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On April 25, 2005, at 2343 central daylight time (CDT), a Piper PA-28-181, N5360F, piloted by a private pilot, ditched into Lake Michigan about 6.3 nautical miles (nm) east of the lakeshore near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The airplane had experienced a loss of engine power while in cruise flight over Lake Michigan. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was operating under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The pilot survived the ditching and is presumed drowned. The cross-country flight departed from Niagara Falls International Airport (IAG), Niagara Falls, New York, around 2033 eastern daylight time, and was en route to Dane County Regional Airport (MSN), Madison, Wisconsin.
Unless specified, all additional times will be referenced to eastern daylight time.
According to employees of a Fixed Base Operator (FBO) located at IAG, the accident airplane arrived on their ramp around 2000. The pilot requested that the airplane be "topped off" with fuel. The airplane was serviced with 40.4 gallons of 100 low-lead aviation fuel. The line technician who serviced the airplane spoke to the pilot about his proposed route of flight and if he intended to "refuel at Muskegon, Michigan." The pilot reportedly said that he did not plan to refuel at Muskegon because "the cloud bases were projected to be at 4,000 feet with rain." The pilot was not instrument rated. The pilot stated that his route of flight would be direct to MSN, which would take him over Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The pilot reportedly "assured [the line technician] the trip was planned for three hours and he had four hours of fuel on board." The pilot reported having "plenty of fuel reserves" after recently flying the same route (eastbound). The line technician reported that the pilot completed a "complete walk-around, tested the control surfaces, and visually looked to see how much fuel was on board." The accident airplane departed the FBO ramp around 2030.
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Control (ATC) records, the pilot was cleared for takeoff on runway 24 at 2033. At 2039, the airplane was told to contact Toronto Center for continued ATC services. Aircraft radar track data was collected from Canadian and FAA ATC radar facilities. The first reinforced beacon return associated with the accident airplane was recorded at 2035:48 (hhmm:ss). The plotted radar track data indicated that the pilot proceeded direct toward MSN at 3,500 feet mean sea level.
The pilot did not communicate with any Canadian ATC facilities while traveling through Canadian airspace. At 2220:22, the pilot contacted the Flint Approach Control requesting flight following services. The accident airplane continued direct toward MSN and was handled by several FAA ATC facilities along the route of flight. At 2356:28, the accident airplane flew over Muskegon County Airport (MKG), Muskegon, Michigan, just before crossing the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. At this point the airplane had been airborne for about 3 hours and 24 minutes.
At 0028:20, the pilot told Milwaukee Approach Control that he needed to refuel before continuing on to MSN. Between 0028:27 and 0033:16, the pilot and the Air Traffic Controller discussed where the pilot wanted to divert to for the fuel stop. The pilot decided to land at General Mitchell International Airport (MKE), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was told to expect runway 19R. At 0034:41 (2334:41 CDT), the pilot said "Milwaukee Approach, I'm, I'm running out of fuel right now." At this point the airplane had been airborne for about 4 hours and 2 minutes. The airplane was 15.3 nautical miles (nm) from MKE on a 069 degree magnetic bearing.
Between 0035 and 0039, the accident airplane was on a direct course toward MKE. At 0039:16, the Air Traffic Controller asked the pilot to turn on his landing light in attempt to visually locate the airplane. The radar track data showed the airplane initiating a right turn toward the northwest at this time. At 0039:21, the pilot responded "Landing lights on, but I'm in the clouds." The prevailing weather conditions at MKE included scattered clouds at 1,500 feet above ground level (agl), broken clouds at 3,000 feet agl, and overcast clouds at 12,000 feet msl. The reported ground visibility exceeded 10 statute miles.
At 0040:25, the pilot said "I have the land in sight, but I don't think I can glide that far." At 0042:02, the pilot said "I'm gonna be about touching water soon." The last reinforced beacon return was recorded at 0042:51 (2342:51 CDT). The last recorded position was 8.2 nm from MKE on a 053 degree magnetic bearing. The aircraft was 6.3 nm directly east of the nearest shoreline.
At 2345:03 CDT, the pilot used his mobile phone to call 911 after ditching in Lake Michigan. During the 911 conversation the pilot reported that the airplane had run out of fuel, he did not have any flotation equipment and he knew how to swim. The 911 emergency call lasted 2 minutes and 16 seconds.
