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On December 5, 2004, approximately 2140 central standard time, a Piper PA-28-180 single-engine airplane, N4750L, was destroyed when it impacted terrain while maneuvering near the Hammond Municipal Airport (HDC) near Hammond, Louisiana. The private pilot, sole occupant of the airplane, was fatally injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot. No flight plan was filed for the cross-country flight that originated at the Houma-Terrebonne Airport (HUM) near Houma, Louisiana, approximately 2100, and destined for Hammond Municipal Airport. Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
According to a witness, who owned several airplanes that were based at Hammond Airport, the pilot had recently purchased the airplane and based it at the airport. On the day before the accident, he said the pilot arrived at the airport about 1630-1700 and proceeded to perform touch-and-go landings in the traffic pattern for approximately two hours. Half of the landings were executed in daylight conditions and the other half were conducted in night conditions.
The following day, the pilot arrived at Hammond Airport about 15-20 minutes before sundown, about 1630. He parked his vehicle in front of his hangar, pulled the airplane out, started the engine and taxied to the active runway. It was still light outside when he departed on the 58.7 nautical mile flight to Houma-Terrebonne Airport.
The witness left the airport around 1845, at which time he noted that the humidity was "very high." He said, "Everything was covered in condensation, the ceiling was 1,200 to 1,400 feet above ground level (agl), the visibility was 2-4 miles before the sun set and had it had reduced to about 1-mile with haze after the sun had set."
According to an air traffic controller at Houma-Terrebonne Airport, the pilot contacted the control tower about 1653 when he was approximately 30 miles from the airport. He reported that he had the current automated terminal information system (ATIS) information, which included a ceiling of 700 feet broken and a visibility of three miles. The pilot requested a special visual flight rules (SVFR) clearance to land and the controller advised the pilot to contact the tower when he was 10 miles from the airport.
At 1708, the pilot contacted the tower and the controller informed him that runway 18/36 was closed and that he was cleared for the SVFR approach for runway 12. The controller also told the pilot to contact the tower when he was within two miles of the airport. The pilot agreed and later contacted the tower when he was two miles from the airport. The pilot was then cleared to land on runway 12.
According to the controller, the cloud layer was "ragged" which limited his ability to make visual contact with the airplane. He searched along the final approach course for runway 12, but was unable to see the airplane. Then, out of the corner of his eye, the controller saw the airplane when it was 150-200 feet above the landing threshold of runway 18, which was closed and unlit. He said that he immediately instructed the pilot to make a missed approach. The pilot heeded the instructions and began to climb. Then, the controller cleared the pilot to land on runway 12, which the pilot accomplished without incident at 1720.
After the airplane landed, one of the pilot's friends who was waiting for him to arrive, called the controller and told him that the pilot was meeting them at a certain location on the airport.
The control tower closed at 1900, and the controller left the tower facility about 1915. He said the pilot did not depart prior to the tower closing.
According to a friend of the pilot, who had an airplane based at Houma-Terrabonne Airport, he said that the pilot had called him around 1530-1600 on the day of the accident. The pilot wanted to fly down to Houma for dinner and to "gain some cross-country experience." The friend said that the pilot arrived in Houma around 1700, before dark. After he arrived, they had dinner and did some "hangar flying." Around 2015, the pilot called DeRidder Flight Service Station (FSS) to get an update on the weather, since he planned to fly back to Hammond, Louisiana, later that evening. The friend did not hear the briefing, but said that when the pilot returned back to the hangar after calling FSS, he said that the weather was "3,000 scattered in New Orleans and it looked good." The pilot hung around the hangar for a few more minutes, then began to preflight his airplane. The friend asked him if he needed fuel, and the pilot said "no." Then the pilot also asked his friend for the proper approach frequency. The friend gave him the approach frequency and told the pilot to call him when he landed at Hammond.
In addition, the friend said the weather at the time was marginal VFR, and he asked the pilot if he was sure that he wanted to fly back to Hammond. The pilot said that he did. The friend thought that maybe the pilot had something pressing that he needed to do the next day, and that is why he wanted to return that evening.
