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On January 17, 2007, at 2216 mountain standard time, a Piper PA-28-180, N43630, registered to Archer Nevada LLC, and piloted by a private pilot, was substantially damaged when it impacted mountainous terrain during cruise flight, 6 miles northwest of Centennial, Wyoming. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The personal flight was being conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 on a visual flight rules flight plan. The pilot and his two passengers were fatally injured. The cross-country flight departed the Rock Springs-Sweetwater County Airport (RKS) approximately 2115, and was en route to Grand Island, Nebraska (GRI).
According to Blue Ridge Aeronautics, a flight school in Vacaville, California, the flight departed Nut Tree Airport (VCB) approximately 1100 Pacific standard time (PST). The flight was to travel to Grand Island, Nebraska, on the 17th and continue on to Chicago, Illinois, on the 18th. The pilot reported to the flight school that he intended to follow Interstate 80 for the entire flight.
The pilot filed a flight plan and obtained a weather briefing from the McMinnville Flight Service Station on January 17, starting at 1039 PST. According to the recording, the pilot intended to fly from VCB to Elko, Nevada (EKO), on to RKS, with a final destination of GRI. The pilot filed a 13-hour flight plan with the intension to stop in EKO and RKS for fuel services. The pilot activated his flight plan with Rancho Radio at 1232 PST. No updates with regards to the flight's progress were made.
According to the airport manager in RKS, the airplane arrived approximately 2030 and obtained fuel services. The pilot purchased 24.3 gallons of fuel and a flight guide. According to the employee who fueled the airplane, "the pilot seemed very unfamiliar with the area and the terrain." The airplane did not arrive in GRI and an Alert Notification (ALNOT) was issued for the missing airplane.
According to National Track Analysis Program (NTAP) radar data, the airplane was tracked from RKS to 10 miles west of Centennial. After departure from RKS, the airplane climbed to an encoded altitude of 13,500 feet mean sea level (msl). Radar data was lost at 2216:15, at an encoded altitude of 12,900 feet msl. Search and rescue crews located the airplane wreckage approximately 0830 on the morning of January 19th.
The pilot, age 26, held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single engine land rating issued on October 12, 2006. He was issued a third class airman medical certificate on September 15, 2005. The certificate contained no limitations.
The pilot's logbook was located in the airplane wreckage. A review of the logbook indicated that the pilot had logged no less than 95 hours total time; 66 of which were in the make and model of the accident airplane. The pilot had logged only 3 hours of night flight experience; all of which was logged during his private pilot training. The last night flight entry in the pilot's logbook was made on February 6, 2006, for a total time of 1.9 hours and 4 touch and go landings. The pilot's logbook also reflected approximately 11 hours of instrument ground trainer training. According to the flight school, he was working towards his instrument rating.
The accident airplane, a Piper PA-28-180 (serial number 28-7405210), was manufactured in 1974. It was registered with the Federal Aviation Administration on a standard airworthiness certificate for normal operations. The airplane was equipped with an O-360-A4A Lycoming engine rated at 180 horsepower at 2700 rpm. The engine was equipped with a Sensenich 2-blade, fixed pitch propeller.
The airplane was registered to Archer Nevada LLC, operated by Blue Ridge Aeronautics, and was maintained under the Piper Event inspection program. A review of the maintenance records indicated that an Event III inspection had been completed on November 24, 2006, at an airframe total time of 2,940.8 hours. The airplane had flown 43.8 hours between the last inspection and the accident and had a total airframe time of 2,984.6 hours.
The pilot obtained a standard weather briefing from the McMinnville Flight Service Station (FSS) on January 17, starting at 0939 PST. During the briefing Airman's Meteorological Information (AIRMETs), current weather observations, satellite, en route forecasts, winds aloft forecasts, terminal aerodrome forecasts, and Notices to Airmen were discussed with the pilot. Aside from the initial weather briefing, no weather updates were provided to the pilot through the FSS or Direct User Access Terminal System (DUATS).
On January 17, at 2300, a Surface Analysis chart, prepared by the National Weather Service (NWS), National Center for Environmental Prediction, depicted a lee side slope low with a central pressure over northeastern Colorado and a high pressure system over western Colorado, resulting in a steep pressure gradient over Colorado and Wyoming. Doppler weather radar scanned the accident area at 2152:23, 2202:06, and 2211:48. Data indicated reflectivity values of -15 to 5 dBz in the accident area around the accident time.
Aviation area forecasts were issued for Wyoming the day of the accident, starting at 2045. The forecast for the southwestern quarter of Wyoming was for scattered to broken clouds at 10,000 feet, broken layers between 12,000 and 13,000 feet, with tops to 15,000 feet. Widely scattered light snow showers were expected until 2300. The forecast for the southeastern quarter of Wyoming was for scattered clouds at 11,000 feet, scattered to broken clouds at 15,000 feet, with tops to 17,000 feet. Conditions were forecast to change to scattered to broken clouds at 11,000 feet, broken clouds at 16,000 feet, with visibility 5 statute miles in light snow.
AIRMETS for mountain obscuration (SIERRA), and turbulence (TANGO) were all issued for Wyoming and Colorado, including portions of the accident airplane's route of flight. AIRMET SIERRA for mountain obscuration stated to expect mountains to be obscured by clouds, precipitation, mist, and fog. These forecast conditions were issued at 1945 and forecast to continue beyond 0200 the following day. AIRMET TANGO stated to expect moderate turbulence below flight level 180. This forecast area was just to the south of the accident airplane's route of flight.
