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On November 20, 2006, at 1725 central standard time, a Piper PA-28-235, N8990W, piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed during an in-flight collision with terrain near Wellington, Illinois. The flight was being conducted under 14 CFR Part 91 without a flight plan. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The pilot sustained fatal injuries. The flight departed Illinois Valley Regional Airport (VYS), Peru, Illinois, about 1650. The intended destination was Greenwood Municipal Airport (HFY), Indianapolis, Indiana.
At 0756, an individual representing N8990W contacted Terre Haute Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS). The individual requested a preflight weather briefing for a flight from HFY to VYS. The briefing ended at 0759. There were no further contacts between Terre Haute AFSS and the accident pilot. In addition, there were no contacts with either the Kankakee or Saint Louis AFSS.
An employee at a fixed base operator at VYS stated that the accident pilot arrived about 1140. She reported that the pilot subsequently requested use of the courtesy car and left the airport approximately 1200. The pilot did not request fuel or any other services. The pilot had not returned by the end of her shift at 1400.
At 1651, the pilot of N8990W contacted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) while in flight and requested visual flight rules (VFR) flight following en route to HFY at 5,500 feet mean sea level (msl). The pilot was assigned a discrete transponder beacon code and was subsequently established in radar contact at 1652.
At 1721, air traffic control informed N8990W of his proximity to another airplane, N455EP, approximately 3 miles ahead of his position northeast bound. The traffic, N455EP, was in cruise flight at 5,000 feet msl on an instrument flight plan. The pilot of N8990W replied that he did not have N455EP in sight at that time.
At 1722:19, ATC informed N8990W that the traffic, N455EP, was now off his right wing about one and one-half miles. At 1722:48, the controller instructed N8990W to contact Champaign approach control. There was no response to either transmission.
At 1723:43, ATC contacted N455EP and informed him that N8990W was "off [his] right wing now" and indicating 5,100 feet msl. The pilot of N455EP replied that N8990W had just passed behind him at the same altitude. ATC continued attempts to contact N8990W. At 1724:04, the pilot of N8990W transmitted "Niner whiskey Chicago." The controller asked, "Are you experiencing any difficulty sir?" A final transmission attributable to N8890W was received at 1724:18; however, it was unintelligible. No further communications were received from the accident aircraft.
The pilot of N455EP reversed course and descended in an attempt to regain visual contact with N8990W. At 1733:55, N455EP reported receiving an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal. He subsequently located the wreckage from the air at 1734:36. He noted that police were already on the scene at that time.
During a post accident interview, the pilot of N455EP reported that N8990W had passed about 1,000 feet off his right wing at about the same altitude. He stated that he lost sight of N8990W when it descended below the horizon and moved to a position behind his airplane. He noted that the sky was clear and the sun had set at the time of the encounter. He added there was not a definite horizon to the east; however, the western sky was still "lit."
A witness who lived approximately 2 miles southwest of the accident site reported that she saw an aircraft as she got into her car that evening. She stated it was "really low" and estimated its altitude as 200 to 250 feet above ground level (agl). The aircraft was traveling in a northeasterly direction. She added that the engine "sounded fine" and its lights were on. She noted that it appeared to be in "straight and level" flight.
Radar track data was provided by the FAA Chicago ARTCC and plotted by the NTSB. The initial radar data point attributable to N8990W was received at 1651:36, approximately 6 nautical miles (nm) southeast of VYS. The mode C altitude associated with the aircraft at that time was 4,300 feet msl.
The track data indicated the accident airplane proceeded on a southeast course direct toward the intended destination. According to the altitude data, it climbed to and maintained a cruise altitude of approximately 5,500 feet msl.
The track data suggested that about 1723:00 the accident airplane entered a left descending turn from an altitude of 5,600 feet msl. The airplane appeared to be on a southeasterly course when it entered the turn. At 1724:12, the airplane was on a south-southwesterly course and at an altitude of 4,900 feet msl. About this time, the airplane appeared to enter a right turn. The final radar data point was recorded at 1724:59. The track data suggested that the airplane was on a northwesterly course at an altitude of 4,000 feet msl at that time. No further track data was recorded relative to the accident airplane.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a single-engine land airplane rating. He was issued a third class airman medical certificate on February 25, 2005, with a restriction for glasses to be in the pilot's possession.
The pilot's logbook was not located. FAA records indicated that his private pilot certificate was issued on November 22, 1997. Prior to that, he had held a student pilot certificate which was issued on March 31, 1997. On his most recent medical certificate application, dated February 25, 2005, he indicated a total pilot flight time of 600 hours, with approximately 35 hours flown in the previous 6 months.
