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On April 4, 2007, at 0937 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-30, N555EM, was destroyed during an impact with terrain in Trappe, Maryland. The certificated private pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed for the flight that originated at the Westchester County Airport (HPN), White Plains, New York, destined for the Moore County Airport (SOP), Southern Pines, North Carolina. The personal flight was conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
According to air traffic control (ATC) information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot was communicating with Patuxent River Naval Air Station Approach Control, as the airplane headed south, in the vicinity of Easton, Maryland.
At 0929, the pilot reported to ATC that he would have to deviate "a little bit left here," and the controller responded "approved, report when able to go direct Richmond." The controller asked the pilot if he had weather radar on board, and the pilot reported he did, and that it "gave him weather every five minutes."
At 0930, the controller reported to the pilot that the "lightest weather" was "about a one nine five heading for seven miles and then it looks like you will be able to get back to Richmond."
The pilot responded, "yeah, that's about right that's why I'm heading to the left." The controller reported to the pilot that there was "some pretty heavy stuff" at the pilot's "three o'clock position" and "on that turn southbound it looks like some pretty heavy stuff about twelve miles now." The controller advised the pilot that the weather was moving northeast bound, but that in about five miles he would be able to turn back toward Richmond.
The pilot responded, "yeah, thank you very much, that's exactly what, uh, we're looking at. We are hoping to be able to turn right in the next ten to twelve miles."
At 0933, the controller informed the pilot, "looks like direct Richmond will work out for you now, and...should be exiting all of that weather that I am receiving in about two miles." The pilot responded, "yes sir. That's, uh, pretty much what we're looking at."
At 0935 the pilot reported, "echo mike is turning direct Richmond." He additionally reported to the controller that there was "a lot of lightning" in the area; however, the turbulence was light.
At 0936 the pilot reported, "echo mike, we just, uh, we got a problem. Looks like we just lost...we lost attitude." Radar data indicated the airplane had initiated a right turn, just prior to this transmission, and began heading north.
The controller responded, "okay, uh, five echo mike, roger I'm showing you northbound right now and, uh, do whatever you need to, ah, the weather is off to your, uh, right from about your twelve o'clock back through your six o'clock on the right side and its about four miles east of you."
During the following minute, the airplane continued in a gradual right turn until it was last observed at 0937. No further transmissions were received from the pilot.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land, airplane multiengine land, and instrument airplane. His most recent FAA third-class medical was issued on March 20, 2007. At that time, he reported 4,020 total hours of flight experience.
The pilot's logbook was located in the airplane. It was titled "#4" and contained entries from June 2000 to April 1, 2007. As of the last entry, the pilot had logged 4,000 total hours of flight experience, of which, 167 hours were actual instrument experience. In the previous 90 days, he accumulated 12 hours of total flight experience, of which, 1.5 hours were actual instrument experience.
His most recent instrument proficiency check (IPC) occurred on October 18, 2006, at a simulator training facility. According to records kept by the facility, the pilot logged 8 hours of simulated instrument time during the IPC.
The airframe, engine, and propeller logbooks were not located.
On April 3, 2007, at 1548, the pilot contacted the New York Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS), and requested a weather briefing for a flight on April 4, 2007, from HPN to SOP.
The AFSS specialist advised the weather would be "IFR and marginal VFR" at the departure airport, and ice pellets and moderate turbulence were forecast enroute. The specialist additionally advised the pilot that thunderstorms were forecast in the vicinity of the destination airport and he would have to fly through the forecasted stationary front.
The pilot called the New York AFSS again on April 4, 2007, at 0730, and requested another briefing for the flight. The AFSS specialist stated there was a low pressure system throughout the area and a cold front approaching it from the west. The specialist reported an airmen's meteorological information (AIRMET) was issued for moderate turbulence below 8,000 feet, and embedded thunderstorms were observed on the radar. A weather advisory was in effect for an area of thunderstorms with tops to flight level 340. A separate weather advisory was issued for a developing line of thunderstorms with hail up to one inch and wind gusts to 60 knots. In addition, the AFSS specialist advised of a convective significant meteorological information (SIGMET) in effect for embedded thunderstorms along a portion of the planned route.