A witness, an automobile mechanic, was standing outside his home located approximately a 1/4-mile south of the accident site about 2135, when he heard the sound of an airplane approaching from the south and heading toward the north. Although he could not see the airplane, he said that it was flying "low" and that the engine sounded "good." Shortly after the airplane flew over his house, the engine started to "miss out" as if was "starving for fuel." Approximately two minutes later the witness heard the sound of the airplane impacting the ground.
The accident occurred at night approximately 30 degrees, 33 minutes north latitude and 090 degrees 24 minutes west longitude.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. The pilot's most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third-class medical certificate was issued on October 18, 2004. At that time, the pilot reported a total of 87 hours of flight time. The pilot's logbooks were not made available for review during the course of the investigation.
At 2139, the weather observation facility at Hammond Municipal Airport, located approximately 2.6 miles southeast of the accident site, reported wind from 170 degrees at 9 knots, visibility 5 statute miles in mist, overcast ceiling 500 feet, temperature 72 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 69 degrees Fahrenheit, and a barometric pressure setting of 30.00 inches of Mercury.
An on-scene examination of the airplane wreckage was conducted on December 6-7, 2004. All major components of the airplane were accounted for at the site. The airplane impacted brush and muddy terrain and came to rest upright at an elevation of approximately 88 feet mean sea level (msl) on a magnetic heading of 183 degrees.
The point of initial impact was along a line of several trees that ran parallel to the wreckage path on a magnetic heading of approximately 160 degrees. The tips of the tree limbs were severed and impact marks were evident at points progressively closer to the ground along the wreckage path prior to the airplane's first contact with the ground. The first ground impact mark, containing the nose gear, was approximately 32 feet beyond the initial impact with the trees. The main wreckage came to rest approximately 29 feet beyond the first ground impact mark.
The main wreckage included the cockpit, fuselage, empennage, tail section, the left and right wings, and the engine. The post-impact fire consumed the cockpit, forward fuselage, and inboard section of the left wing, including the fuel tank. The right wing was not damaged by fire, and the fuel tank was not breached. The flaps were found in the fully retracted position, and the elevator trim tab was in the full nose-up position.
The engine sustained impact damage. The propeller remained attached to the engine. Engine and valve train continuity were established by manually rotating the propeller. While the engine was being rotated, compression was established on each cylinder. Both magnetos were removed from the engine and examined. Timing was verified and when manually rotated, spark was observed at each outlet point. The spark plugs were removed and appeared to be dark gray in color, except for the #2 and #4 bottom spark plugs, which were oil soaked.
Examination of the two-bladed propeller revealed that both blades exhibited leading edge polishing and chordwise scratches. However, one of the blades was bent aft approximately 45° and was twisted to low pitch, starting approximately 10-inches from the center of the propeller hub.
The fuel selector valve was found set to the right wing fuel tank. Several ounces of blue-colored aviation fuel were found in the engine fuel strainer and in the fuel line from the engine driven fuel pump. The carburetor fuel bowl was damaged from impact and contained no fuel. The fuel inlet screen was removed and was absent of debris.
The vacuum pump was removed from the engine it rotated freely by hand and produced suction and compression. The unit was disassembled and no anomalies were noted.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot on December 6, 2004, by the Tangipahoa Parish Coroner's Office, Independance, Louisiana.
The FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, conducted toxicological testing. The pilot tested positive for amphetamine and phenylpropanolamine (PPA). According to the FAA's Southwest Regional Flight Surgeon, the use of amphetamine by the pilot would have precluded medical certification if it had been reported to the FAA at the time of his medical application. A review of the pilot's past medical applications revealed that he did not report the use of this substance. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had banned phenylpropanolamine due to medical concerns.
A review of fuel receipts revealed that the pilot last purchased fuel (32.18 gallons of 100 LL) on October 31, 2004, at the Hammond Municipal Airport.
The Piper PA-28-180 has a total fuel capacity of 50 gallons (25 gallons in each tank) with 48 usable gallons (24 gallons in each tank).
The wreckage was released to a representative of the owner's insurance company on January 25, 2005.