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On April 14, 2007, about 0843 central daylight time, a Piper PA-28-180, N8969J, piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed during an in-flight collision with trees and terrain near Viburnum, Missouri. The personal flight was being conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed in the vicinity at the time of the accident. The pilot and two passengers sustained fatal injuries. The flight departed Jefferson City Memorial Airport (JEF), Jefferson City, Missouri, about 0753. The intended destination was Northwest Alabama Regional Airport (MSL), Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
The day prior to the accident, the pilot contacted Fort Dodge Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) and requested a preflight weather briefing for the route from James G. Whiting Memorial Field Airport (MEY), Mapleton, Iowa, to Rolla National Airport (VIH), Rolla/Vichy, Missouri, and then to MSL. The pilot noted that they were on their way to Kendall Executive Airport near Miami, Florida, "by tomorrow sometime." The briefer advised the pilot of a weather system involving rain and thunderstorms in the vicinity of VIH. The pilot elected to amend his intended destination and filed a flight plan to Columbia Regional Airport (COU), Columbia, Missouri. The flight ultimately proceeded to JEF, reportedly because instrument charts were not available at COU. JEF was located about 13 miles south of COU.
On the morning of the accident, at 0704, the pilot contacted Fort Dodge AFSS and requested a preflight weather briefing for the route from JEF to MSL. The pilot was advised of Aeronautical Meteorological Information (AIRMET) advisories for moderate turbulence and moderate icing conditions across the proposed route of flight. The briefer also informed the pilot of forecast convective activity across the route.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Mizzu Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and Kansas City Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) provided radar track data for the accident flight. The initial radar data point was recorded at 0753:35 (HHMM:SS) and depicted the airplane northwest of JEF. The altitude associated with that data point was 800 feet mean sea level (msl); about 250 feet above ground level (agl). The data indicated that the flight proceeded on course toward the southeast and climbed to a cruise altitude of 5,000 feet msl.
Air traffic control services were transferred to the Kansas City ARTCC about 0809. Radar track data indicated that the flight was approximately 21.7 miles southeast of JEF, at 5,000 feet msl. At 0826:08, the controller inquired about the flight conditions. The pilot replied, "pretty foggy ah can't see anything . . . but there's no turbulence." The pilot also noted there was no precipitation.
The radar track data indicated the flight continued on course toward MSL at 5,000 feet msl. At 0842:59, the controller instructed the pilot to contact her on a different frequency and the pilot responded. At 0843:11, the controller again instructed the pilot to change radio frequencies; however, there was no response from the pilot. Over the following 42 seconds, the controller attempted to contact the flight two more times without success. At 0844:53, the controller broadcast, "November eight niner six niner juliet if [you] hear Kansas City center radar contact is lost." No further communications were received from the pilot.
The final radar data point was recorded at 0843:30. There was no altitude information associated with the last data point. The airplane was about 40 miles west of the Farmington Very High Frequency (VHF) Omnirange (VOR) navigation station at that time. Prior to that, radar data points were recorded at 0842:42, 0842:54, 0843:06, and 0843:18. Altitude data associated with each of these points was 5,000 feet msl, 5,100 feet msl, 4,900 feet msl, and 5,000 feet, respectively.
According to Kansas City ARTCC, the floor of radar coverage in the vicinity of the accident site was approximately 4,500 feet msl. The coverage floor increased to about 5,500 feet msl near the airspace boundary with Memphis ARTCC, which was about 20 miles south of Farmington VOR.
Witnesses working at a nearby mine reported hearing the engine of an airplane and saw what appeared to be one or two objects exit the clouds near their location. They recalled weather conditions as cloudy and rainy. One witness noted there had been some sleet earlier in the morning.
Another witness reporting hearing an airplane engine for 2 or 3 seconds and then it stopped abruptly. It seemed to fly overhead and estimated its altitude as 100 feet. He commented that the engine was not initially at full power, but it seemed to increase to full power prior to impact. He noted that it did not sound like there was any problem with the engine. He recalled the current conditions were a low overcast with a light mist.
The witnesses notified local authorities and a search subsequently located the accident site about 1720 that evening. The site was located approximately 0.27 miles south-southwest of the final radar data point.
The pilot, age 49, held a private pilot certificate with single and multi-engine land airplane ratings, and an instrument airplane rating. His multi-engine rating was limited to visual flight rules (VFR) privileges only. The pilot was issued a third-class airman medical certificate on January 9, 2006, which included a limitation that he must have glasses in his possession. He successfully completed a flight review and an instrument proficiency check (IPC) on March 10, 2007.
