On February 13, 2006, at 1901 Pacific standard time, a Piper PA-24-260, N9212P, landed short of runway 22 and came to rest upright on its belly in a grassy area at Rancho Murieta Airport (RIU), Rancho Murieta, California. The pilot/owner operated the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The private pilot, the sole occupant, was not injured. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the cross-country flight, which originated from the City of Colorado Springs Municipal Airport (COS), Colorado Springs, Colorado, at an undetermined time. A flight plan had not been filed for the cross-country flight. The pilot made an unplanned diversion to Blake Field Airport (1V9), Delta, Colorado, due to a landing gear malfunction. The flight then departed 1V9 at 1330 mountain standard time, and was destined for Rancho Murieta.

According to the pilot, he left COS earlier in the day for the flight to Rancho Murieta. After takeoff, he was unable to retract the airplane's landing gear. He diverted to 1V9 to have the landing gear inspected. A mechanic at 1V9 placed the airplane on jacks, and inspected and functionally checked the landing gear. No mechanical anomalies were noted. The pilot refueled the airplane and continued his flight to Rancho Murieta. He said that the airplane carried 5.5 hours of fuel. The flight took approximately 4 hours and he encountered a headwind during the flight. When he arrived at Rancho Murieta it was still light outside. The pilot lowered the landing gear handle and did not receive a down and locked indication inside the cockpit. He reported that another airplane in the airport environment, as well as local fire department personnel on the ground, were aiding him with visual confirmation of the landing gear condition and suggestions on how to lower the landing gear. The pilot reported that he tried to manually lower the landing gear, but it did not fully extend.

The pilot flew around the airport for about 1.5 hours and knew the airplane was getting low on fuel. He stated that it was also dark at this time, and he did not believe that he would make it to another local area airport (Mather), and decided to make a precautionary landing due to the low fuel state. The airplane landed short of the approach end of the runway in a grassy area. The main landing gear collapsed, and the nose landing gear sheared off at the landing gear strut.

The pilot reported that he utilized the emergency procedures to lower the landing gear. He slowed the airplane down to 90 miles per hour, removed the cover for the emergency landing gear extension mechanism, and released the gear locking handle. He extended the telescope lever and moved it forward. He reported that the lever was "spongy (to and fro) as if the system was jammed." The pilot further reported that he used a wooden handle for added leverage in the event he had to utilize the emergency landing gear extension mechanism for lowering the landing gear.

The pilot also stated that every year for the past 10 years, as part of his annual inspection of the airplane, he performed emergency landing gear extensions while the airplane was on jacks.

According to first responders, after it got dark they found the electrical box for the airport lighting. However, they were not able to turn on the runway lights prior to the accident.

A Lieutenant from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department responded to the scene and noted that the nose and main landing gear had sheared off, and the left horizontal stabilizer, as well as the fuselage of the airplane, had been damaged.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC), and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airworthiness inspector examined the landing gear system. During the visual examination of the emergency landing gear mechanism inside the cockpit, a wooden handle, similar in length to a wooden hammer handle, with a groove cut into one end was observed near the emergency landing gear extension handle. The emergency landing gear extension handle was viewed in the stored position.

The IIC and the FAA airworthiness inspector tested the integrity of the landing gear electrical system with the system intact. An Ohmmeter was utilized along with the airplane's electrical wiring diagram for the landing gear system. During the examination, investigators noted that nose landing gear limit switch had a fault in the normally closed circuit of the switch. The nose landing gear limit switch was removed for further examination by the FAA airworthiness inspector.

The FAA airworthiness inspector examined the landing gear and submitted a written report. He stated "the nose gear limit switch was tested for operation using an ohm meter and was found to have a fault in the normally closed circuit of the switch." The nose gear limit switch was removed for further inspection and found to have a fault in the circuit. "The intermittent fault in this circuit could cause the landing gear motor to fail to complete the gear-down cycle and leave the landing gear up and locked or in trail, requiring use of the emergency extension procedures. It would also be logical that the landing gear would work sometimes and not others."

A representative from the New Piper Aircraft Company confirmed that with an intermittent fault in the nose landing gear limit switch, the landing gear switch would fail to complete either the landing gear UP or landing gear DOWN cycle. In order to extend the landing gear, the pilot would need to utilize the emergency landing gear extension procedures.

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