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On July 4, 2007, about 1116 central daylight time, a Piper PA-22-135, N3737A, piloted by a commercial pilot, sustained substantial damage on impact with terrain following an in-flight separation of the left wing while maneuvering near Johnson, Nebraska. A post impact ground fire occurred. The ferry flight was operating under 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. No flight plan was on file. The pilot sustained fatal injuries. The flight originated from the Tecumseh Municipal Airport (0G3), near Tecumseh, Nebraska, and was destined for the Brenner Field Airport (FNB), near Falls City, Nebraska.
A witness who was an acquaintance of the pilot, stated that the pilot "was in the process of purchasing the plane." The witness reported that the owner advised the pilot that the airplane had not flown in about four years and that the engine had not been started in about six months. The pilot drained the fuel and filled each tank with 12 gallons of aviation gasoline. The pilot flew the airplane for about 30 minutes and parked the airplane in a hangar. The witness reported that the pilot was aware that the airplane did not have a current annual inspection. The witness said that the pilot came back on the day of the accident to fly the airplane to FNB for an annual inspection. The witness saw the airplane depart 0G3 about 1100 in the direction of the pilot's home.
Another witness, near the accident site, stated, in part:
The plane was about 300 to 400 feet in the air heading in a northeast
direction when a portion of the planes wing broke away from the
plane, causing it to veer east towards Johnson, NE and crash into a
corn field west of town. Approximately five to seven seconds
elapsed from the time the wing broke away until the time of impact.
At 11:17 a.m. I made a 911 call on my cell phone which lasted one
minute and sixteen seconds. During this time the plane became
engulfed with flames which were probably ten to fifteen seconds
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. The pilot's most recent second-class Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) medical certificate was issued on August 16, 2005. On the application for that medical certificate, the pilot reported that he had accumulated 1,200 hours of total flight time and 50 hours in the six months prior to the application.
N3737A, a 1953 Piper PA-22-135, Colt, was an externally braced high wing, tricycle gear airplane with serial number 22-1980. A 135-horsepower Lycoming O-290-D2 engine with serial number 6609-21 powered the airplane. The airplane's last logbook entry showed that an annual inspection was conducted on November 1, 2002. At the time of that inspection, the airplane had accumulated approximately 3,815 hours total time.
That annual inspection contained an endorsement that Airworthiness Directive (AD) 99-01-05 was accomplished. That AD contained a section for repetitive 12 calendar month inspections of the wing's lift struts. The AD was issued to "prevent in-flight separation of the wing from the airplane caused by corroded wing lift struts or cracked wing lift strut forks, which could result in loss of control of the airplane."
An excerpt from 14 CFR Part 21.197, Special flight permits, stated, in part:
(a) A special flight permit may be issued for an aircraft that may not
currently meet applicable airworthiness requirements but is capable
of safe flight, for the following purposes:
(1) Flying the aircraft to a base where repairs, alterations, or
maintenance are to be performed, or to a point of storage.
No airplane logbook entry was found for the required special flight permit to ferry the airplane for its annual inspection.
At 1110, the recorded weather at the Nebraska City Municipal Airport, near Nebraska City, Nebraska, was: Wind 030 degrees at 10 knots; visibility 10 statute miles; sky condition clear; temperature 27 degrees C; dew point 18 degrees C; altimeter 30.02 inches of mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane impacted a cornfield near the intersection of Highway 105 and County Road 730A. The left wing impacted a cornfield about a quarter mile west of the airplane. The fabric covering sections of the empennage, fuselage, and right wing were consumed by fire.
The separated left wing's aileron and flap cables exhibited separations consistent with overload. The left wing's forward strut separated about eight inches above its fork bolt. The inside of that strut was corroded. No other pre-impact anomalies were detected.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Nemaha County Attorney's Office arranged for an autopsy to be performed on the pilot, which was conducted on July 6, 2007.
The FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute prepared a Final Forensic Toxicology Accident Report. The report was negative for the tests performed.
A witness reported that a post impact ground fire that engulfed the airplane in flames occurred about 10 - 15 fifteen seconds after impact.
The parties to the investigation included the FAA and Piper Aircraft, Inc.