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On December 22, 2010, about 0854 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-151, N30ZZ, registered to a private individual, collided with trees then the ground near Spencer Airport (60M), Spencer, Massachusetts. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and no flight plan was filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight from 60M to Fitchburg Municipal Airport (FIT), Fitchburg, Massachusetts. The airplane sustained substantial damage, and the commercial certificated pilot, the sole occupant, was killed. The flight originated about 2 minutes earlier from 60M.
There were no known eyewitnesses to the accident. One individual familiar with airplane operations who was located approximately 1/10 nautical mile east-northeast from the departure end of runway 01 reported hearing a loud sound consistent with an airplane taking off to the north. She then reported hearing a “funny sound” she associated with a backfire. Shortly afterwards, she saw a police helicopter flying and drove to the crash site. The witness later reported the weather conditions at the time of the accident consisted of clear skies, and no wind. Numerous individuals reported hearing a low flying aircraft; however, no determination could be made whether the sound they heard was associated with the accident airplane or law enforcement aircraft flying to the site postaccident.
An individual who was located in an area east of the departure end of runway 01 reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector-in-charge (IIC) hearing what he thought was three takeoff attempts to the north. The individual reported that during the fourth takeoff attempt, he heard the engine surge or sputter two times before stopping. Shortly after the engine stopped the witness heard a loud bang followed by hearing a crashing sound.
Another individual who was located approximately 2,000 to 3,000 feet west of the airport reported to the FAA-IIC hearing the sound of an aircraft departing; the engine sounded normal based on his experience in hearing other aircraft. The engine then quit, followed by hearing a long drawn out boom sound. Believing the aircraft had crashed he drove to the airport and by the time he arrived there, rescue crews had already responded to the accident site.
One witness reported to the FAA-IIC that he was driving past the airport and observed the crashed airplane. He immediately went to the scene and called 911 to report the accident. He also reported there was no vapor or visible fuel leaks. The witness did report a faint odor of fuel at the site, and hearing a rhythmic clicking sound coming from the engine area which stopped after several minutes. The witness estimated that rescue personnel arrived 10 minutes after he made the 911 call.
The pilot, age 50, held commercial and certified flight instructor (CFI) pilot certificates. At the commercial level he had airplane single engine land and sea, and instrument airplane ratings, and at the CFI level he had airplane single engine rating. He was issued a second class medical certificate with a limitation to possess lenses for near and intermediate vision issued November 9, 2010. A review of the application for this last medical certificate revealed he listed having a total time of 4,375 hours.
Review of his fourth pilot logbook that begins with an entry dated May 8, 1997, to the last entry dated June 20, 2009, revealed he logged a total time of 4,026.2 hours.
The airplane was manufactured in 1974 by Piper Aircraft Corporation, as model PA-28-151, and was designated serial number 28-7515202. It was powered by a Lycoming O-320-E3D engine and equipped with a Sensenich fixed pitch propeller. The engine was modified by Supplemental Type Certificate SE8967SW which increased the takeoff power rating to 160 horsepower.
The airplane’s fuel system consists of one 25 gallon total capacity aluminum fuel tank installed in each wing, of which 1.0 gallon in each tank is considered unusable. Each tank contains a float type sending unit electrically connected to its respective fuel quantity gauge in the cockpit. A single outlet supply line from each tank is routed to a three position fuel selector valve in the cockpit, with one outlet supply line from the fuel selector valve routed to a fuel strainer, auxiliary fuel pump, engine-driven fuel pump, then to the carburetor inlet. A primer valve located in the cockpit utilized for starting draws fuel from the fuel strainer and directs a spray of fuel directly into the cylinders. A fuel pressure gauge is plumbed into the fuel supply line just before the carburetor inlet.
Review of the maintenance records revealed the airplane was last inspected in accordance with an annual inspection on April 28, 2010. The airplane total time at the last annual inspection was recorded to be approximately 3,037 hours.
A surface observation weather report taken at Worchester Regional Airport (ORH) at 0854, or about the time of the accident, indicates the wind was from 330 degrees at 12 knots with gusts to 22 knots. The visibility was 10 statute miles and clear skies existed. The temperature and dew point were minus 01 and minus 05 degrees Celsius, respectively, and the altimeter setting was 29.67 inches of Mercury. The accident site was located approximately 4 nautical miles and 304 degrees from ORH.
The 60M Airport is equipped with a single asphalt runway designated 01/19. The runway length is listed as 1,950 feet and the width is 50 feet.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Examination of the accident site revealed the airplane came to rest inverted at the edge of a wooded area. The main wreckage consisting of the fuselage with attached right wing, right side of the horizontal stabilator, and engine assembly was located at 42 degrees 17 minutes 42 seconds North latitude and 071 degrees 57 minutes 53 seconds West longitude. The left wing and left side of the horizontal stabilator were separated but found in close proximity to the resting point of the main wreckage. The outer section of the left wing was located in a tree approximately 65 feet above ground level; the tree was located approximately 90 feet and 359 degrees from the main wreckage. Examination of the tree revealed a scar on the trunk on the northeast side of the tree, which was located approximately 850 feet and 360 degrees from the departure end of runway 01. The inboard section of the left wing was in close proximity to the resting position of the main wreckage and remained connected by the aileron balance cable. The left and right wing flaps were retracted, which was consistent with the as-found position of the flap selector handle.