Prior to the accident flight, the pilot had logged 633 hours total flight time. Of that total, 587 hours were logged as pilot-in-command and 570 hours were in single-engine airplanes. According to the log, the pilot had accumulated 5.7 hours actual instrument flight time, 50.5 hours simulated instrument flight time, and 20.2 hours in a flight simulator.
The pilot's most recent logbook entry was dated March 14, 2007, and noted 2.0 hours flight time. Within 90 days of the date of the accident, he had logged 12.6 hours flight time, including 1.5 hours simulated instrument time, 3 instrument approaches and one holding procedure. This instrument work was completed during the recent IPC. Within 6 months of the date of the accident, the pilot had logged 24.7 hours total flight time. This timeframe included the IPC, and an additional 0.4 hours actual instrument flight time and no additional approaches.
The day prior to the accident, the pilot flew from MEY to COU. Based on information the pilot provided when he filed the flight plan, his flight time for the day prior to the accident was approximately 2.5 hours.
The accident airplane was a 1966 Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee, serial number 28-2992. It was a single-engine, low-wing, four place airplane, configured with fixed, tricycle landing gear. A Lycoming O-360-A3A engine, serial number L-9158-36A, powered the airplane. The engine was a four cylinder, carbureted, normally aspirated design capable of developing 180 horsepower.
Maintenance records indicated that an annual inspection was completed on November 7, 2006, at a recording tachometer time of 4,138 hours. Pitot static system and transponder inspections were accomplished on December 1, 2006. The records indicated that a communications radio was replaced on March 13, 2007. The recording tachometer indicated 4,180 hours at that time.
The closest weather reporting facility to the accident site was at Farmington Regional Airport (FAM), Farmington, Missouri. FAM was located approximately 30 miles east of the accident site. At 0835, the FAM Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS) recorded: Winds from 010 degrees at 7 knots, 2-1/2 miles visibility, broken clouds at 600 feet above ground level (agl), overcast clouds at 1,200 feet agl, temperature and dew point 3 degrees Celsius, altimeter 29.81 inches of mercury.
At 0855, the FAM AWOS recorded: Winds from 360 degrees at 5 knots, 3 miles visibility, overcast clouds at 600 feet agl, temperature and dew point 3 degrees Celsius, altimeter 29.80 inches of mercury.
The Rolla National Airport (VIH), Rolla/Vichy, Missouri, was located approximately 40 miles northwest of the accident site. The VIH Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS), at 0803, recorded: Winds from 010 degrees at 11 knots, 1-1/2 miles visibility in light snow and mist, overcast clouds at 200 feet agl, temperature and dew point 1 degree Celsius, and altimeter 29.86 inches of mercury.
At 0853, the VIH ASOS recorded: Winds from 010 degrees at 14 knots, 1-3/4 miles visibility in light snow and mist, overcast clouds at 200 feet agl, temperature 1 degree Celsius, dew point 0 degree Celsius, and altimeter 29.85 inches of mercury.
An upper air sounding nearest the accident site (Springfield, Missouri) was taken at 0700 and indicated the presence of multiple freezing levels due to temperature inversions. The first freezing level was at 2,506 feet msl, with a second freezing level at 7,571 feet msl. Temperatures remained below freezing above the second freezing level. At 5,000 feet msl, the sounding indicated a temperature of 0.4 degrees Celsius, a dew point of 0.2 degrees Celsius, and winds from 070 degrees at 19 knots.
Satellite infrared imagery taken at 0840 revealed an extensive area of low to mid-level stratiform clouds over the accident site. Radiative cloud temperatures corresponded to cloud tops in the range of 12,000 feet msl.
Satellite visible imagery taken at 0845 depicted an overcast cloud layer over the route of flight and in the vicinity of the accident site, with some vertical development in the immediate vicinity of the accident site. In addition, wave-like bands of clouds embedded in the overcast layer oriented perpendicular to the upper level wind flow were observed. These bands are correlated with moderate to severe turbulence.
Doppler radar imagery taken at 0844 depicted an area of light echoes in the vicinity of the accident site. These echoes are associated with embedded cumulus clouds.
The National Weather Service Current Icing Product for 5,000 feet msl, valid for 0800, indicated a 70-percent probability of icing conditions extending across central and into southwest Missouri, immediately north of the accident site.
Pilot reports indicated the presence of overcast clouds, with cloud tops above 10,000 feet msl, and a freezing level of approximately 5,000 feet msl in the vicinity of the accident site. There were numerous reports of light to moderate icing above that level. There were also reports of light to moderate turbulence above 10,000 feet msl.
