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On October 25, 2004, at 0827 eastern daylight time, a Beech P35, N32AB, registered to and operated by the Airline Transport Pilot, collided with trees and the ground and burst into flames during a GPS Approach to land on runway 06, at the Aiken Municipal Airport in Aiken, South Carolina. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 and instrument flight rules. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and an instrument flight plan was filed. The pilot received fatal injuries, and the airplane sustained substantial damage. There was a post-impact fire. The flight originated from Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport, Spartanburg, South Carolina at 0748, on October 25, 2004.
According to family members, the pilot had departed earlier that morning from Twin Lakes Airport, a private fly-in community located south of Trenton, South Carolina, to take his grand children to their mother in Spartanburg Downtown Airport in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The airplane then departed Spartanburg for an instrument flight to Aiken Municipal Airport. It was reported by family members that the pilot frequently landed at Aiken when weather conditions precluded landing at the Twin Lakes Airport. Upon arriving in the Aiken area, the pilot requested Air Traffic Control for the published GPS Runway 06 approach. The request was approved, and at 0823, the pilot was cleared for the approach and told to cancel his instrument flight plan after landing. At 0827, radar contact was lost as the airplane descended below 1,000 feet. The pilot never canceled his flight plan. The airport manager at Aiken was contacted by Augusta Air Traffic Control Tower concerning the airplane. The manager stated that the airplane never contacted the Aiken Unicom frequency, and to her knowledge had not landed at Aiken. The airport manager estimated the current Aiken weather as 200- foot ceiling with 1/4-mile visibility. Shortly after the Augusta Air Traffic Control Tower telephone call, the airport manager was notified by the Sheriff's department about an airplane that had collided with trees and was burning on the east side of State Route 980, a road around the west perimeter of the airport. The Sheriff's department reported that the tops of the trees lining the road around the airport were obscured by clouds.
The pilot was a retired Airline Captain with an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, with ratings in airplane single engine land, airplane single engine sea, airplane multiengine land, and glider. Additionally, the pilot held type ratings in B-727, CV-240, CV-340, CV-440, CV-880, CV-990, DC-8, DC-9. L-382, and L-1011. The pilot was also a certified flight instructor for airplane single and multiengine instrument airplanes, and a flight engineer for turbojet and reciprocating engine powered aircraft. The pilot held a third class medical certificate issued on March 11, 2003, with restrictions that he must wear corrective lenses. The pilot reported on his medical certificate application that his total civilian flight hours were 30,000. The pilot's son reported that his father had over 2,500 hours in the accident airplane. The pilot had a Biennial flight review on November 28, 2003. The pilot's flight logbook did not reveal a record of instrument flight time. However, his son reported that he regularly flew in instrument flight conditions.
The Beech P35, S/N D-6974, was a four-seat, single engine, low wing, retractable tricycle landing gear airplane. A review of maintenance records revealed that the annual inspection was completed on May, 2004, at a total airframe time of 3,990.7 hours. At the time of the accident the airplane had operated 26.0 hours since the annual inspection. A review of airplane records revealed the airplane was equipped with an IFR-certified GPS system.
The nearest weather reporting facility at the time of the accident was Daniel Field Airport, Augusta, Georgia, about 24 nautical miles southwest of the site. The Automated surface observing system (ASOS) recorded the following information around the time of the accident. The 0813 surface weather observation was: wind 310-degrees, at 3 knots, visibility 3 statute miles in mist, ceiling overcast at 300 feet, temperature 17-degrees Celsius, dew point temperature 17-degrees Celsius, and altimeter 30.05 inches Hg. The 0853 surface weather observation was: wind calm, visibility 2.5 statute miles in mist, ceiling overcast at 300 feet, temperature 17-degrees Celsius, dew point temperature 17-degrees Celsius, and altimeter 30.07 inches Hg. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident.
The GPS Runway 06 approach plate showed that the Minimum Decent Altitude (MDA) was 900 feet Mean Sea Level (MSL) or 386 feet Above Ground Level (AGL), and the minimum weather conditions required to land was 400-foot ceiling with one statute mile of visibility. A review of the terrain height revealed that the accident site elevation was 436 feet MSL. The touchdown zone height was 514 feet MSL.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage was located in a wooded area adjacent to the east side of State Route 980. The airplane collided with trees about 4,175 feet short of runway 06 and about 340 feet left of the published inbound approach course. The right wingtip and aileron were separated from the airplane, and the leading edge of the right wing was crushed inward. The damage to the right wing was consistent with having struck trees similar in size to those observed at the accident site. The trees at the accident site exhibited scraped bark, and their tops separated at a level about 40-feet AGL. The airplane collided with the ground and a tree trunk while in an inverted attitude. The airplane was found resting against the base of a large tree trunk with its propeller spinner dug into the tree's bark. No evidence was observed to indicate that the airplane had slid into the tree. The post impact fire had damaged the cabin structure, leaving only the wing carry through structures and internal steel components. The landing gear actuator was fire damaged. The instrument panel lower left and right sides, as well as the mounting structure of the engine controls, were damaged by fire.
Both wing wheel well areas and the wings leading edges covering the two wing fuel tanks were fire damaged. The left wing flap and aileron remained attached to the wing. The right wing flap remained attached to the wing. The rear fuselage and empennage flight control surfaces remained attached to the rear fuselage. The right ruddervator counterweight had separated but was located at the accident site.
The rudder flight control cables were found intact and connected to the differential controller. The forward rudder bell crank had been fire damaged. The aileron flight control cables and control chain were found intact and connected to the aileron bell cranks. The aileron sprocket was not located. The pitch flight control cable was found connected to the differential controller and was intact up to the control column. The pitch cable's attachment to the control column had been damaged by fire. The pitch trim actuator was correlated to a 4 to 5-degrees nose up trim condition. The left flap actuator was damaged by fire. The right flap actuator was partially consumed, but its extension was consistent with an actuator set at a flap down (30-degrees) position. The flap drive system was found to be intact from the left flap actuator, to the flap drive gear, and then to the right flap actuator.
The fuel selector valve was found positioned to the left wing tank. The fuel plumbing on the engine side of the firewall was exposed to the post-impact fire but remained intact. The fuel fittings attaching the fuel lines to the fuel metering unit and engine-driven fuel pump were observed intact.
The engine throttle and mixture cables remained intact and connected to the throttle and fuel metering unit. The throttle plate was positioned 3/4 closed. The propeller control cable remained intact, and the propeller governor was positioned at a high RPM setting. The fuel manifold valve was damaged. The engine driven fuel pump drive coupling remained intact. The propeller was a Hartzell unit, and the propeller blades were bent aft and twisted slightly near their tips.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The State Medical Examiner, Newberry, South Carolina, conducted a postmortem examination of the pilot on October 26, 2004. The reported cause of death was "Multiple Blunt Force Injuries", and the manner of death was Airplane Accident.. The Forensic Toxicology Research Section, Federal Aviation Administration, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma performed postmortem toxicology of specimens from the pilot. There was no Carbon Monoxide or Cyanide detected in he blood, there was no Ethanol detected in the Vitreous. However, there was Metoprolol detected in the blood and urine.
The wreckage was released to U.S. Aviation Underwriters on July 28, 2005.