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On March 20, 2009, about 0840 Pacific daylight time (PDT), a Piper Cherokee Six, PA-32-300, N55962, impacted terrain during departure from Corona Municipal Airport (AJO), Corona, California. The pilot/owner was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The private pilot and passenger were fatally injured, and the airplane was substantially damaged by impact forces. The cross-country personal flight departed Corona, California, at 0838, with a planned destination of Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan had been filed.
A search for the airplane was begun by local fire, police, and search and rescue personnel. The wreckage was located 10 hours later in thick vegetation in the Prado Flood Control Basin. The accident site was located .5 nautical miles (nm) northwest of the departure end of runway 25.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) reviewed recorded radar data and noted a discrete 4740 beacon code at a mode C reported altitude of 600 feet mean sea level (msl). Recorded radar data indicated that after the target took off, it climbed on a westerly course until reaching a mode C reported altitude of 900 feet msl. The target made a climbing right turn to a recorded altitude of 1,000 feet msl, followed by a descending right turn to a recorded altitude of 700 feet msl. The target then made a climbing right turn to an altitude of 1,300 feet msl, then changing to a left descending turn to an altitude of 700 feet msl. The last return was at 900 feet msl. The main wreckage was located 400 feet west of the last recorded radar target.
One witness reported that following a normal takeoff, and after losing sight of the airplane due to the low fog, the witness heard what sounded like the airplane impacting trees.
Another witness at the airport reported hearing an airplane, which the witness thought was flying northwest of the airport. The witness stated that he thought the airplane made two 360-degee turns, which were followed by a dull thud sound. The witness stated that he thought the airplane was making 360-degree turns based on the rising and falling pitch, and building and waning intensity of the engine and propeller noise. Both witnesses were unable to see the airplane due to the low visibility at the airport.
A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed that the 50-year-old pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane.
The pilot held a third-class medical certificate issued on July 16, 2007, which identified a limitation that the pilot must possess corrective glasses for near vision.
An examination of the pilot's logbook indicated that the pilot had accumulated a total flight time of about 426 hours, with about 415 hours in the make and model airplane involved in the accident. An instrument rating was obtained on October 31, 2007, with the last instrument flight logged on November 6, 2007. The logbook indicated that the pilot had accumulated about 2 hours of actual instrument time, and about 47 hours of simulated instrument time.
No flight time was recorded within the last 90 days prior to the accident, and there is no record of the pilot obtaining an instrument proficiency check within the 12 months prior to the accident.
The airplane was a Piper PA-32-300, serial number 32-7340147. A review of the airplane’s maintenance records revealed that the airplane had a reported total airframe time of 2,224 hours at the last annual inspection, which was signed off on June 26, 2008.
The engine was a Lycoming IO-540-K1A5, serial number L-10955-48. Total time recorded on the engine at the last annual inspection was unknown, and time since major overhaul was 692 hours.
The closest official weather observation station was Corona Municipal Airport (AJO), which was .7 nm southeast of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 533 feet msl.
An aviation special weather report for AJO was issued at 0833 PDT. It stated: winds were calm; visibility 3/4 miles; skies 400 feet overcast; temperature 11 degrees Celsius; dew point 11 degrees Celsius; altimeter 29.93 inches of mercury.
The pilot had filed an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan, and received an IFR flight release via telephone from Southern California terminal radar approach control (TRACON). The accident occurred prior to the pilot establishing radio contact with TRACON after departure.
Corona Municipal Airport is a publicly owned, uncontrolled airport on lease to the City of Corona.
The Airport/ Facility Directory, Southwest U. S., indicated that Corona Municipal Airport runway 25 was 3,200 feet long and 60 feet wide. The runway surface was asphalt.
The published takeoff minimums/departure procedures for Corona Municipal Airport (AJO) is:
Runway 25, 600 feet and 2 miles or standard with a minimum climb rate of 280' per nm to 1,200 feet.
Runway 25, climbing right turn.
All aircraft continue climb direct to PDZ VORTAC. Aircraft departing PDZ R-091 CW R-140 and R-231 CW R-280 climb on course. All others continue climb in PDZ VORTAC holding pattern (Hold NE, right turns, 210° inbound) to cross PDZ VORTAC at or above: R-141 CW R-230 4000, R-281 CW R-090 6700.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane impacted a flood control basin within the Prado Dam wetlands in Corona. The site was in an area of dense vegetation and 30-foot-high bamboo-like plants.
Investigators examined the wreckage at the accident scene. Impact signatures indicated that the airplane impacted the ground in a left wing low, nose down attitude. The right wing then followed, impacting the ground leading edge down. The right wing fuel tip tank and associated fiberglass material separated from the wing and came to rest about 30 feet outboard of the wing. The fuselage came to rest on a heading of 179 degrees. The empennage section was bent over aft of the baggage compartment to the left side of airplane near the left wing. The tail section came to rest on the tip of the left horizontal surface. The engine was buried vertically in the main ground crater underneath the main wreckage.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Riverside County Coroner completed an autopsy, and reported the cause of death to be “multiple blunt force injuries” within an interval of seconds.
The FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing of specimens of the pilot.
Analysis of the specimens contained no findings for carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles, and tested drugs.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Investigators examined the wreckage at Aircraft Recovery Service, Littlerock, California, on March 23, 2009.
The directional gyro (DG) assembly was disassembled for examination. No rotational signatures were observed on either the rotor or housing assemblies.
The artificial horizon (AH) gyro was disassembled for examination. Minor rotational signatures were observed on the rotor and housing assemblies. Water was present inside the housing assembly.
The rear-mounted vacuum pump was secure at the mounting pad. The pump was removed, examined, and photographed. The drive was intact. The rotor/vane assembly was intact and undamaged. The cover o-ring was protruding from the cover.
The airframe and engine were examined with no mechanical anomalies identified.