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On May 10, 2006, at 0921central daylight time (CDT), a Piper PA60-602P, N68999, registered to a private owner, operating as a 14 CFR Part 91 business flight, had an in-flight breakup in the vicinity of Camp Hill, Alabama, while maneuvering to reverse its flight path in an intense to extreme radar echo (VIP level 5 to level 6 thunderstorm.) Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at flight altitude and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed. The airplane was destroyed. The private pilot and one passenger received fatal injuries. The flight originated from Habersham County Airport, Cornelia, Georgia, on May 10, 2006, at 09:19 eastern daylight time (EDT). The airplane wreckage was located on May 11, 2006.
A person who identified himself as the pilot of N68999 telephoned Macon Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) at 0856 EDT, requesting a weather briefing for an IFR flight to Mobile, Alabama. The flight service specialist provided information on a line of embedded thunderstorm activity along the route from Atlanta to Mobile including SIGMETs and advising that tops were forecast to be at 41,000 to 50,000 feet. The specialist suggested that the pilot not depart immediately because of the weather, but said that it might be possible to land at an intermediate stop ahead of the weather, possibly in the Pensacola or further north in the Crestview area, wait for the storms to pass, and then continue the flight to Mobile. The pilot filed an IFR flight plan from Cornelia, Georgia, to Pensacola at 16,000 feet.
At 0916 EDT, the pilot telephoned Macon AFSS to obtain his clearance. The Macon specialist asked the pilot how much time he needed to get airborne, and the pilot responded "15 minutes, or 10 minutes' will be enough I guess - whatever you can let me have." The specialist responded that the clearance was on request, and that he would work on the void time and placed the pilot on hold. The specialist contacted Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) and obtained an IFR clearance, "…from the Habersham airport to the Pensacola airport via revised routing direct to Athens, direct to Pensacola, climb and maintain 4,000, expect 16,000, 10 minutes after departure, squawk 6360, contact Atlanta Center 134.8. Clearance void if not off by 35, advise center of intentions no later than 40." The Macon specialist read back the clearance. When he returned to the inbound telephone line to provide the pilot with the requested IFR clearance, the pilot was no longer on the line.
The pilot departed Cornelia without an IFR clearance and contacted Atlanta ARTCC at 0929 EDT. The controller informed the pilot that he was not on his assigned heading, altitude, correct transponder code, and subsequently handed the pilot off to another controller. The flight was subsequently cleared direct to Panama City, Florida, and the pilot was instructed to climb to 16,000 feet. Further review of radio communications between Atlanta ARTCC and the pilot revealed the pilot contacted Atlanta ARTCC at 09:20:48 CDT and stated, "Aero Star six eight triple nine we're going to make a reverse." The controller stated "roger." There was no further radio contact with the pilot of N68999.
A review of radar data revealed the airplane was level at 16,000 feet mean sea level (MSL), heading southwest at 09:19:48 CDT. At 09:20:38, the airplane began a continuous left turn northwest bound and was at 15,700 feet. The last radar return was at 09:20:59, and the airplane was at 15, 600 feet.
Atlanta ARTCC broadcast weather alerts over the radio frequency the pilot was on for Center Weather Advisory 101, SIGMETS 73C, 74C,and AIRMET Sierra between 0903 to 0913 CDT. The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, issued Severe Thunderstorm Watch 329 valid from 0635 CDT until 1300 CDT. The National Weather Service Aviation Weather Center issued Convective SIGMET 73C valid from 0855 CDT until 1055 CDT. The SIGMET was for a line of thunderstorms 40 nautical miles wide, and moving from 280 degrees at 35 knots. The tops of the thunderstorms were at 44,000 feet, with 2-inch hail, and possible wind gusts up to 60 knots. These weather alerts included the route of flight for N68999.
A review of radar data revealed that the airplane was at 16,000 feet mean sea level (MSL), heading southwest at 09:19:48 CDT. At 09:20:38, the airplane began a continuous left turn northwest bound and was at 15,700 feet. The last radar return was at 09:20:59, and the airplane was at 15, 600 feet.