The pilot filed an IFR flight plan, on April 4, 2007, through the Direct User Access Terminal (DUAT) service, for the flight.
A review of flight service station data revealed no record of the pilot requesting any in-flight weather information.
A National Transportation Safety Board meteorologist conducted a review of weather conditions at the time of the accident. According to the meteorologist's Factual Report, the accident airplane flew through an area of heavy rain and thunderstorms. Additionally, an IFR AIRMET was issued for ceilings below 1,000 feet, and visibility below 3 miles in precipitation. Convective SIGMETs were also issued for the area of the accident site, warning of embedded thunderstorms with tops at 30,000 feet.
Weather reported at the Easton/Newnam Field Airport, approximately 13 miles north of the accident site, at 0933, included wind from 320 degrees at 4 knots, and 5 miles visibility, with thunderstorms and rain. An overcast cloud layer was reported at 600 feet, the temperature was 8 degrees Celsius (C), the dew point was 7 degrees C, and the altimeter setting was 29.77 inches of mercury.
The initial impact point (IIP) was an approximate 2-foot deep crater in which the left propeller was found. The wreckage path continued approximately 70 feet, to the main wreckage, on a heading of 330 degrees. Located along the wreckage path were the left and right engines, and right propeller. The main wreckage came to rest on an approximate heading of 240 degrees. The inboard section of the left wing remained attached to the fuselage, and the leading edge was compressed aft to the main spar. The left flap was separated from the wing, in two pieces, and located in the vicinity of the main wreckage. The left outboard section of the wing was separated from the inboard section, and the aileron remained attached to the wing at its attachment points.
The empennage section of the airplane remained attached to the fuselage by the flight control cables, and was bent over the fuselage section.
The entire right wing remained attached to the fuselage at the wing root. The leading edge of the wing was compressed aft to the main spar. The flap and aileron remained attached to the wing at their respective attachment points.
Flight control continuity was confirmed from the flight control surfaces to the fuselage area.
Both wingtip fuel tanks were located south of the main wreckage. The left wingtip fuel tank was located approximately 200 yards from the main wreckage, intact and contained residual fuel. The right wingtip fuel tank was separated into several pieces, and located approximately 100 yards from the main wreckage.
Additionally, two pieces of the left wing were located approximately 1/2 mile northwest of the main wreckage. The wing sections displayed little to no deformation.
The left engine's crankshaft was rotated by hand at its propeller flange. Thumb compression and suction were obtained on all four cylinders, and valve train and crankshaft continuity were confirmed to the rear accessory drive section.
The right engine's crankshaft could not be rotated at the propeller flange, due to impact damage. All four cylinders were removed and no preimpact mechanical anomalies were noted.
Both propeller assemblies revealed one blade which displayed S-bending, and one blade which had separated approximately 6 inches outboard of the hub.
The magnetos from both engines were tested, and produced spark at all terminal leads. Examination of the top spark plugs, on both engines, revealed their electrodes were intact and light gray in color.
Examination of the attitude indicator system revealed no evidence of preimpact anomalies. The weather radar was not recovered, and presumed destroyed.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The State of Maryland, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, performed an autopsy on the pilot on April 5, 2007.
The FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma conducted toxicological testing on the pilot. According to the pilot's toxicology test results, NAPROXEN was detected in the pilot's liver.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Sections of the left wing spar were retained and examined at the Safety Board's Materials Laboratory. Magnified examinations of the fracture surfaces revealed rough matte gray surfaces typical of overstress separations. No indication of pre-existing fatigue cracking was noted at any of the fractures. Deformation of the fractures revealed evidence of bending and twisting forces.