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On August 19, 2005, approximately 0950 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA-32-300, N4222R, owned by B&B Flying LLC, and operated by a private pilot, was destroyed when it impacted terrain 8 miles west of Vail, Colorado. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was being conducted under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 without a flight plan. The pilot and his passenger sustained serious injuries. The cross-country flight departed Rock Springs, Wyoming, approximately 0840, and was en route to Leadville, Colorado.
According to one witness in the Vail area, he observed the airplane flying extremely low over the Interstate 70 corridor, from west to east. According to local law enforcement personnel, the airplane was flying eastbound over Interstate 70, with the intention of photographing a race that was taking place along the interstate. The passenger stated that they had difficulty maintaining altitude and the canyon ahead was too narrow in which to turn around.
According to several witnesses, the airplane touched down in the eastbound lane of Interstate 70, and impacted a road sign and the dividing barrier. The airplane crossed the dividing barrier, traveled across both westbound lanes of the interstate, and continued upslope into sapling trees. The airplane came to rest, facing upslope to the north.
In a statement submitted by the pilot, he stated they were flying along Interstate 70 with the intensions of taking pictures near Copper Mountain. The pilot stated they encountered several "extreme" downdrafts and were unable to maintain altitude. The pilot stated he performed a "touch and go" landing in the east bound lane of Interstate 70 and was able to fly 50 to 75 feet above the road. The airplane encountered another downdraft, impacted the eastbound lane of Interstate 70, impacted a highway sign and bounced over the concrete barrier, traveled across the westbound lane of Interstate 70 and came to rest off of the road.
The male pilot, age 42, held a private pilot certificate with airplane single engine land privileges and an instrument rating. The pilot was issued a third class airman medical certificate on April 6, 2005. The certificate contained no limitations. According to the 6120.1/2 Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report, the pilot had logged approximately 660 hours total time; 580 of which was logged in the make and model of the accident airplane.
N4222R, a Piper PA-32-300 (serial number 32-40587), was manufactured in 1969. It was equipped with a Lycoming TIO-540-KIA5 engine rated for 310 horsepower. The engine was equipped with a Hartzell HC-C2YK-IBF, 3 bladed, controllable pitch propeller.
The airplane was registered to B & B Flying, LLC, located in Green River, Wyoming. The airplane was maintained under an annual inspection program. The maintenance records indicated that the airplane underwent an annual inspection on September 28, 2004. The airplane had been flown 229 hours since the last inspection.
The temperature in Leadville, located 21 miles south of the accident location, was recorded as 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Density altitude was calculated to be 11,067 feet.
There were no PIREPS (pilot reports) for turbulence in the area. The pilot reported encountering "extreme" downdrafts prior to the accident.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The National Transportation Safety Board arrived on scene approximately 1300 on August 19, 2005. The accident site was located approximately 20 feet north of the westbound lane of Interstate 70, at mile marker 186.5. The accident site elevation was estimated at 9,500 feet mean sea level. The terrain sloped up towards the north, south, and east, of the wreckage location. Lower terrain extended towards the west.
The initial ground impact point was located in the eastbound lane of Interstate 70, approximately 140 feet south and west of the main wreckage. The ground scar was approximately 2 feet in length and contained a rubber material consistent with the left landing gear tire. Seven additional skid marks followed the initial skid mark and were approximately 6 inches in length.
The east and westbound lanes of Interstate 70 are separated by a concrete barrier, approximately 3 feet in height. A road sign extended up from this concrete barrier, approximately 10 feet in height. Fiberglass material and paint chips were imbedded in the sign support bar. This material was consistent with the material in the left wing tip.
A debris path extended approximately 120 feet from the highway sign, across the westbound lane of Interstate 70, and up an embankment to the main wreckage. Portions of the left wing tip, fiberglass fragments, paint chips, the wheel pants from the left main gear, the right main landing gear assembly, the nose wheel, and Plexiglas from the front windscreen were located within the debris path.
The main wreckage came to rest on its belly, approximately 20 feet uphill from the westbound lane of Interstate 70. The airplane came to rest on an approximate heading of 010 degrees between several sapling trees. The wreckage consisted of the left and right wings, the empennage, fuselage, and the engine/propeller assembly.
The left wing, to include the left aileron, and left flap, separated partially at the wing root. The wing assembly was crushed aft, longitudinally at the main spar and the fuel lines separated. The fiberglass wingtip separated and the internal fuel tank was compromised. The left aileron had partially separated from the wing at the outboard hinge point and was crushed down at midspan. Control continuity to the left aileron and flap was confirmed.
The right wing, to include the right aileron, and right flap, sustained impact damage along the leading edge of the wing surface. The right aileron was wrinkled 8 inches outboard from the inboard edge of the control surface and the wing tip had tree bark embedded between the wing tip and the aileron control. Control continuity to the right aileron and flap was confirmed.
The left side of the fuselage was crushed aft longitudinally. The aft luggage door was crushed, and the fuselage separated partially from the empennage along the aft rivet line on the left side of the airplane. The right side of the fuselage was unremarkable.
The left side of the stabilator, the rudder, and vertical stabilizer were unremarkable. The right side of the stabilator was crushed 13 inches outboard from the control root. A hole was torn on the top of the stabilator surface, measuring approximately 6 inches wide and 14 inches long. Control continuity to the stabilator and rudder were established.
The engine cowling was torn and separated from the engine assembly. The propeller remained attached to the engine assembly. Each propeller blade was labeled A, B, and C, for identification purposes only. Blade B was partially imbedded into the ground. Each blade exhibited chordwise scratches along the face of the blade, in addition to S-shape bending. The engine remained attached to the fuselage, with the exception of two engine mounts on the left side.
One passenger seat from the rear cabin separated from the seat track and was located to the east of the main wreckage. The rear portion of the cabin contained two sleeping bags, four boxes of laundry detergent, a roll of house carpet, and various personal effects. The front passenger seat separated partially from the seat rail on the right side.
The airplane's engine instruments displayed the following indications:
Hobbs Meter - 1,523.5
Tachometer - 3,563.5
The airplane's engine controls were found in the following positions:
Fuel Mixture - mid span
Propeller Control - high RPM
Throttle - idle
Fuel Selector Valve - left tip tank
An examination of the remaining controls and switches revealed the following:
Flap Bar - down
Stabilator Trim - neutral
According to the pilot, the passenger's lap belt separated from its mounts on the inboard side of the airplane during the impact sequence. Examination of the lap belt revealed the rivets that secured the bracket sheared from the airframe.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The wreckage was retained and relocated to a hangar in Greeley, Colorado, for further examination. An examination of the engine revealed no anomalies that would have precluded the engine from producing power prior to impact. Examination of the airframe revealed no anomalies that would have precluded correct application of flight controls.
According to the PA-32-300, Cherokee Six, Pilot Operating Manual, the gross weight for this airplane is 3,400 pounds. The weight of the accident airplane at the time of the accident was calculated to be 2,782 pounds. The center of gravity was calculated to be 84.79; within the center of gravity limitation for the airplane.
Parties to the investigation include the Federal Aviation Administration, The New Piper Aircraft, Inc., and Lycoming Engines.
The wreckage was released to a representative at Beegles Aircraft, Greeley, Colorado, on September 28, 2005.