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On July 27, 2004, at 0930 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-181, N91075, was substantially damaged when it impacted a residence in Exton, Pennsylvania. The certificated private pilot and passenger were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed for the flight that departed the Chester County G.O. Carlson Airport (40N), Coatesville, Pennsylvania, to the Portland International Airport (PWM), Portland, Maine. The personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
Information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed the pilot contacted the Williamsport Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) on the evening prior to the accident. He requested and was given an outlook weather briefing for a flight the following morning from Coatesville to Portland, Maine. The briefer explained that the forecast for a 1030 departure would include a stationary front in the area. The cloud ceiling at 0900 was forecast to be 2,000 feet overcast with 4 miles visibility, and the ceiling at 1100 was forecast to be "occasionally 900 feet overcast." The briefer further stated that the weather was expected to "go down as the day goes on." The pilot responded that he "could shoot an approach back in if necessary," and he stated he would call back in the morning for another update.
On the morning of the accident, at approximately 0846, the pilot called the Williamsport AFSS to file an IFR flight plan, but did not request any weather information.
According to employees at a fixed base operator (FBO) at the Chester County Airport, the airplane arrived on July 24, 2004, and remained at the airport until the morning of the accident. Shortly after 0800 on July 27, 2004, the pilot and passenger arrived at the airport and requested fuel for the airplane. The pilot then performed a preflight inspection on the airplane, and purchased 27 gallons of fuel, which "topped" the fuel tanks.
A witness, who was also an instrument-rated pilot, had a conversation with the pilot prior to his departure. The pilot asked the witness how to "go about getting a clearance." The witness instructed him to call Philadelphia Approach by using the phone on the counter, and the pilot did so. After the pilot finished his phone conversation, the witness stated to him that the weather was "way below standards," to which the pilot replied that the weather "was nice where he was going." The witness asked the pilot if he had checked the weather radar, because it appeared to him that the pilot would be flying "in this nasty stuff all the way up." The pilot shrugged his shoulders and walked away.
The witness observed the airplane depart, and approximately 50 feet above the runway, it disappeared into the clouds. The witness reported that the weather was "foggy and rainy," and he could not see the trees on the opposite side of the runway.
A second witness heard the "roaring" of an airplane from inside her home, so loud that it shook the windows. She then looked out the window and saw the airplane in a "very steep angle, almost straight up and down," flying in between two homes on her street. The witness described the engine sound as "revving," or as if someone were "accelerating and decelerating." She then heard the sound of an impact.
Several other witnesses heard the airplane prior to its impact. They described the engine sounding "very loud," running at "full throttle."
According to air traffic control (ATC) information provided by the FAA, at 0908, the pilot contacted Philadelphia Approach Control and requested an IFR clearance to Portland, Maine. Shortly after reporting airborne at 0919, the pilot was given a clearance to climb and maintain 4,000 feet, and fly heading 090-degrees. At 0923, the pilot reported climbing through 3,200 feet, and at 0926 the pilot was instructed to turn left heading 050-degrees and "expect direct Allentown a little further northeast." The pilot acknowledged the transmission. At 1327, when the controller observed the airplane passing through the assigned 050-degree heading, he stated, "warrior zero seven five is that heading zero five zero" and then "cleared direct allentown." No further transmissions were received from the pilot.
Review of radar data revealed, a target departed Chester County on an eastbound heading, and climbed to 2,500 feet. The target then turned to the northeast and continued to climb to 4,000 feet. Approximately 30 seconds later, the target began a right 360-degree turn, descending slightly. The target then stopped its descent briefly, while continuing a right turn, and returned to 4,000 feet. Seconds later, the target descended through 2,500 feet.
The accident occurred during the hours of daylight, at 40 degrees, 03 minutes north longitude, 75 degrees, 36 minutes west latitude.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, and instrument airplane. His most recent FAA third class medical certificate was issued on July 23, 2002. At that time, he reported 137 hours of total flight experience.
