On February 26, 2009, about 1510 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-140, N4981T, was substantially damaged while attempting to land at Ridgeland Airport (3J1), Ridgeland, South Carolina. The certificated private pilot was seriously injured and the flight instructor-rated passenger was killed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight. The local personal flight was conducted under the previsions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

The pilot provided a written statement and was interviewed by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector. According to the statement and the interview summary, the pilot had initially departed from runway 21. Just after takeoff, the pilot returned to land on runway 21, as he believed that the engine was not producing sufficient power. During the circuit around the traffic pattern, the airplane was never higher than 500 feet above ground level.

After an uneventful landing, the pilot taxied the airplane back for another departure from runway 21. Before takeoff, the pilot performed an engine run-up and noted that everything was "normal," and departed again. During the climb, and on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, the pilot again felt that the engine was not producing enough power and this time elected to return to land on runway 03. The pilot turned the airplane toward the runway, and remembered thinking that the airplane was high and fast, but aligned with the runway centerline. The pilot subsequently landed the airplane "hard" on the runway. The pilot further stated that he thought the airplane was never higher than 200 feet above ground level.

Several witnesses provided written statements. Each of the statements varied in the specific actions the airplane performed, but all generally described a series of takeoffs and landings from each end of the airport's single runway. During the final moments of the accident flight, the witnesses observed the airplane flying low and banking over hangars near the south side of the airport. The airplane continued toward the runway at a 45-degree angle, before the right wing struck the pavement. The airplane then touched down, collapsing the landing gear, before it skidded off the west side of the runway.

The airplane was examined by a representative of the airframe manufacturer under the supervision of an FAA inspector on March 3, 2009. The fuselage exhibited impact damage from the engine compartment firewall, aft to the trailing edge of both wings. Flight control continuity was established from the cockpit to all control surfaces. The stabilator trim indicator was in the neutral to nose up position.

Examination of the engine area revealed that fuel was present in the electric fuel pump. The carburetor was breached and absent of fuel. The fuel strainer bowl was absent of fuel or debris, and exhibited no signs of blockage. Fuel was found in the left and right fuel tanks, though water was also found in the right fuel tank. Examination of the right fuel tank cap revealed that its gasket was "hard and worn" and that the fuel cap adapter was worn and exhibited signatures of corrosion and rust at the point of the fuel cap seal. The FAA inspector had noted that there was light to heavy rain for at least 2 days prior to his examination of the airplane.

No evidence of any obvious mechanical deficiencies were noted during the examination.

According to aircraft registration information provided by the FAA, the airplane was manufactured in 1972. Examination of the airplane's maintenance logs by FAA inspectors revealed that the most recent annual inspection was completed on May 14, 2008. The total hours of operation the airplane had accumulated were not noted on that entry, and could not be determined.

According to FAA records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land. The pilot possessed 160 total hours of flight experience, and his most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued on March 24, 2008.

The 1456 reported weather at Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station (NBC), located 14 nautical miles east of 3J1, included a broken ceiling at 6,500 feet, 7 statute miles visibility, winds from 180 degrees at 5 knots, temperature 21 degrees Celsius (C), dewpoint 9 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.30 inches of mercury.

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