A review of information on file with the FAA Airman's Certification Division, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, revealed the pilot was issued a private pilot certificate on July 13, 1991, with ratings for airplane single engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplane. The pilot held a third class medical certificate issued on April 7, 2006, with the restriction "must have available glasses for near vision." According to the deceased pilot's wife, the pilot's logbook and airplane logbooks were in the airplane at the time of the accident. The logbooks were not located at the crash site. The pilot's last flight review could not be determined. The pilot indicated on his application for the medical certificate that he had 2,500 total flight hours.
Review of the airplane logbooks revealed the last recorded annual inspection was conducted on September 21, 2005. The Hobbs time was 938.0 hours and the total airframe time was 2998.0 hours. The right engine was overhauled by Columbia Aircraft Services, Loomsburg, Pennsylvania, on April 8, 2003, at Hobbs 532.2 hours, and installed by Zane Pritts Aviation Inc., Elyria, Ohio, on April 10, 2003. The last annual inspection on the right engine was on September 21, 2005. The Hobbs time was 938.0 hours and the total time since overhaul was 405.8 hours. The left engine was overhauled by Teledyne Mattituck Services Inc., Mattitick, New York, on August 31, 2005, and installed by Master Aviation Inc., on September 21, 2005. The engine had 0 hours since major overhaul at installation. The Hobbs meter was not located at the crash site and the total airframe and engine times could not be determined. The last recorded pitot static system, altimeter, and transponder test were conducted on March 13, 2006. A review of refueling records on file at Habersham County Airport, Cornelia, Georgia, revealed the airplane was topped off with 72.7 gallons of 100 low lead fuel on May 10, 2006, before departing on the IFR flight to Pensacola, Florida.
The nearest weather reporting facility at the time of the accident was Auburn-Opelika Robert G. Pitts Airport, Auburn, Alabama, located 15.4 miles southeast of the accident site. The 0915 surface weather observation was: wind 040 at 3 knots, visibility 10 miles, clouds at 1,000 feet, scattered, 2,700 feet, broken, ceiling 3,700 feet overcast, temperature 66 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point temperature 61 degrees Fahrenheit, and altimeter setting 29.97inches of Hg Distant lightning was reported to the west. A weather study conducted by the NTSB Meteorology Resource Specialist revealed the pilot penetrated an intense to extreme VIP level 5 to level 6 weather radar echo containing a thunderstorm. The thunderstorm contained strong horizontal and vertical winds, heavy rain, turbulence, icing, and instrument flight conditions. The cloud tops were near 38,000 feet and the freezing level was near 14,000 feet.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The main wreckage was located 200 yards southwest of Route 50 and Jackson Road in a wooded area in the vicinity of Camp Hill, Alabama. Examination of the crash site revealed the airplane collided with trees and the ground in a vertical nose down attitude. The airplane came to rest on a heading of 355-degrees magnetic. No crash debris line was noted.
The nose section and cabin area was compressed aft to the cabin center section. The cabin roof was compressed aft and separated from the airframe. The nose wheel and tire was separated from the nose landing gear strut. The left and right main wing spars and cabin center section was compressed aft to the leading edge of the left and right horizontal stabilizers. The fuselage fuel tank was ruptured. Flight control continuity could not be confirmed to the control surfaces due to damage.
The right wing main spar upper cap was separated inboard of the right engine nacelle. The right wing rear spar cap was cracked at the right engine nacelle. The leading edge of the right wing was compressed aft to the right wing spar. The outboard right wing panel separated 9 feet 2 inches outboard of the wing root. The spar caps were bent upward. The right wing upper and lower main spar caps, the right wing upper and lower rear spar caps were removed at the outer wing separation point and sent to the NTSB Metallurgy Laboratory for examination. Examination of the components revealed the deformation patterns found on the fracture surfaces were consistent with upward bending overstress of the right wing. The separated outboard section of the right wing was not recovered. The right flaps were partially extended in the flap tracks and the tracks remained attached to the aft spar. The right aileron separated and was not located. The right main fuel tank was ruptured. The right main landing gear separated from the right wing trunion.