Examination of the airplane revealed the left and right fuel tanks were breached. The left fuel tank was breached at the outboard forward portion of the tank and did not contain any fuel, while the right fuel tank was breached at the middle forward portion of the tank. The right fuel tank was drained and found to contain approximately four ounces of blue colored fuel consistent with 100 low lead (100LL); no water was detected in the sample. Additionally, another fuel drain located near the right wing root was drained and found to contain approximately ½ ounce blue colored fuel also consistent with 100LL. That sample did not contain any water.
Elevator and rudder flight control cable continuity was confirmed from their respective attached points near the control surface to the cockpit attach points. The left aileron control cable exhibited tension overload separation approximately 12 inches from the attach point at the chain in the cockpit.
Examination of the cockpit revealed the fuel selector was in the right tank detent position. The left and right aluminum fuel supply lines aft of the fuel selector valve were cut in two places with the ends crimped consistent by tools used postaccident. No fuel was noted at the fuel selector valve when the left, right, and outlet fuel lines were removed. The throttle and mixture controls were in the full forward positions, the carburetor heat was in the off position, the magneto switch was in the off position and the key was bent. The flap handle was retracted, and the needle of the recording tachometer was positioned at 1,200 rpm. The faceplate of the tachometer was impact damaged on either side of the as-found position of the needle, which only allowed movement of the needle between 1,200 and 1,500 rpm. The hour meter indicated 3,929.2, and the needle of the fuel pressure gauge was separated. The primer was in and locked, and the auxiliary fuel pump switch was in the on position.
Examination of the engine revealed the propeller was separated and two of the recovered bolts that secure the propeller to the crankshaft flange were sheared. The carburetor was separated from the oil sump but remained connected by the carburetor heat, mixture, and throttle control cables. The carburetor inlet fitting boss was fractured. The flexible fuel hose that connects to the carburetor inlet fitting contained the inlet screen which was crushed. The carburetor bowl was drained and found to contain approximately 1/2 ounce blue colored fuel consistent with 100LL. The fuel was tested using water finding paste; no water was detected. Movement of the throttle by hand resulted in a discharge of fuel from the accelerator pump. No ice or foreign matter was noted in the venturi of the carburetor. Inspection of the fuel strainer revealed an estimated 1/2 ounce of blue colored fuel consistent with 100LL remained in the bowl; some sediment was noted at the bottom of the bowl. The fuel strainer screen was examined and it contained light sediment. Examination of the auxiliary fuel pump revealed the fuel lines were tightly secured. They were then disconnected to check for fuel; less than 1/2 ounce of fuel was recovered. The screen was checked and it contained light sediment.
Examination and testing of the airplane’s fuel supply lines and fuel selector valve following recovery of the airplane revealed no evidence of blockage or obstructions from each fuel tank to the engine compartment.
Further examination of the engine was performed following recovery of the airplane. Visual examination revealed impact damage to the exhaust system. The crankshaft was rotated by hand; rotation was smooth and no mechanical anomalies were noted. Suction and compression was verified on all cylinders during hand rotation of the crankshaft. Both magnetos were rotated by hand and produced spark at all ignition towers. The upper spark plugs for all cylinders were gray in color and normal in appearance according to the Champion Spark plug chart. Disassembly inspection of the carburetor revealed the venturi was in place and the floats, which were white in color, appeared to have no punctures present. Examination of the engine-driven fuel pump which remained attached to the engine accessory case revealed it operated normally when operated by hand. Disassembly inspection of the engine-driven fuel pump revealed the diaphragms appeared to be normal and no puncture marks or tears were noted. The gaskets were examined and appeared worn; however, no fuel staining was found on the outside of the pump case. When opened approximately 1 ounce of blue colored fluid was present consistent with 100LL. Electrical operational testing of the auxiliary fuel pump was performed which revealed it operated satisfactory.
Examination of the propeller revealed one blade was bent aft with the leading edge twisted towards low pitch. The tip of the blade exhibited a slight forward bend, and chordwise scratches were noted on the cambered side of the blade. The other blade was bent aft and the leading edge was also twisted towards low pitch. Chordwise and spanwise scratches were noted on the cambered side of the blade. Heavy gouges were noted on the leading edge of the blade near the blade tip.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
A postmortem examination of the pilot was performed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, located in Boston, Massachusetts. The cause of death was listed as blunt force trauma to head, torso and extremities with fractures and transaction of the spinal cord. The autopsy report further indicated no significant pathologic changes were noted during microscopic examination of sectioned pieces of the heart.
