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On June 25, 2005, about 1235 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-235, N235G, was destroyed when it impacted a residence in Fairview Township, Pennsylvania, shortly after takeoff from Capital City Airport (CXY), Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The certificated commercial pilot was seriously injured, and three passengers were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the planned flight to Igor I Sikorsky Memorial Airport (BDR), Bridgeport, Connecticut. An instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
The pilot stated that he obtained a weather briefing and filed a flight plan via DUAT (data user access terminal). A friend drove the pilot and family to the airport, and helped with the loading of baggage. The pilot obtained an instrument clearance, boarded the passengers, and started the engine. The pilot then taxied the airplane to runway 26, a 5,001-foot-long, 150-foot-wide, asphalt runway. Prior to departure, the pilot performed a run-up, and no anomalies were noted. he set the flaps to the 10-degree flap extension position, and initiated a takeoff on runway 26. The pilot recalled the following:
"...the airplane did not seem to have the full power it had on the three previous takeoffs but [I] made the decision [that] it was too late to abort. I pushed the nose over and noted 100 mph on the airspeed indicator. The next thing I remembered was the sound of impact and what seemed to be immediate flame."
The friend observed the pilot file a flight plan via computer, and purchase fuel and oil. The pilot then performed a preflight inspection of the airplane, which included sampling the fuel from the wingtip tanks. Review of fueling records revealed that the pilot added 20.4 gallons of 100LL aviation gasoline to the wingtip tanks, and 1 quart of oil to the engine.
One witness reported that the airplane used the majority of the runway, and didn't appear to gain altitude. Another witness was driving his car near the airport. He stated that the accident airplane seemed low, with the wings rocking. The pilot appeared to be struggling with the controls.
A third witness, who resided in the mobile home community where the accident occurred, stated that the accident airplane's engine sounded like it was "missing" for a period of approximately 10 seconds. The airplane was descending in an upright attitude, before it impacted a residence. A post crash fire ensued, which ignited the propane tanks of the residence. A fourth witness, who also resided at the mobile home community, stated that the engine was "sputtering" as the airplane descended. The witness helped move the pilot away from the post crash fire. The pilot repeated that he "couldn't get air, couldn't get altitude."
A fifth witness was an employee at a fixed based operator at CXY. The witness observed the accident airplane during takeoff, and heard "engine popping noise."
An emergency medical technician responded to the accident site and spoke with the pilot. The pilot was conscious, alert, and able to provide his name, age, and family information. The pilot stated that he was having difficulty with the airplane toward the end of the runway, and there was not a lot of runway remaining. He last recalled the "airplane shaking and sputtering" as it approached trees.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane single engine land and instrument airplane. He also held a flight instructor certificate, with ratings for airplane single engine land and instrument airplane.
The pilot had a total flight experience of 1,636 hours; of which, 188 hours were in the same make and model as the accident airplane. In addition, the pilot flew 144 hours during the 90 days preceding the accident.
The pilot's most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) second class medical certificate was issued on November 1, 2004.
The airplane was equipped with a Lycoming O-540 reciprocating engine. The airplane's most recent annual inspection was completed on November 18, 2004. At that time, the airplane had accumulated 2,418.69 total hours of operation. In addition, the engine oil and oil filter were changed on April 6, 2005. At that time, the airplane had accumulated 2,461.47 total hours of operation. The airplane flew about 20 hours from the time of the last oil change, until the accident.
The reported weather at CXY, at 1256, was: wind from 020 degrees at 6 knots; visibility 7 miles; sky clear; temperature 90 degrees F, dew point 63 degrees F; altimeter 30.09 inches Hg.
The wreckage was examined at the accident site on June 25 and 26, 2005, and all major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene. The main wreckage was resting upright, and oriented about a heading of 270 degrees. The cockpit, cabin, and right wing were destroyed by fire. The empennage and left wing remained attached, but also sustained fire damage. The left wing exhibited leading edge impact damage. The horizontal stabilator was resting approximately neutral, and the vertical stabilizer was bent left. Flight control continuity was established from the rudder, the horizontal stabilator, and the horizontal stabilator trim to the mid-cabin area. A jackscrew measurement of the stabilator trim corresponded to an approximate neutral setting.
The left aileron remained attached, and was approximately neutral. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the left aileron to the mid-cabin area. The left flap was partially separated, and deflected downward. The right aileron bellcrank was separated from the right wing. The control cables remained attached to the right aileron bellcrank, and extended to the mid-cabin area.
The flap handle was found in the 10-degree flap extension position. The flap control sprocket was bent, and the bicycle chain had separated on the underside of the sprocket. The flap control sprocket position corresponded to a flaps retracted setting. The fuel selector valve was positioned to the left auxiliary (wingtip) tank.
A majority of one propeller blade had melted, and approximately 8 inches of the blade remained attached to the hub. The other propeller blade was intact, bent aft, and exhibited chordwise scratches and leading edge gouging. The engine exhibited fire damage, and the carburetor, mechanical fuel pump, and electrical fuel pump were destroyed. The magnetos and propeller governor also sustained fire damage, and could not be tested. The oil filter and top spark plugs were removed from the engine. The spark plug electrodes were intact and light gray in color. An initial attempt to rotate the crankshaft by hand was unsuccessful. The accessory housing was removed from the rear of the engine, and the crankshaft rotated with some resistance. Crankshaft and camshaft continuity were confirmed. Valve train continuity was confirmed from the camshaft to the pushrods.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, the fueling truck used to fuel the accident airplane, was tested early morning on June 25,2005. No water or contamination was noted in the fuel samples.
On September 6, 2005, the engine was disassembled and inspected at the manufacturer's facility, under the supervision of a Safety Board investigator. The valve covers, propeller, magnetos, and propeller governor were previously removed at the accident site. Carbon build-up was observed on the top of all six pistons, and no anomalies were observed on the cylinders. The connecting rods, pushrods, pistons, piston pins, piston rings, and connecting rod bearings were all intact with no discrepancies noted; except for heat damage on the number two, three, five, and six connecting rod bearings.
The valves, valve springs, and rocker arms were found intact with some heat damage noted. The crankshaft, camshaft, and lifters were intact with no discrepancies observed. In addition, the muffler was disassembled, and the internal muffler baffling was intact with no discrepancies noted. The oil pump was intact, and heat damage was observed.
All heat damage was consistent with the post-crash fire.
Weight and Balance
A review of the aircraft loading revealed that it was about 100 pounds below the maximum gross takeoff weight of 3,000 lbs.
Review of a Piper PA-28-235 information manual revealed that: at a density altitude of 3,000 feet, with flaps retracted, at the maximum gross takeoff weight, on a paved level dry runway, with zero wind, the airplane's takeoff distance would be approximately 1,900 feet to clear a 50-foot obstacle. The takeoff performance chart did not account for a 10-degree flap extension or a 3 knot tailwind component.
Further review of the information manual revealed that the published best rate of climb speed was 100 mph. In addition, under similar conditions, the published climb performance was approximately 600 feet per minute.
The wreckage was released to a representative of the owner's insurance company on June 26, 2005.