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On January 3, 2009, about 1215 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-151, N43631, was substantially damaged during impact with terrain, near Powder Springs, Tennessee. The certificated private pilot and the sole passenger were killed. Instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) prevailed for the flight that departed Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport (GKT), Sevierville, Tennessee, and was destined for Warsaw Municipal Airport (ASW), Warsaw, Indiana. No flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
According to a witness who was outside of his house, the "weather was overcast," and he could not see the tops of the mountains. He heard an airplane traveling in a northerly direction, and heard the engine, "cutout, two to three times" prior to hearing the airplane "crash" into trees, and the engine "stop." He advised that he distinctly heard the trees "felled." He told his wife about what he heard and then called "911." He estimated that the ceiling at the time was about 100 to 200 feet below the tops of the mountains, which equates to 1,700 to 1,800 feet above sea level (msl).
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and did not possess an instrument rating. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued on June 26, 2007 at which time he reported 116 total hours of flight experience.
The airplane was lent to the pilot by the owner. According to FAA and maintenance records, the airplane was manufactured in 1974. The airplane's most recent annual inspection was completed on February 1, 2008. At the time of the inspection, the airplane had accrued 5,017 total hours of operation.
The recorded weather at McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS), Knoxville, Tennessee, approximately 21 nautical miles southwest of the accident site, at 1153, included: wind 010 degrees at 6 knots, visibility 3 miles in mist, overcast at 1,200 feet, temperature 7 degrees C, dew point 6 degrees C and an altimeter setting of 30.07 inches of mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The wreckage of the accident airplane was discovered about 27 miles northwest of GKT in an area of heavy timber and mountainous terrain.
Examination of the accident site by a FAA inspector revealed that the airplane had struck trees near the top of a mountain. The wings had separated from the fuselage, and the fuselage had come to rest on a magnetic heading of 328 degrees, approximately 1,932 feet msl, downhill from the initial impact point.
Examination of the wreckage by the NTSB did not reveal any evidence of any preimpact malfunction of the airplane or engine and control continuity was established from the flight controls to the breaks in the cables which made up the system and exhibited tensile overload.
The wings were fragmented and exhibited numerous impact depressions. The stall vane was impact damaged, the pitot tube was unobstructed, and both the fuel screens and fuel vent were free of blockage. The left aileron had separated from its mounting location, and the right aileron was partially separated from its mounts.
The vertical stabilizer and rudder were still attached to their mounting locations but displayed impact damage to the tip areas. The rudder was partially separated and the stabilizer was bent aft. The rudder sector, stop bolts and control cables were in place and secure. The rudder control cables were continuous to the rudder bar. The rudder tip and balance weight had separated and were not recovered. The horizontal stabilator hinge and stop bolts were in place and secure. The left side of the stabilator displayed impact damage to the leading edge. The tip was separated and also displayed similar impact damage. The right side was separated near the hinge and the skin was fragmented. The tip of the right side was recovered with a portion of the leading edge as well as the right side of the pitch trim tab. The balance tube was in place and the balance weight was secure. Both the upper and lower control cables were secure and continuous to the control wheel T bar assembly and the pitch trim drum inner shaft extension displayed five threads, which was consistent with a neutral trim setting.
The fuselage exhibited impact damage to the front and sides of the cabin area and the aft fuselage was partially separated from the forward section. The engine was in place but the propeller was separated. The nose landing gear was impact separated from the upper portion of the strut. The gascolator was separated and found near the front of the airplane at the crash site. The electric fuel pump filter was removed and was free of debris.
Examination of the cabin revealed that the cabin door had been closed and latched, the navigation lights were selected on, the panel lights were selected on, and the emergency locator transmitter was armed.
Both front seats had been removed for extrication of the occupants. The left front seat belt had been cut and the right front seat belt was not fastened. Neither the left or right shoulder harness was fastened to the lap belts.
The fuel selector valve was positioned in the left tank position. The flap handle and flap torque tube were in the retracted flap position. The magneto switches, as well as the master switch, had been placed in the "OFF" position by rescue personnel.
Examination of the directional gyro and artificial horizon revealed that, the interior gimbaled assemblies were intact and rotated freely and the gyros exhibited light rotational scoring.
The propeller was separated from the engine. The spinner was in place over the hub and displayed rotational signatures with compression wrinkling on the front side of both the blades as well as the hub bolts. Both propeller blades were twisted toward low pitch and exhibited leading edge gouging and chordwise scratching.
The engine's crankshaft was rotated through the crankshaft propeller flange. Crankshaft continuity was confirmed to the accessory drive, and valve train continuity was confirmed to all cylinders. Thumb compression and suction was confirmed for all of the cylinders, and the spark plugs were intact, appeared normal, and were dark gray in color. Both the left and right magnetos produced spark from all towers when rotated by hand.
Oil was present in the oil filter, on the oil suction screen, and valve springs. The interiors of all of the cylinders were examined with a lighted borescope, and no damage was noted to the piston domes or valves.
The fuel pump was fractured and separated from the engine. The carburetor was also separated from the engine and fragmented. The brass floats were crushed, the float bowl was fragmented, and the fuel inlet screen was exposed.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Global Positioning System (GPS) Information
According to data extracted from a handheld Lowrance 600C GPS receiver that was recovered from the wreckage, after departure from runway 10 at GKT the pilot turned out on a right crosswind, then turned right again and joined the downwind paralleling the runway until clearing the traffic pattern. The airplane then turned in a northerly direction. The last data point recorded was approximately 20 nautical miles south of the accident site.
Flight Service and Air Traffic Control Information
Information provided by Lockheed Martin Flight Service revealed that, the pilot had received a pre-flight weather briefing for the flight from GKT to ASW and was advised that flight under visual flight rules was not recommended due to low ceilings and visibility along the route of flight. The information provided also revealed that the pilot declined to file a flight plan. Additionally, no evidence was discovered that indicated the pilot had attempted to receive updated weather information prior to the accident flight or that he had contact with air traffic control.
According to an interview conducted with an employee at the Warsaw Flying Club, around the time of the accident, the pilot had been "working on his instrument rating."