The right engine and propeller assembly was buried three feet below the surface of the ground. The engine assembly separated from all engine mounts. The propeller spinner was not located. The propeller hub was broken and separated from the propeller flange. Two propeller blades remained attached, and one propeller blade separated from the propeller hub. One propeller blade was bent aft in the propeller hub. Numerous nicks were present on the leading edge of the propeller blade and chord-wise scarring was present. Another propeller blade was bent aft in the propeller hub. The propeller blade was bent forward at mid-span and chord-wise scarring was present. A 2 inch section of the propeller tip was missing. The remaining propeller blade separated from the propeller hub. The propeller blade was bent forward at mid-span and chord wise scarring was present. Numerous nicks were present on the leading edge of the propeller blade.
The vertical stabilizer was partially separated from the top of the fuselage. The vertical stabilizer main spar was separated 4 inches up from the vertical stabilizer attachment fitting. The leading edge of the vertical stabilizer was compressed rearward to the vertical stabilizer spar. The rudder separated from the rudder attachment hinges and was located in the immediate vicinity of the main wreckage. Diagonal crushing was present at mid-span. The rudder trim tab was intact and remained attached to the rudder.
The leading edge of the right horizontal stabilizer was compressed aft to the right horizontal stabilizer rear spar. The right horizontal stabilizer rear spar separated 4 inches outboard of the horizontal stabilizer rear spar attachment fitting. The right horizontal main spar was intact. The right horizontal stabilizer carry through fitting separated 3 inches inboard of the right main horizontal stabilizer attachment bolts. The right elevator separated from the horizontal stabilizer and was located adjacent to the elevator. The right elevator exhibited a chord wise crease at the middle attachment fitting. The right-hand trim tab remained attached to the elevator.
The leading edge of the left horizontal stabilizer was compressed aft to the left horizontal stabilizer rear spar. The left horizontal stabilizer remained attached to the left rear spar attachment fitting. The left horizontal stabilizer front spar was partially separated outboard of the main spar attachment fitting. The left elevator middle and outboard attachment fittings were separated from the horizontal stabilizer. The inboard fitting remained attached. The left elevator exhibited a chord wise crease at the middle attachment fitting. The left-hand elevator trim tab remained attached to the elevator.
All components of the left wing were located at the crash site. The left wing spar was separated inboard of the left engine nacelle. The left upper main spar cap was separated at the left engine nacelle. The left lower spar cap was separated 18 inches outboard of the fuselage attachment fitting. The leading edge of the left wing was compressed aft to the left wing rear spar. The left flap and aileron remained attached to the left wing rear spar. The left aileron control rod was attached to the left aileron bell crank. The control arm from the left aileron bell crank to the left aileron was separated. The left flap was partially extended. The left main landing gear was extended and folded rearward. The left main fuel tank was ruptured.
The left engine and propeller assembly were buried three feet below the surface of the ground. The propeller spinner was not located. The propeller hub was broken and separated the propeller flange. All three-propeller blades separated from their propeller hubs. One propeller blade was bent aft 10 inches outboard of the propeller hub. Numerous nicks were present on the leading edge. Chord wise scarring was present, and a one-inch piece of the propeller tip was missing. Another propeller blade was bent forward at mid span. Numerous nicks were present on the leading edge of the propeller blade and chord wise scarring was present. The remaining propeller blade was bent forward at mid span and chord wise scarring was present on the propeller blade. The trailing edge of the propeller tip was bent forward.