AIRMET Zulu for icing conditions was in effect. It covered the route of flight and the accident site. Specifically, the advisory warned of moderate icing conditions from the freezing level to 22,000 feet msl. The freezing level varied from 2,000 feet msl to 9,000 feet msl across the region. Conditions were expected to end about 1000 in the western portion of the AIRMET coverage area, which encompassed the route of flight and the accident site.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located on a hill in a wooded area in Washington County near Viburnum, Missouri. The main wreckage consisted of the engine, fuselage, wings and left half of the stabilator. The vertical stabilizer, outboard section of the right wing, and right half of the horizontal stabilator had separated from the airframe. The vertical stabilizer came to rest approximately 74 feet north-northeast of the main wreckage. The right wing section came to rest about 20 feet west of the main wreckage. The right half of the stabilator was located within the debris area, about 20 feet from the main wreckage. Trees in the immediate vicinity of the main wreckage exhibited fresh breaks. The fuselage came to rest against a tree, which had been broken off near ground level. No tree damage attributable to aircraft impact was observed outside of the immediate vicinity of the main wreckage.
The main wreckage was oriented vertically, with the engine embedded into the ground, and the fuselage and wings at ground level. The fuselage was fragmented. The cockpit and cabin areas were destroyed. Both wings were crushed aft along their entire spans, from the leading edges to the rear spars. The wing spars were fractured near the wing roots. Appearance of the fracture surfaces was consistent with overload failures. The left aileron, flap, and main landing gear remained attached to the wing. The left aileron counterweight was dislocated from the control surface and was not recovered. The outboard section of the right wing, approximately 5 feet in length, separated from the inboard wing assembly. The right aileron separated from the wing. The right aileron counterweight remained secured to the control surface. The right flap remained attached to the inboard wing section. The position of the flap linkage at the wing root was consistent with a flaps-up position. The right main landing gear was separated from the wing assembly. It was located adjacent to the wing assembly. The aileron bellcranks were dislocated; however, the aileron cables remained attached and were traced to the cockpit area.
The horizontal stabilator was separated near the airplane centerline. The right half of the stabilator was located within the debris area. The left half of the stabilator was located with the main wreckage. The control arm and balance weight assembly remained attached to the left half of the stabilator. The left and right halves of the control tab remained attached to their respective sections of the stabilator. The stabilator control cables were traced to the cockpit area.
The vertical stabilizer separated from the airframe. It was deformed and dented. The forward attachment fitting was intact. The aft portion of the lower spar was torn from the stabilizer assembly. The upper section of the rudder remained attached to the vertical stabilizer at the upper hinge. The middle section of the rudder was torn from the top and bottom sections of the assembly and was located in the debris area. The lower portion of the rudder, including the torque tube and control arms, remained with the main wreckage. The rudder control cables were attached to the control arms. The cables were traced to the cockpit area.
The engine and propeller were imbedded into the ground about 2-1/2 feet beneath the fuselage. The propeller assembly had separated from the engine. The crankshaft was fractured about 3 inches aft of the propeller flange. The fracture surfaces were oriented approximately 45-degrees consistent with overload. Both propeller blades remained attached to the hub. One blade was bent about 180 degrees at a point about one-quarter of the span. The blade exhibited leading edge gouges and chordwise scratching. The second blade was bent aft about 10-degrees over the length of the span. The second blade exhibited minor scratching.
Impact damage to the engine crankcase and cylinders precluded rotation of the crankshaft. Three cylinders were removed. The pistons, connecting rods, crankshaft aft of the fracture, and camshaft were intact. The cylinders were unremarkable with the exception of previously noted impact damage. The upper spark plugs were removed and exhibited signatures consistent with normal wear. The intake and exhaust valves were intact and seated within the cylinder heads. The engine accessory section gears appeared intact. The magneto housings appeared intact. The left magneto generated a spark across all leads when rotated. The right magneto, which was not equipped with an impulse coupling, did not provide a spark when rotated by hand.
The vacuum pump was disassembled. The housing was intact. The rotor and two vanes were fractured. The remaining four vanes were intact. The attitude and directional gyros were disassembled. The gyro rotors and housings of both instruments exhibited rotational scoring consistent with operation at impact.
The recording tachometer indicated 4,188.3 hours when observed at the accident site.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy of the pilot was performed at the Mineral Area Regional Medical Center on April 15, 2007. The cause of death was attributed to traumatic injuries sustained in the accident.
The FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute toxicology report noted the presence of ethanol, n-propanol, and n-butanol in tissue samples. The report also indicated that the samples received were putrefied.
Cruise tickets in the name of the pilot and passengers were located in the personal effects with the main wreckage. The tickets specified an embarkation time of 1330 to 1500 on April 15th at the Port of Miami.