radar coverage in the vicinity of the accident site was 3,800 feet msl. However, this may be affected by adverse atmospheric conditions and terrain masking.
Fuel at the departure airport was provided by a self-service fueling system. A fueling receipt bearing the pilot's name was provided by the airport manager. It was dated February 16, 2004, at 1341, and indicated 23.22 gallons of 100LL aviation fuel was purchased.
The aircraft was released at the conclusion of the on-scene investigation and was acknowledged by the Sheriff of Vernon County, Missouri.
Parties to the investigation were the Federal Aviation Administration, New Piper Aircraft Inc. and Textron Lycoming.