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On August 5, 2008, about 1440 central daylight time, a Piper PA-12, N7820H, was substantially damaged when it impacted a soybean field after departing from Moontown Airport (3M5), Brownsboro, Alabama. The certificated private pilot and his passenger were killed. Visual meteorological conditions were reported, and no flight plan was filed for the local personal flight, which was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
The pilot and passenger were planning to fly over the passenger’s corn field to take photos of a corn maze. According to local police officials, the airplane had just departed runway 27, a 2,180-foot-long by 160-foot-wide turf runway, climbed to approximately 50 feet above ground level, before impacting the ground in a nearby field.
A witness, who was in a house near the accident scene, stated that she saw the airplane takeoff and climb to a point "about tree top high." It "then went down behind the trees," and that was followed by the "sound of a crash." The witness then observed a plume of smoke rising from behind the trees. Another witness reported that he did not see the airplane in flight, but he heard the engine "falter" and subsequently heard an explosion.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single- and multi-engine land ratings, a mechanic certificate with airframe and powerplant ratings, and an inspection authorization. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third-class medical certificate was issued March 28, 2008 and at that time the pilot reported 1,050 hours of total flight experience. A review of the pilot’s logbook revealed that he had accumulated 1,076.9 hours of total flight experience. The logbook registered 978.9 hours in a single engine airplane, and 886.6 hours as pilot in command. His last biennial flight review was conducted on September 26, 2006.
The 3 seat, single-engine airplane, serial number 12-718, was issued an airworthiness certificate in 1946. The airplane was constructed of tubular steel and fabric and was equipped with a Lycoming O-290-D2 engine. A review of the airplane’s maintenance logbooks revealed that its most recent annual inspection was completed on April 15, 2008, with a total time in service of 1,969.8 hours. The engine logbook recorded a total time in service of 436.9 hours at the time of the annual inspection. The last major overhaul on the engine was accomplished on June 21, 1978, and the engine was installed in the airplane on December 1, 2004.
The 1440 automated weather observation at Madison County Executive Airport/Tom Sharp Jr. Field (MDQ), Meridianville, Alabama, 8 miles from the accident site, reported wind from 210 degrees at 3 knots, visibility 10 miles, clear sky, temperature 35 degrees Celsius (C), dew point 19 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.08 inches of mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Examination of the airplane by an FAA inspector revealed that the airplane impacted the ground with the nose and right wing. The airplane came to rest in a nose down attitude, the fuselage was bent in an inverted u-shape, allowing the bottom of the rudder and bottom of the right horizontal stabilizer to rest on the ground. The wreckage was orientated on a heading of 310 degrees magnetic. The leading edge of the right wing was crushed due to the impact. Control continuity was verified for all surfaces. The two bladed propeller did not exhibit any evidence of rotational scoring. There was no evidence of fuel remaining within the carburetor. The spark plugs were removed and the electrodes were grayish in color. The airplane was consumed by a post-impact fire. The fuel selector valve was recovered and appeared to be in the "OFF" position.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the State Medical Examiner, Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, Huntsville, Alabama, on August 6, 2008, the cause of death was cited as blunt force injuries. Specimens for toxicological tests were taken from the pilot by the medical examiner.
The FAA’s Civil Aeromedical Institute’s Forensic and Accident Research Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed forensic toxicology on specimens from the pilot and no drugs of abuse were detected.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The fuel selector valve was examined by a mechanic and by the FAA inspector on scene. With the handle in the position it was in at the time of the accident allowed two of the three orifices to be closed and only one of the three orifices open. The fuel selector valve was forwarded to the Safety Board Materials Laboratory. Examination of the fuel selector valve revealed that the inner valve orifice was open to only the right port and in that configuration there could be no flow through the valve, therefore the valve was in the "OFF" position.
In an interview with investigators, the owner of the airplane stated that when he parked the airplane on a ramp, he normally placed the fuel selector valve in the "OFF" position, in order to prevent wing tank fuel from draining out onto the ground through the carburetor. He further stated that with the fuel selector valve in the "OFF" position, there is enough fuel in the lines and collector tank to allow the engine to run for approximately six minutes. This was corroborated by other PA-12 pilots. One pilot stated that at idle the engine will run for approximately 12 minutes with the fuel selector in the "OFF" position. He added that depending on the length of the taxi, if the airplane is taxied to the runway and then takeoff power is applied, the airplane will climb to approximately 50 to 150 feet agl before the engine is starved of fuel.