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On December 6, 2007, approximately 1810 Pacific standard time, a Piper PA-28-236 airplane, N4388P, sustained substantial damage when it collided with trees and terrain while maneuvering near Orting, Washington. The commercial pilot, the sole occupant of the airplane, was killed. Dark night visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the Title 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight operated by the pilot. The local flight originated from Crest Airpark (S36), Kent, Washington, about 1800 with an intended destination of Pierce County Airport / Thun Field (PLU), Puyallup, Washington.
During an interview, a friend of the pilot reported that the pilot had told him that he was going to fly to S36 to receive flight instruction from a local Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and then return to PLU.
In a written statement from the CFI that flew with the pilot prior to the accident flight, he reported that the pilot wanted to practice a few instrument approaches utilizing the autopilot followed by some night landings. The CFI and pilot departed S36 and conducted a "few" instrument approaches at the Tacoma Narrows Airport (TIW), Tacoma, Washington, and on the return leg to S36, conducted a few landings at the Auburn Municipal Airport (S50), Auburn, Washington. The CFI added that upon returning to S36, the pilot exhibited "good judgment" by initiating a go-around due to being high during the approach to landing. They completed the flight around 1730.
A family member of the pilot reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on December 9, 2007, after becoming concerned when the airplane and pilot had not been seen since December 6, 2007. The FAA subsequently issued an Alert Notification (ALNOT). On the morning of December 10, 2007, the Washington State Department of Transportation commenced search and rescue operations in the vicinity where FAA radar indicated the airplane had descended below radar coverage.
The airplane was located by air units on December 13, 2007, approximately 1530, in a heavily wooded area about 8.8 miles southeast of PLU. Evidence of a post crash fire was present and no electronic signal was emitted from the airplane's Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT).
Review of radar data attributed to the accident aircraft revealed the airplane departed S36 to the north and commenced a left 180-degree turn to a southerly course and climbed to an initial altitude of 2,000 feet mean sea level (msl). The general flight path was oriented on a southerly heading with the altitude fluctuating between 1,600 feet msl to 1,900 feet msl until the last three radar returns, which depicted the airplane in a descending right turn to a westerly heading. The last radar return was located about 0.3 miles east of the accident site at an altitude of 1,400 feet msl.
The 78-year old pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane ratings. The pilot was issued a third-class medical certificate on May 11, 2006, with a limitation stating the pilot "MUST WEAR CORRECTIVE LENSES." The pilot reported at the time of his most recent medical application that he had accumulated a total of 1,650 hours of flight time. The pilot's personal logbook flight records were not located.
Review of FAA records revealed that the pilot was involved in two previous taxiing incidents which involved on-ground collisions with parked vehicles on September 9, 2004, and October 27, 2004.
According to a friend of the pilot, the pilot had owned the airplane for about two years and often had flown with instructors or other pilots, but very rarely alone. He stated that he had flown with the pilot previously and recalled an occasion when the pilot's attention was focused on adjusting the GPS or radios, and the airplane veered off course and/or changed altitude.
The four-seat, low wing, fixed gear Piper PA-28-236 airplane, serial number 28-8511006, was manufactured in 1985, and was certified in the normal and utility category. The airplane was powered by a Lycoming O-540-J3A5D engine, serial number RL-21843-40A and equipped with a three-bladed McCauley constant speed propeller.
Review of the aircraft maintenance logbook records revealed that the most recent annual inspection of the airframe, engine, and propeller, was completed on August 13, 2007. At the time of inspection, the total airframe time was 3,688.15 hours. The engine had accumulated 3,930.05 hours total time and 1,714.55 hours since major overhaul.
No open maintenance discrepancies were noted within the aircraft logbooks.
The closest weather observation system was located at PLU, approximately 8.8 miles northwest of the accident site.
At 1810, the automated weather observation system (AWOS) reported; wind calm, visibility 10 statute miles, broken cloud layer at 1,800 feet above ground level (agl), overcast cloud layer at 3,900 feet agl, temperature 5 degrees Celsius, dew point 3 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 29.83 inches of Mercury.
At 1830, the weather observation was: wind calm, visibility 10 statute miles, overcast cloud layer at 1,800 feet agl, temperature 5 degrees Celsius, dew point 3 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 29.84 inches of Mercury.
According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, Astronomical Applications Department, the moon and sun data for the area surrounding Orting, Washington, was: sunset recorded at 1620 and the end of civil twilight was 1655. The moon rose at 0457 and set at 1411 on the day of the accident. The moon was waning crescent with eight percent of its visible disk illuminated.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane impacted trees and terrain within a heavily wooded area at a measured distance of about 8.8 miles southeast of PLU. The airplane came to rest in an inverted position on a heading of 280 degrees magnetic.
The wreckage energy path was measured about 210 feet in length from the initial point of impact with trees to the main wreckage and was oriented on a heading of 280 degrees magnetic. Within the wreckage energy path and main wreckage, numerous topped trees, including four downed trees, and various debris from the fuselage and wings were found. All flight control surfaces were located at the accident site.
The fuselage and inboard portions of the wings were mostly consumed by fire. The outboard portions of the left and right wings were located within the wreckage energy path. Flight control continuity was established from the cockpit control column aft to the empennage and to the right wing. Control continuity to the left wing was not established due to the extent of the fire damage.
Examination of the recovered airframe and flight control system components revealed no evidence of pre-impact anomalies.
Examination of the engine revealed that it was partially attached to the airframe by control cables and exhibited thermal damage. The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft and all three propeller blades were loose within the fractured propeller hub. One blade exhibited aft bending approximately 10 - 15 degrees with the blade tip curled. The leading edge exhibited numerous nicks and gouges including chordwise scratching and gouges on the forward side of the blade. The second propeller blade exhibited a forward bending about 5 to 10 degrees with the blade tip curled aft. The blade exhibited substantial leading edge dents impact marks and chordwise scratching. The third propeller blade exhibited an aft bending about 60 - 70 degrees with chordwise scratches and leading edge dents and nicks.
Examination of the recovered engine and system components revealed no evidence of pre-impact mechanical anomalies.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Pierce County Medical Examiners Office conducted an autopsy on the pilot on December 14, 2007. The medical examiner determined that the cause of death was "multiple blunt force injuries."
The FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology tests on the pilot. According to CAMI's report, carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles, and drugs were tested, and had negative results.