The left and right engine were transported to the Auburn-Opelika Robert G. Pitts Airport, Auburn, Alabama, for further examination. Examination of the right engine assembly revealed the left side exhaust was partially separated and the right side exhaust was separated. The Nos.1, 2, 3, and 5 induction tubes were missing and not located. The No. 6 induction tube was crushed. The No. 4 induction tube was crushed and wedged against the exhaust manifold. The oil sump was destroyed and the oil cooler was crushed. The alternator and air conditioner compressor separated. The starter separated and was not located. The starter ring gear was fractured. The vacuum pump was separated and disassembled. The vacuum pump rotor was broken, five vanes were intact and 1 vane was broken. The oil filter was attached to the oil filter adapter and the adapter separated from the engine. The fuel injector servo separated from the engine. The fuel screen was removed and was free of contaminants. No fuel was present in the fuel lines. The engine driven fuel pump was destroyed. The fuel manifold was removed and the diaphragm was intact. Fuel and water was present in the fuel manifold. The top spark plugs were removed and exhibited " normal" when compared to the Champion Check A Plug Chart. The No.1, and No. 3 spark plugs were oil soaked. All ignition harness was destroyed and both magnetos were destroyed.
The right engine could not be rotated and was disassembled. The left and right engine case halves were cracked. The No.1 cylinder was displaced aft against the No. 3 cylinder. The No. 2 cylinder was displaced aft against the No. 4 cylinder. No anomalies were noted with the No. 5 and No. 6 cylinders. All cylinders and pistons were removed except for the No.1 piston. The No.1 cylinder skirt was deformed. All domes of all removed pistons showed light gray brown combustion deposits and all piston rings were in place. Visual examination of the No.1 piston through the spark plug boss exhibited light gray deposits. The crankshaft was removed and no damaged was observed. All main crankshaft journals were normal and there was no evident of over heating or oil distress. The camshaft was removed and no anomalies were noted. Both vibration dampers were intact and were free to move. The left and right turbochargers were separated from the engine and the impellers could not be rotated by hand.
Examination of the left engine assembly revealed the No. 2 and No. 4 left exhaust manifolds were attached to the cylinders The No. 1 and No. 6 exhaust manifold were missing. The No. 3 and No. 5 exhaust manifold were partially attached. The No. 2 induction tube was pulled away from the cylinder and crushed. The No. 4 and No. 6 induction tubes were damaged. The No.1 and No. 3 induction tube were missing. The oil sump and oil cooler were crushed. The alternator and starter were destroyed. The starter ring gear was fractured. The vacuum pump was intact. The rotor turned freely by hand and the vanes were intact. The oil filter was partially attached to the oil filter adapter and the adapter was attached to the accessory section. The fuel injector servo was intact. The fuel screen was removed and was free of contaminants. No fuel was present in the fuel lines. The engine-driven fuel pump was intact and attached to the accessory section. The fuel manifold was removed and the diaphragm was intact. The top spark plugs were removed and exhibited " normal" when compared to the Champion Check A Plug Chart. The No.1 spark plug was missing. The No. 2 and No. 3 spark plugs were oil soaked. All ignition harness were destroyed. The left magneto was destroyed and right magneto was separated. The right magneto was rotated by hand and no spark was noted at the ignition towers.
The left engine could not be rotated and was disassembled. The left and right engine case halves were cracked. The No.1 cylinder head was partially separated and the cylinder was displaced aft against the No. 3 cylinder. The No. 2 cylinder was damaged and displaced aft against the No. 4 cylinder. The No. 3 cylinder was displaced aft against the No. 5 cylinder. No anomalies were noted with the No. 6 cylinder. All cylinders and pistons were removed except for the No.1 cylinder and piston. All pistons were removed from the cylinders except for No.1 and No. 3 pistons. The No.1 and No. 3 cylinder were deformed. All domes of all removed pistons showed light gray brown combustion deposits and all rings were in place. All main crankshaft journals were normal and there was no evident of over heating or oil distress. The camshaft was intact and no anomalies were noted. Both vibration dampers were intact and were free to move. The left and right turbochargers were separated from the engine and the impellers could not be rotated by hand.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Alabama State Medical Examiner conducted a postmortem examination of the pilot, on May12, 2006. The cause of death was "blunt force trauma." The Forensic Toxicology Research Section, Federal Aviation Administration, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed postmortem toxicology of specimens from the pilot. The results were negative for ethanol, basic, acidic, and neutral drugs. Carbon monoxide, and cyanide testing was not performed.