The pilot's logbook was located along the wreckage path. Examination of the logbook revealed entries from March 9, 2003, to July 24, 2004. The pilot's total flight time, as of July 24th was 560.4 hours. He had accumulated 11.9 hours of actual instrument time, and 114 hours of simulated instrument time, as of that date.
The pilot received his instrument rating on December 31, 2003, and during the 6 months prior to the accident, he performed 4 approaches, and accumulated 4.5 hours of actual instrument flight time.
The airplane and engine logbooks were also located along the wreckage path. Examination of the logs revealed the last annual inspection was performed on July 9, 2004, with no abnormalities noted.
A Safety Board meteorologist performed a weather study of conditions at the time of the accident. According to the report, overcast clouds, high relative humidity, and patchy light precipitation was present over Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Scattered to broken clouds were present in Maine.
The Area Forecasts (FA) for Pennsylvania, valid until 2200, included marginal VFR and IFR conditions throughout the day with precipitation and mist. The FA for Maine included Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions.
AIRMET Sierra was issued at 0345, for IFR conditions and mountain obscurations.
Surface observations reported at Pottstown Airport, about 15 miles to the north of the accident site, at 0919, included 4 miles visibility, with light rain and mist, an overcast cloud layer at 400 feet, temperature 66 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 66 degrees Fahrenheit, and barometric pressure setting of 30.04 inches Hg.
The initial impact point was the roof of a private residence, where a section of the right wing was imbedded. Located directly under the roof impact, in the garage of the residence, was a portion of the right wing fuel tank. Additionally, located outside the garage doors, at the base of the residence, was the right aileron.
The wreckage path extended from the front yard of the impacted residence, across a perpendicular street, and into the front yard of a second residence. The wreckage path was oriented on a heading of 095-degrees, and was approximately 173 feet in length.
Approximately 20 feet from the initial impact point, imbedded in the front yard of the first residence, was the airplane's propeller, bent in a U-shape. Also located in the front yard were sections of both wings, the right main landing gear wheel, the right flap, and a section of vertical stabilizer skin.
The engine came to rest, 127 feet from the initial impact point, in the front yard of the second residence, and the fuselage section of the airplane was located approximately 132 feet from the initial impact point. Sections of the left wing, the left main landing gear assembly, the nose gear assembly, and separated engine accessories were also located along the wreckage path, in the front yard of the second residence.
All flight controls were accounted for at the scene, and flight control continuity was confirmed through the control cables. The cable breaks displayed "broomstraw" fractures.
The engine was rotated by hand at the propeller flange. Rotation was observed to the rear accessory drive; however, due to impact damage sustained by the engine, valve train continuity could only be observed on cylinder numbers three and four. A screwdriver was used to confirm camshaft intake and exhaust lobe movement on cylinder numbers one and two. Compression was not obtained due to impact damage sustained to the push rods. All cylinders were examined with a borescope, and no anomalies were noted on the piston domes or valve heads.
Both magnetos were rotated by hand, and produced spark at all ignition leads. The top and bottom spark plugs were removed; their electrodes were intact and light gray in color.
Examination of the U-shaped propeller revealed the tip of one blade was separated, and the leading edge of the other blade displayed nicks and gouges.
Examination of the attitude indicator and directional gyro instruments revealed rotational scoring on their gyro casings and gyro housings.
The vacuum pump was disassembled, and examination of its vanes revealed they were impact damaged.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Chester County Coroner's Office performed an autopsy on the pilot on July 28, 2004.
The FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma conducted toxicological testing on the pilot.
According to Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 61.57(c), Instrument Experience, "no person may act as pilot in command under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR, unless within the preceding 6 calendar months, that person has: performed and logged under actual or simulated instrument conditions,(i) at least six instrument approaches, (ii) holding procedures; and (iii) intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigation systems."
The wreckage was released to a representative of the owner's insurance company on June 21, 2005.