The accident airplane was a 1964 Piper PA-28-235, serial number 28-10570. It was a single-engine, low wing, four-place airplane, with a fixed tricycle landing gear configuration. The airplane was powered by a 235-horsepower Lycoming O-540-B4B5 engine, serial number L-7011-40, which was a six-cylinder, normally aspirated, reciprocating engine.
Review of the maintenance logbooks indicated the most recent annual inspection was completed in May 2006, at 4,430.6 total airframe hours. According to the record, at the time of the inspection the engine had accumulated 141.3 hours since overhaul.
Weather conditions recorded by the Vermilion County Airport (DNV) Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS), located about 20 miles south of the accident site, at 1725, were: Wind from 320 degrees at 3 knots; 10 statute miles (sm) visibility; clear skies; temperature and dew point 3 degrees and -1 degree Celsius, respectively; altimeter 30.34 inches of mercury.
According to the U. S. Naval Observatory, sunset occurred at 1629 at the site on the day of the accident. Civil twilight ended at 1659. The moon had set at 1600, prior to sunset, and was in a new moon phase.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located in an agricultural field and area of tall grass adjacent to a small creek. The site was in Iroquois County, Illinois, north of county road 500N, between county roads 2000E and 2100E. The main wreckage was located at 40 degrees, 33 minutes, 41.0 minutes north latitude; 087 degrees, 44 minutes, 45.5 seconds west longitude, as determined by a handheld global positioning system (GPS) receiver.
The main wreckage came to rest in the agricultural field. The main wreckage consisted of the left and right wings, aft fuselage, and empennage with the exception of the horizontal stabilator. The vertical stabilizer and rudder remained intact. The main wreckage exhibited fire damage. An area of the field approximately 24 feet by 33 feet adjacent to the main wreckage was scorched. Both the left and right wing fuel tanks had been compromised.
The cabin and engine were separated from the main wreckage and located about 20 feet to the west in the area of tall grass. No fire damage was observed on the engine or in the cabin area.
The stabilator was separated into two segments about the centerline of the component. The left half of the stabilator was lying adjacent to country road 500N. The right half of the stabilator came to rest in the tall grass area approximately 300 feet north of the roadway. No evidence of fire damage was observed on either stabilator section.
A section of the stabilator spar common to the centerline of the airplane remained attached to the empennage. The spar section included the attachment fittings and pivot bolt. The control linkage was intact and remained secured to the empennage. A section of lower stabilator skin remained attached to the control link arm. Control cable continuity from the aft fuselage to the stabilator and rudder was confirmed.
The stabilator skin and spar caps adjacent to the fracture surfaces on the right side of the spar section were bent upward. Conversely, the skin and spar caps adjacent to the fracture surfaces on the left side were bent downward. Fracture surfaces exhibited 45-degree shear lips consistent with overload failures. The right and left stabilator sections recovered at the site exhibited similar features. The stabilator stops on the airframe empennage bulkhead were intact and appeared undeformed.
Examination of the left and right aft wing spars revealed that both were bent upward at the wing-to-fuselage splice joints. The left upper and lower spar caps and attachment bolts remained intact. The right spar caps were separated. The fracture surfaces exhibited 45-degree shear planes consistent with tensile overload failures. The splice attachment bolts exhibited surface corrosion but were otherwise intact.
The ailerons and flaps were fragmented and were located in their entirety at the accident site. Portions remaining with the main wreckage exhibited fire damage. Breaks in the aileron control cables were frayed consistent with tensile overload failures.
Examination of the engine did not reveal any anomalies associated with a pre-impact failure. The two-bladed propeller remained attached to the crankshaft. One blade was bent aft about 90 degrees beginning about one-third of the blade span. The other blade was bent aft about 30 degrees beginning about one-half of the blade span.
The artificial horizon and directional gyro were disassembled. The gyros and gyro housings of both flight instruments exhibited scoring consistent with rotation at the time of impact.
The vacuum pump was disassembled. The vanes were intact. The rotor was fractured. The drive coupling splines were intact; however, approximately two-thirds of the flange common to the rotor was fractured and separated.
The recording tachometer indicated 4,457.73 hours.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy of the pilot was performed on November 21, 2006, in Kankakee, Illinois.
The FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute toxicology report stated that no ethanol was detected in muscle or brain tissue. In addition, the report noted that no drugs in the screening profile were detected in the liver. The report indicated that a blood sample was not available.
The FAA stated the floor of radar coverage in the vicinity of the accident site was approximately 4,000 feet msl.
The FAA, Lycoming and Piper Aircraft were parties to the investigation. The wreckage was released on December 18, 2006, and was acknowledged by a representative of the insurance company.