The closest official weather observation station was Laramie Regional Airport (KLAR), Laramie, Wyoming, located 27 nautical miles (nm) east of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 7,278 feet msl. The routine aviation weather report (METAR) for LAR, issued at 2153, reported, winds, 290 degrees at 9 knots, gusting to 18 knots, visibility, 10 statute miles; sky condition, clear; temperature minus 10 degrees Celsius (C); dewpoint, minus 18 degrees C; altimeter, 29.94 inches.
According to the United States Naval Observatory, Astronomical Applications Department Sun and Moon Data, the sunset was recorded at 1700 and the end of civil twilight was 1730. The moon rose at 0639 and set at 1516 on the day of the accident. The moon was waning crescent with three percent of its visible disk illuminated.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) arrived on scene approximately 1300 on January 19, 2007. The accident site was located in mountainous, forested, snow covered terrain. A global positioning system receiver reported the coordinates of the main wreckage as 41 degrees 21 minutes 58.6 seconds north latitude, and 106 degrees 15 minutes 29.6 seconds west longitude. The accident site was at an elevation of 10,710 feet msl and the airplane impacted on a magnetic heading of 260 degrees.
The first identified point of contact (FIPC) was located to the east of the main wreckage. The FIPC consisted of a ground scar 20 feet in length and 24 inches wide. Green lens fragments were located within the ground scar, at the northeast end of the scar. White paint flecks were located along the length of the ground scar.
A second ground scar proceeded up slope towards the main wreckage. Small sapling pine trees were bent and broken towards the main wreckage. Debris within the ground scar included a cabin door, an 4 inch outboard portion of the propeller, broken Plexiglas, fiberglass, the wheel pants from both main landing gear, the nose wheel assembly, the wingtips from the left and right wing, and a 6 foot outboard portion of the right wing.
The main wreckage was located 160 feet from the FIPC and came to rest on a magnetic heading of 080 degrees. The main wreckage consisted of the engine assembly (to include the propeller), the fuselage, empennage, left wing, and portions of the right wing. The wreckage came to rest inverted with the left wing extended vertically in the air and the right wing folded aft along the belly of the fuselage.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The autopsy was performed by the Ivinson Memorial Hospital, as authorized by the Albany County Coroner's office, on January 17, 2007. The autopsy revealed the cause of death as "massive trauma secondary to an airplane crash."
During the autopsy, specimens were collected for toxicological testing to be performed by the FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (CAMI Reference #200700023001). All tests for carbon monoxide, cyanide, and ethanol were negative. Phentermine was found in the urine and blood (0.35 ug/ml).
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The wreckage was recovered on January 30, 2007, and relocated to a hangar in Greeley, Colorado, for further examination. The Safety Board IIC and representatives from Piper Aircraft and Lycoming Engines examined the wreckage on February 7, 2007.
The fuselage, to include the cabin area, and instrument panel, was crushed up and aft along the floor of the structure. The instrument panel was destroyed and the occupiable space within the cabin was reduced. The mixture/throttle quadrant separated from the airframe and both controls were crushed aft. The fuel selector valve was selected for the right tank.
The engine gauges and airplane instruments displayed the following indications:
Tachometer - 1,400 rpm - 1,261.2 hours
Vertical Speed Indicator - 1,850 feet per minute descent
The empennage, to include the vertical stabilizer, rudder, and stabilator remained attached to the fuselage. The vertical stabilizer was bent to the right and exhibited wrinkled metal. The leading edge of both the left and right stabilator was crushed aft. Control continuity to both the rudder and stabilator was confirmed.
The right wing, to include the right main landing gear, right aileron, and right flap, remained partially attached to the fuselage. Approximately 6 feet of the outboard portion of the wing separated. The aileron remained partially attached to the outboard portion of the wing. The leading edge of both portions of the wing exhibited aft accordion crushing. Skin along the fuel tank rivet line was torn and the fuel tank was compromised. The flap assembly remained attached and was wrinkled and bent. No reliable position indication could be established. Control continuity to the right aileron was confirmed.
The left wing, to include the left main landing gear, left aileron, and left flap, remained partially attached to the fuselage. The landing gear remained attached to the wing assembly. The leading edge of the wind exhibited aft accordion crushing. Skin along the fuel tank rivet line was torn and the fuel tank was compromised. The flap assembly remained attached; however, no reliable position indication could be established. Control continuity to the left aileron was confirmed.
The engine was separated from the fuselage for further examination. The top spark plugs were removed and exhibited normal signs of operation. The propeller flange was crushed aft, preventing rotation of the engine. The flange was removed and the engine was rotated through at the vacuum pump drive. Engine continuity, valve movement, and tactile compression were confirmed at all 4 cylinders. The magnetos were rotated by hand, which produced a spark at each lead. The oil screen and fuel screen were free of contaminants. The vacuum pump was removed and further examination revealed no anomalies.
The propeller assembly remained attached to the engine at the propeller flange. The blades were labeled "A" and "B" for identification purposes only. Blade "A" was bowed aft 45 degrees and twisted. It exhibited leading edge polishing and a portion of the tip was missing. Blade "B" exhibited leading edge polishing and cordwise scratches. The blade was bowed aft and twisted and 13 inches of the outboard blade separated.
According to Title 14 CFR part 61.57 Recent flight experience: Pilot in command "(b) Night takeoff and landing experience. (1) Except as provided in paragraph (e) of this section, no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, unless within the preceding 90 days that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, and-(i) That person acted as sole manipulator of the flight controls; and (ii) The required takeoffs and landings were performed in an aircraft of the same category, class, and type (if a type rating is required)."
Parties to the investigation included the FAA as represented through the Denver, Flight Standards District Office. The wreckage was released to a representative of the insurance company on April 9, 2007.