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On April 21, 2007, about 0910 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-23-250, N4TR, registered to and operated by an individual, encountered adverse weather and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, about 26 miles east of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time in the area of the accident and a visual flight rules flight plan had been filed for the flight from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE), Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Fresh Creek Airport (MYAF), Andros Island, Bahamas. The airplane was destroyed and the certificated private pilot and the four passengers received fatal injuries. The flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91.
A person identifying himself as the pilot of the accident airplane contacted the Miami automated international flight service station (AIFSS) by telephone at 0830, on April 21, 2007. The pilot stated they would be departing KFXE at 0900, with the destination MYAF, and he requested a weather briefing for the route of flight and that he would also file a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan. The AIFSS briefer reported that the remains of a low pressure was in the area of the Northern Bahamas and that some showers associated with the remains were present along the coast of Florida as far north as Titusville and as far south as Biscayne Bay. The weather was moving to the south and that locally there were some heavy returns, generally 10 miles or less. After additional weather information was received the pilot filed a VFR flight plan.
At 0848, the pilot contacted the FXE clearance delivery controller and requested VFR flight following to MYAF, at 7,500 feet. The pilot was cleared to maintain VFR conditions and to fly an east departure from FXE.
At 0850:31, the pilot contacted the FXE ground controller and requested taxi to the active runway. He was cleared to taxi to runway 8 for departure. At 0856:05, the pilot contacted the FXE local controller and requested takeoff clearance from runway 8. At 0856:10, the pilot was cleared for takeoff on runway 8. At 0857:55, the local controller told the pilot to contact Miami departure.
At 0858:02, the pilot contacted the Miami Approach FXE departure controller. The controller instructed the pilot to maintain VFR conditions at or below 3,000 feet, and to say the on course heading. The pilot responded the on course heading was 130 degrees and that he was to maintain VFR. At 0859:35, the pilot was told to contact another Miami Approach controller.
At 0900:05, the pilot contacted the Miami Approach Ft. Lauderdale north controller. The controller told the pilot to maintain VFR conditions at or below 3,000 feet. At 0901:38, the controller cleared the pilot to fly his on course heading 130 degrees. At 0902:56, the controller cleared the pilot for a VFR climb and requested his final altitude. The pilot responded VFR climb and that 7,500 was his final altitude. He also stated that he was going to stay around 2,500 feet for he had some weather in front of him. The controller responded and told him to contact another Miami Approach control controller.
At 0904:03, the pilot attempted to contact the Miami Approach Miami north controller, stating he was at 3,200 feet. The controller did not respond and at 0907:08, the pilot again attempted to contact the controller, stating he was at 4,000 feet, climbing to 7,500 feet. The controller responded and gave the pilot the current altimeter setting. The pilot responded with the altimeter setting. No further transmissions were received from the pilot and the flight was lost from radar contact.
Recorded radar data from the Miami Approach shows that after departure the accident flight climbed to 2,500 feet and remained there until 0903:04. The flight then continued to climb and flew an east-southeasterly heading until 0908:13. At that point the flight was at 4,500 feet and turned to a 093 degree heading. Between 0908:25 and 0908:48, the flight turned to a 063 degree heading and then back to a 095 degree heading, while maintaining 4,500 feet. At 0908:55, the flight was on a 126 degree heading, at 4,400 feet, and had a ground speed of 141 knots. Between 0908:58 and 0909:08, the flight climbed to 5,100 feet, turned to a heading of 162 degrees, and increased ground speed to 152 knots. At 0909:14, the flight was at 5,200 feet, on a heading of 163 degrees, and at a groundspeed of 144 knots. At 0909:18, the flight was at 5,100 feet, on a heading of 152 degrees, at a ground speed of 140 knots. At 0909:26, the flight was at 4,400 feet, on a heading of 103 degrees, at a groundspeed of 150 knots. No further radar data was recorded for the flight.
Search and rescue operations were initiated and at 1045 a U. S. Coast Guard helicopter crew located a debris field on the ocean about 3 miles north-northwest of the last radar position of the flight. The debris field was about 75 feet by 300 feet, and the largest piece of wreckage was 1 foot by 1 foot. A rescue swimmer was lowered from the helicopter into the debris field. A jacket, with a name written on the label, was recovered. The jacket was identified by family members as being carried by one of the passengers on the accident flight. The Coast Guard personnel could not recover the remains of the occupants or aircraft because it spread quickly and could not be located by the time a surface vessel arrived on scene.
The pilot, age 35, held a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) private pilot certificate with airplane single engine land and airplane multi-engine land ratings. The pilot help an FAA third class medical certificate, issued on April 27, 2006, with no limitations. At the time of the medical certification the pilot reported he had no flight hours.
