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On November 13, 2009, about 1902 central standard time, a Piper PA-28-180, N7736N, piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed by impact forces and a post-impact fire near Naytahwaush, Minnesota. The airplane was on a cross-country flight and impacted trees and the ground about 106 nautical miles from the intended destination. The 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight was operating in instrument meteorological conditions and was not on a flight plan. The pilot, who was the sole occupant, was fatally injured. The airplane departed from the Airlake Airport (LVN) near Lakeville, Minnesota, at 1708 and was en route to the Hallock Municipal Airport (HCO), Hallock, Minnesota.
Radar data showed that the accident airplane departed LVN and continued about 330 degrees north-northwest and climbed to a pressure altitude of about 2,300 feet. Due to radar coverage limitations, the radar track only contained data for approximately the first 70 miles of the 335 mile flight.
A handheld global positioning system (GPS) receiver was recovered from the airplane. The GPS data showed that the airplane departed LVN and proceeded on a heading of about 330 degrees at an average groundspeed of about 110 knots. The recorded flight path data did not include altitude information. The airplane’s ground track was not a straight line, wavering at times as much as 5 miles either side of a straight line course between LVN and HCO. During the last minute of the flight the airplane turned left from a course of about 340 degrees to 300 degrees, followed by a right turn which continued until the last recorded position. The airplane’s course at that point was about 015 degrees. The last recorded position of the airplane, at 1902:47, was 47-14-07.26 north latitude, 95-08-26.4 west longitude. The airplane's average groundspeed during the last 20 seconds of the recorded data was about 120 knots. The airplane crashed about 184 nautical miles from the departure airport. The approximate distance between LVN and HCO was 290 nautical miles.
The 32-year-old pilot held a private pilot airman certificate with a single engine land airplane rating. He did not have an instrument rating. The pilot successfully completed the practical test for his pilot certificate on October 12, 2009. A family member estimated that the pilot had about 100 hours of total flight experience at the time of the accident. The pilot’s flight logbook was not recovered during the investigation.
The pilot also held a third class airman medical certificate issued on March 3, 2009. The medical certificate listed that the pilot must wear corrective lenses when exercising the privileges of his airman certificate.
The airplane was a 1968 Piper model PA28-180, serial number 28-5179. The airplane was configured to seat 4 occupants including the pilot and was constructed primarily of aluminum. It was a low-wing monoplane and had a fixed tri-cycle landing gear. The airplane’s engine was a Lycoming O-360 engine rated to produce 180 horsepower.
The accident occurred in a remote area of northern Minnesota. The closest weather reporting stations to the accident site were: Bemidji Regional Airport (BJI), about 33 miles and 55 degrees from the accident; Fosston Municipal Airport (FSE), about 27 miles and 335 degrees from the accident site; Detroit Lakes Airport (DTL), about 33 miles and 212 degrees from the accident site; and Park Rapids Municipal Airport (PKD), about 30 miles and 137 degrees from the accident site.
At 1851 the recorded weather at BJI was: Wind 340 at 5 knots; 7 statute miles visibility; overcast clouds at 400 feet above ground level (agl); temperature 4 degrees Celsius (C); dew point 4 degrees C; altimeter setting 29.70 inches of mercury (in-hg).
At 1911 the recorded weather at BJI was: Wind 350 at 6 knots; 7 statute miles visibility; overcast clouds at 400 feet agl; temperature 4 degrees C; dew point 4 degrees C; altimeter setting 29.69 in-hg.
At 1854 the recorded weather at FSE was: Wind 360 at 4 knots; 10 statute miles visibility; broken clouds at 9,000 feet agl, overcast clouds at 11,000 feet agl; temperature 4 degrees C; dew point 2 degrees C; altimeter setting 29.70 in-hg.
At 1914 the recorded weather at FSE was: Wind 360 at 3 knots; 10 statute miles visibility; overcast clouds at 10,000 feet agl; temperature 3 degrees C; dew point 2 degrees C; altimeter setting 29.70 in-hg.
At 1856 the recorded weather at DTL was: Wind 350 at 5 knots; 10 statute miles visibility; scattered clouds at 400 feet agl, scattered clouds at 7,500 feet agl; temperature 3 degrees C; dew point 1 degree C; altimeter setting 29.71 in-hg.
At 1916 the recorded weather at DTL was: Wind 350 at 5 knots; 10 statute miles visibility; broken clouds at 600 feet agl; temperature 3 degrees C; dew point 1 degree C; altimeter setting 29.71 in-hg.
At 1851 the recorded weather at PKD was: Wind 340 at 3 knots; 10 statute miles visibility; broken clouds at 1,000 feet agl, overcast clouds at 1,700 feet agl; temperature 5 degrees C; dew point 3 degrees C; altimeter setting 29.68 in-hg.
At 1906 the recorded weather at PKD was: Wind 010 at 6 knots; 10 statute miles visibility; light rain; broken clouds at 800 feet agl, overcast clouds at 1,500 feet agl; temperature 5 degrees C; dew point 3 degrees C; altimeter setting 29.68 in-hg.
At 1047 on the day of the accident, the pilot contacted the Princeton Automated Flight Service Station (FCF/AFSS), and obtained an outlook weather briefing for a visual flight rules (VFR) flight from LVN to HCO at 1800 that day. The AFSS briefer informed the pilot that the route of flight would take the airplane through an area covered by an AIRMET for instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions and that those conditions were expected to continue throughout the day and evening hours. The briefer informed the pilot that the stationary front was expected to be just north of the Minneapolis at 1800 and that low clouds were to be expected along and behind the frontal boundary. The briefer informed the pilot that the front was expected to move into western Wisconsin the following morning (November 14, 2009), with improving conditions throughout the following day. No record of additional weather briefings was found.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane impacted into trees in a remote wooded area. The empennage remained attached to the aft fuselage. The outboard sections of both wings had separated from the inboard wing sections. The cockpit, forward fuselage, and inboard wings were almost totally consumed by the post impact fire. An examination of the airplane did not reveal any apparent pre-impact defects.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on November 19, 2009, at the Fairview University Medical Center Mesabi morgue in Hibbing, Minnesota. The final diagnosis listed multiple severe traumatic injuries and postmortem fire related injuries.
A “Final Forensic Toxicology Fatal Accident Report”, prepared by the FAA, was negative for all tests performed.