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) began search and rescue operations at 2345 CDT and terminated the operations on April 26, 2005, at 1545 CDT. The pilot and airplane were not located during the USCG search and rescue operations.
On April 28, 2005, the airplane was located at the bottom of Lake Michigan at a depth of 148 feet. The sunken airplane was about 400 feet south-southwest of the last recorded radar position. The pilot's body was never located.
According to FAA records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. The pilot certificate was issued on June 19, 2003. The records show the pilot's last medical examination was completed on November 1, 2002, when he was issued a first-class medical certificate with no restrictions.
The pilot's flight logbook was not recovered during the investigation. The airplane operator reported that the pilot's total flight time was about 120 hours, of which 30 hours were in the same make/model as the accident airplane.
The accident airplane was a 1977 Piper PA-28-181, Archer II, serial number 28-7790099. The Archer II is an all-metal airplane that incorporates a semimonocoque fuselage and empennage design. The airplane is equipped with fully cantilevered wings, wing flaps, a fixed-pitch propeller, and a fixed tricycle landing gear. The airplane is configured to seat four occupants and has a certified maximum takeoff weight of 2,550 lbs.
The accident airplane was issued a standard airworthiness certificate on September 23, 1976. A review of the maintenance records showed that the airplane had undergone an annual inspection on December 9, 2004. The airplane had accumulated 8,328 hours total time in service at the time of the annual inspection. According to the recording hour meter readings from the wreckage and the maintenance logbooks, the airplane had accumulated an additional 87 hours since the annual inspection.
The airplane was equipped with a 180 horsepower Lycoming O-360-A4M engine, serial number L-22260-36A. The O-360-A4M is a four-cylinder, 360 cubic inch displacement, carbureted, reciprocating engine. The engine had accumulated 733 hours since major overhaul. The propeller was a Sensenich 76EM8S5-0-60, serial number 17647K.
The closest weather reporting station to the accident site was located at MKE, about 8.2 nm southwest of the accident site. The MKE Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) recorded at 2352 CDT: Wind from 250 degrees at 14 knots; visibility at least 10 statute miles; scattered clouds at 1,500 feet agl, broken ceiling at 3,000 feet agl, overcast ceiling at 12,000 feet agl; temperature 8 degrees Celsius; dew point 4 degrees Celsius; and altimeter setting 29.41 inches of mercury.
The several winds aloft forecasts were reviewed for the route of flight. The forecast winds at 3,000 and 6,000 feet were out of the west (240 to 280 degrees true), between 26 and 42 knots.
According to FAA Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) records, the pilot received a weather briefing on April 24, 2005, at 1415. There was no record of the pilot receiving an AFSS weather briefing within the 24 hours prior to departure.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage was examined by a National Transportation Safety Board investigator on July 7, 2005. The wreckage was recovered to a wharf area in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The entire airplane was recovered in one piece. All flight control surfaces remained attached to their respective hinges. Flight control continuity was established for the entire flight control system. Both fuel tanks had collapsed. Both fuel caps were found properly installed. The fuel selector was positioned to draw fuel from the left tank.
The engine remained attached to its engine mounts and the fuselage firewall. Engine crankshaft continuity was established by rotating the crankshaft at the propeller flange. Rear accessory section and valve train continuity was established while the engine crankshaft was rotated. There was compression on all cylinders as the engine crankshaft was rotated. Both magnetos did not produce spark when rotated, but the magnetos were still wet from being immersed in lake water. The propeller remained attached to the engine propeller flange and exhibited no damage.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Engine performance graphs for a 1977 Piper PA-28-181 indicated that the expected fuel flow was 10.5 gallons/hour at the 75% best power setting. The fuel flow was 8.8 gallons/hour at the 75% best economy setting. The listed fuel flow values assumed a properly leaned engine. The fuel flow values for engine power settings greater than 75% were not provided.
The 1977 Piper PA-28-181 had 48 gallons of useable fuel.
The pilot reported the loss of engine power after being airborne for about 4 hours and 2 minutes.
The elapsed time between the first and last aircraft radar track returns was 4 hours, 7 minutes and 3 seconds.
The direct distance from IAG to MSN was 454.8 nm. The direct distance from IAG to MKE was 392.5 nm. According to aircraft radar track data, the accident airplane flew about 390.0 nm during the accident flight.
Parties to the investigation included the FAA, Piper Aircraft, Inc., and Textron Lycoming.