The Alabama State Medical Examiner conducted a postmortem examination of the passenger on May 12, 2006. The cause of death was "blunt force trauma."
TEST AND RESEARCH
The Air Traffic Control Group under the Supervision of the NTSB Group Chairman reviewed FAA Order 7110.65 Air Traffic Control, paragraph 2-6-4, "Weather and Chaff Services," The FAA Order states:
"a. Issue pertinent information on observed/reported weather or chaff areas. Provide radar navigational guidance and/or approve deviations around weather or chaff areas when requested by the pilot. Do not use the word "turbulence" in describing radar-derived weather.
1.Issue weather and chaff information by defining the area of coverage in tenths of azimuth (by referring to the 12-hour clock) and distance from the aircraft by indicating the general width of the area and the area of coverage in terms of fixes or distance and direction from fixes.
2.Issue the level of echo intensity when the information is available."
Paragraph 2-1-2, b. Duty Priority ,"Provide additional services to the extent possible, contingent only upon higher priority duties and other factors including limitations of radar, volume of traffic, frequency congestion, and workload. Further direction is provided in paragraph 2-1-1, "ATC Service."..."Consistent with the aforementioned conditions, controllers shall provide additional service procedures to the extent permitted by higher priority duties and other circumstances. The provision of additional services is not optional on the part of the controller, but rather is required when the work situation permits."
The NTSB Air Traffic Control Group reviewed the transcripts between air traffic controllers in Sector 9 and the pilot. The transcripts revealed the controllers failed to comply with the FAA directives regarding the issuance of severe weather information by not advising the pilot of the radar-depicted weather displayed on the radar controller's scope. According to the recorded display system information, there was moderate to extreme weather depicted along the airplanes flight track and the pilot flew the airplane into the depicted weather.
While the airplane was in Sector 9 the pilot was controlled by three different controllers. The traffic was moderate. A few minutes, the traffic level reduced and the radar assist controller relieved the radar controller, taking over the sector by himself. A few minutes later the second radar controller was relieved by a third controller. The accident occurred within seconds of the third controller taking over. The first controller could have provided the pilot with information about the observed weather ahead, but the second radar controller had the last opportunity to provide the pilot with information concerning the weather. The second controller stated during an interview that the previous controller informed him during his position relief briefing that the pilot was "deviating," and he took it to indicate that the first controller had provided the weather advisory to the pilot. Examination of the airplanes ground track revealed no indication of course deviations and the recorded weather display data showed the storm was straight ahead of the airplane for several minutes before the pilot stated he needed to turn around. The three controllers did not provided any radar weather information to the pilot while he was operating in Sector 9 as required by FAA Order 7110.65 paragraph 2-6-4.
The PA-60-602P Pilot's Operating Handbook states in Section 3, Emergency Procedures, and Turbulent Air Operation to reduce airspeed to 166 knots indicated airspeed or less and fly attitude (autopilot altitude hold off) and avoid abrupt maneuvers. It further states in paragraph 3.31 Turbulent Air Operation, "In conditions of extreme turbulence, reduce airspeed to maneuvering speed or slightly less. Maneuvering speed decreases with the weight of the airplane - e.g. 166 KIAS at 6000 lbs, and 152 KIAS at 5000 lbs. A reduction in airspeed will lower the stress to which the airplane is subjected by turbulence. Fly attitude and avoid abrupt maneuvers. Fasten seat belts and shoulder harness securely as a precaution against buffeting and lurching. When flying in extreme turbulence or strong vertical currents and using an autopilot, the altitude-hold mode should not be used."
All United States Government Flight Information Publication Terminal Procedures approach charts located in the airplane expired on March 17, 2005.
The airplane wreckage was released to the Tallapoosa County Sheriff Department on May 12, 2006. The left and right engine and propeller assemblies were released to the Aircraft Maintenance Manager, Auburn-Opelika Robert G. Pitts Airport, Auburn, Alabama, on May 13, 2006. The components retained for further examination by the NTSB Materials Laboratory and the airplane logbooks were released to a family member on June 27, 2006.