Forensic toxicology was performed on specimens of the pilot by the FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory (CAMI), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and the UMass Memorial Medical Center (UMass MMC), Worcestor, Massachusetts. The toxicology report by CAMI stated the results were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and tested drugs. The toxicology report from the UMass MMC indicated the results were negative in the heart blood for volatiles and drugs of abuse. The results were negative in the urine for drugs of abuse and in the vitreous fluid for volatiles.
The pilot’s wife reported to NTSB that the Friday before the accident, her husband complained to friends of theirs about experiencing heart burn. During that moment he grabbed his chest and excused himself to the bathroom. He also reported difficulty swallowing and later that evening vomited. The pilot’s wife reported that he always seemed to be in good health and heart problems did not run in his family.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The airplane owner reported keeping a spiral bound log in the airplane which documented date of flights, ending hour meter reading, flight duration, airports flown to, and pilot name or initials. Safety Board review of the log revealed the last logged flight had a recorded hour meter reading of 3,929.1, and was flown by a pilot with initials “RB”. The airplane owner reported that the airplane had not been operated between the last logged flight and the accident flight. The owner also reported that to his knowledge, the hour meter was operative at the last flight in November and also during the accident flight. As previously reported, the hour meter reading at the time of the accident was 3,929.2.
Interview of a certificated private pilot who flew with a student pilot with the initials “RB” indicated the flight occurred on November 2, 2010. The private pilot reported that before the start of the flight he did not inspect the fuel tanks to determine the fuel quantity; however, he knew there was plenty of fuel to begin the trip. He further stated that before departure of the return flight, he also did not inspect the fuel tanks. After departure while en route near Norfolk or Mansfield, he noticed the fuel quantity gauges were indicating low. He recalled that at the end of the return flight the left and right fuel quantity gauges indicated 1/4 capacity each, or 1/4 and 1/8 capacity in the tanks. The roundtrip flight duration was reported to be approximately 2 hours 50 minutes, and there were no reported discrepancies with the airplane during the two flights. Although he did not look into the fuel tanks before either flight, he noted that the fuel quantity gauges reflected decreasing amounts of fuel as both flights progressed. At the completion of the round trip flights, he asked the student pilot to log the flight time and advised him to log 2.5 hours elapsed time. During a phone interview with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector-in-charge, the private pilot reported being concerned about the quantity of fuel remaining in the fuel tanks during the return flight. The reason for concern was because he had previously experienced a low fuel state while flying another airplane which made him feel uncomfortable.
Based on the recorded hour meter reading following a flight on November 2, 2010, and the hour meter recorded at the accident site, a total of 1/10 of an hour elapsed. Testing was performed to determine the time to travel from the tiedown spot to the approach end of runway 01. The testing was performed in a vehicle and while back taxiing down runway 01, the vehicle travelled at 15 miles-per-hour. A time of approximately 1 minute 30 seconds was required; however, this time did not take into account the time required to perform an engine run-up.
The airport is equipped with an above ground fuel tank that dispenses 100LL fuel. Postaccident inspection of the fuel pump revealed 13.4 gallons remained in the display window consistent with the amount pumped into another airplane on December 20, 2010. The pilot of the airplane fueled on December 20, 2010, reported there were no issues with the fuel purchased. Postaccident, a sample of fuel taken from the fuel nozzle under pressure revealed the fuel was blue in color consistent with 100LL fuel and did not contain any water when tested with water finding paste.
According to a report from the Spencer Fire and Emergency Services, the airplane contained 50 gallons of fuel which was leaking postaccident from both fuel tanks. The fire chief reported in a written statement that, “…a steady stream of fluid…” was leaking from the wing that remained attached (later determined to be right wing), and the leakage continued until the supply was exhausted. The FAA-IIC spoke with the fire chief in an attempt to quantify the rate of fuel leakage and the fire chief advised the rate of fuel leakage was similar to the amount from a kitchen faucet that was just barely cracked open. The fire chief was asked to amend his statement but he did not comply with the request. The fire department report, statement from the fire chief, and e-mail from the FAA-IIC are contained in the NTSB public docket for this case.
Review of airport fuel receipts revealed a hand written note indicating, “N30ZZ 17.1 Gallons 8/2/10.” There was no record of any fuel purchase for the accident airplane after the flight on November 2, 2010. Additionally, the airplane owner reported that the engine had not been operated between the completion of the November 2nd flight and the initiation of the accident flight. The hand written note and NTSB Record of Conversations with the airplane owner are contained in the NTSB public docket for this accident.
Postaccident, testing of soil suspected to be contaminated by fuel was performed by an environmental company. A report issued by that company indicates that although the volume of fuel released is unknown, the estimated amount of fuel release was, “…likely greater than 10 gallons.” A detailed report is contained in the NTSB public docket for this case.
Although postaccident, the fire chief reported fuel leakage at a rate equivalent to a kitchen faucet that was just barely cracked open, and an environmental company found fuel contaminated soil, no determination could be made as to the quantity of fuel on-board at the time of the accident.