On July 14, 2009, at 2151 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-160, N5519W, was destroyed by impact with terrain and trees about 2 miles northeast of the Cincinnati Municipal Airport – Lunken Field (LUK), Cincinnati, Ohio. The private pilot, the sole occupant, received serious injuries. The 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight departed the Warren-Lebanon County Airport (I68) at 1815 on a local flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. No flight plan was filed.

The pilot reported that he intended to “simply enjoy several hours” of night flying and to return to I68. He first flew to Fayette City (I23), Ohio, and landed there about 1930. He reported that after departing I23, he noticed that the aircraft compass and directional gyro indications did not match. He was not familiar with the new GPS in the airplane and he was not able to get navigational information from it. He “hunted around” for approximately an hour but did not recognize any landmarks or alternate airports. The pilot reported that he flew circles of increasing radius “in hope of coming across a field I did recognize.”

The pilot reported that it had become very dark. He saw a rotating airport beacon and headed for it. As he neared the field he saw two runways outlined in orange light. He stated, “Unaware that this was Lunken (LUK), I set up an approach, flying a N [north] downwind. As I turned to base, I hit the trees paralleling the runway.”

Witnesses who were fishing from the bank of the river near the accident site reported that they heard the airplane approaching. They reported that they saw the airplane approaching from the east and flying toward LUK. They saw the airplane in level flight for about 3 – 5 seconds at tree top level, and then the airplane impacted the trees. There was no explosion or fire.

Inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspected the airplane wreckage at the accident site and after it had been moved to a hangar at LUK. The on-site inspection revealed tree branches that had 45 degree cuts, which were consistent with propeller blade strikes. The foliage exhibited signatures consistent with fuel blight. The propeller blade marked “A” was bent aft about 30 degrees near mid span and the outboard portion of the blade displayed “S” bending along the leading edge of the blade. The leading edge had pits, and the front of the blade had chordwise surface scratching. The propeller blade marked “B” had leading edge pits and chordwise surface scratching. The inspection of the flight control cables revealed that the cables were secured to the aileron bellcranks, rudder bellcrank, and the stabilator balance tube. Where the cables were broken, the signatures were consistent with overload.

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