The complete pilot logbook record was not located by the pilot's family and submitted to National Transportation Safety Board for examination after the accident. Records obtained by the Safety Board from the flight school attended by the pilot show the pilot first began flight training on June 6, 2006. The pilot took his first flight lesson on June 17, 2006. On September 11, 2006, after completion of 52 total hours of flight instruction and 7 flight hours of solo flight, the pilot received his FAA private pilot certificate with an airplane single engine land rating. The pilot then received 16.3 hours of instrument instruction, and on December 4, 2006, initiated multi-engine training. On December 21, 2006, after 8.9 flight hours of multi-engine instruction, the multi-engine rating was added to the pilot's private pilot certificate. In January and February 2006, the pilot completed an additional 11.5 flight hours of instrument instruction. Maintenance records show the pilot flew the accident airplane about 150 flight hours between December 2006, when he purchased the airplane, and the accident date.
The accident airplane was a Piper Aircraft Corporation model PA-23-250, serial number 27-3111, manufactured in January 1966. The airplane had a low wing, and was equipped with two engines and propellers, and a retractable landing gear. The engines were Lycoming model IO-540-C4B5, rated at 250 horsepower each. The propellers were Hartzell model HC-E2YR, with controllable pitch.
Airplane logbook records showed the airplane and engines were last inspected on March 28, 2006, at airplane total time 3,394 hours, when an annual inspection was performed. On December 27, 2006, at airplane total time 3,403 hours, the right engine vacuum pump was replaced with an overhauled unit. On February 14, 2007, at airplane total time 3,535 hours, the left propeller was replaced with an exchanged propeller, and the right propeller governor was replaced. No additional work was reflected in the logbook records after this date.
Title 14 CFR Part 91.409, states that no person may operate an aircraft unless, within the preceding 12 calendar months, it has had an annual inspection. The accident airplane had not had an annual inspection within the preceding 12 calendar months.
Records show the left and right engines were overhauled on September 27, 1995, at airplane total time 3,166 hours. The right propeller was overhauled on March 18, 1985, at approximate airplane total time 2,700 hours. The left propeller was overhauled on May 24, 2006, installed on another aircraft and operated for an unknown number of hours, and then installed on the accident airplane on February 14, 2007.
Records show the last altimeter and airplane static system test required by Title 14 CFR Part 91.411 for instrument flight rules (IFR) flight was performed on March 6, 2000. The regulation requires the test be conducted each 24 calendar months for the airplane to be certified to operate in IFR conditions.
Records show the last transponder system test required by Title 14 CFR Part 91.413 for IFR flight was performed on March 6, 2000. The regulation requires the test be conducted each 24 calendar months for the airplane to be certified to operate in IFR conditions.
According to records the airplane was equipped with an S-Tec Corporation model 60, single axis autopilot and a Garmin model GPS 150XL, global positioning system (GPS) receiver. According to a relative of the pilot the airplane was not equipped with weather radar or a storm scope system.
A weather study was conducted by a Safety Board meteorologist. The departure airport of Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE) at an elevation of 13 feet msl, was equipped with an Automated Surface Observation System (ASOS) and reported the following conditions surrounding the time of the accident:
KFXE weather observation at 0853, wind from 040 degrees at 4 knots, visibility unrestricted at 10 miles, scattered clouds at 7,500 feet, and scattered at 9,500 feet, temperature 22 degrees Celsius (C), dew point 17 degrees C, altimeter setting 30.04 inches of Mercury (Hg).
The southeast section of the National Weather Service (NWS) Radar Summary Chart for 0920 depicted an area of strong to very strong echoes over the central Florida coast associated with thunderstorms and rain, with echo tops near 18,000 feet. Another area of rain showers was depicted in the vicinity of the accident site.
The Geodetic and Earth Orbiting Satellite 12 visible satellite image for 0932 depicts scattered clouds over the departure station of KFXE, with cloud cover increasing off shore. Multiple layers of clouds were depicted on the image with low stratiform clouds with another mid-level layer of stratiform clouds above. A band of cumulus congestus clouds extends from Boca Raton (KBCT) to the last known position of the accident flight to South Bimini Airport (MYBS), Bimini Island, Bahamas.
The Miami Doppler weather radar image at 0918, overlaid with the Miami Approach radar data for the accident flight, depicts the flight track of the accident airplane departing KFXE east-southeast into a line of convective echoes with reflectivity values of 45 dBZ or "heavy" intensity echoes. This is equivalent to a Video Integrator Processor (VIP) Level 4 thunderstorm which contains severe turbulence with lightning.
The Miami Doppler weather radar image at 0924 continued to depicted echoes of 45 dBZ or "heavy" intensity echo over the route of flight, with reflectivity reaching 50 dBZ "intense" within one mile of the flight path. This is equivalent to a VIP Level 4 thunderstorm, and a VIP Level 5 thunderstorm which contains severe turbulence, lightning, hail, and organized surface wind gusts.
A search of the NWS database indicated that there were no advisories current for the area surrounding the period of the accident.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane wreckage was not recovered.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Some remains of the occupants were located by Coast Guard personnel when they first arrived on scene in a helicopter. They could not recover the remains because they spread quickly and could not be located by the time a surface vessel arrived on scene.