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On May 9, 2011, at 1448 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-180 (PA28), N5275L, and a Piper PA-24-250 (PA24), N7757P, were substantially damaged when they collided in midair and impacted terrain, while flying over New Hampton, New York. The certificated private pilot of the PA28 and the certificated private pilot/owner of the PA24 were fatally injured. Both airplanes were operated by private individuals. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for either flight. Both flights departed Orange County Airport (MGJ), Montgomery, New York, and were destined for Sussex Airport (FWN), Sussex, New Jersey. Both airplanes were operated in accordance with 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The PA28 was operating as a ferry flight and the PA24 was operating as a personal flight.
According to information obtained by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and witnesses, the PA28 was involved in an incident at MGJ on October 28, 2010, in which its propeller struck a taxiway light. On May 6, 2011, the PA28 was issued a ferry permit by the FAA for the airplane to be flown to FWN for the purpose of "maintenance (out of annual)."
The two accident pilots flew to MGJ in the PA24. One of the pilots was also an FAA-licensed mechanic, who the owner of the PA28 arranged to perform the required maintenance at FWN. Both airplanes departed from runway 3, at MGJ about 1440. The PA28 departed first, followed by the PA24, about 1 minute later.
Two witnesses near the accident site observed the airplanes flying in the same southwest direction, when they "clipped" each other. One of the airplanes, which was later identified as the PA28, entered an immediate right spiraling dive, while the other airplane entered an "angled nose dive" toward the ground. One witness stated he distinctly heard normal engine sounds from both airplanes; however, he heard the sound of an engine "rev-up" just prior to the collision. Another witness stated she could see, and then subsequently heard debris "falling all around."
The pilot of the PA28, age 53, held a private pilot certificate, with a rating for airplane single-engine land, which was issued during December 1979. He also held a mechanic certificate, with an Inspection Authorization. The logbook for the pilot of the PA28 was not recovered. He reported 5,840 hours of total flight experience, which included 30 hours during the previous 6 months, on his most recent application for an FAA third-class medical certificate, issued on May 4, 2011.
The pilot of the PA24, age 61, held a private pilot certificate, with a rating for airplane single-engine land, which was issued during January 1990. His logbook was not recovered. He reported 1,450 hours of total flight experience, which included 25 hours during the previous 6 months, on his most recent application for an FAA third-class medical certificate, which was dated July 1, 2009.
The PA-28-180 was a four-seat, low-wing, fixed-gear airplane, serial number 28-4574, that was manufactured in 1968. It was powered by a Lycoming O-360 series, 180-horsepower engine that was equipped with a Sensenich propeller.
Portions of the airplane's airframe and engine logbooks were located in a wooded area, strewn around the accident site. According to the ferry permit application, the airplane's most recent annual inspection expired during January 2011. Portions of the recovered logbooks noted an annual inspection was performed by the accident pilot on November 4, 2009, at a tachometer time of 194 hours.
According to an insurance company representative, at the time of the propeller strike, the airplane had a tachometer time of 280.9 hours, and a total airframe time of 6,238 hours. In addition, the engine had been operated for 1,276 hours since overhaul.
The PA-24-250 was a four-seat, low-wing, retractable-gear airplane, serial number 24-2973, that was manufactured in 1961. It was powered by a Lycoming O-540 series, 250-horsepower engine that was equipped with a McCauley propeller.
No maintenance records were located for the PA24.
The reported weather at MGJ, elevation 364 feet, at 1454, was: wind 050 degrees at 13 knots, gusting to 20 knots; visibility 10 statute miles; clear skies; temperature 20 degrees Celsius (C); dew point 4 degrees C; altimeter 29.92 inches of mercury.
The accident sites were located about 11 miles southwest from MGJ. Both airplanes impacted in wooded, uneven terrain. Tree heights at the accident sites varied from about 40 to 60 feet, and tree damage was limited to areas in the immediate vicinity of the respective main wreckages. The PA24 was located about 600 feet southwest of the PA28, and airplane fragments were observed scattered over terrain for about 1,000 feet in a south to southwest direction.
The PA28 was found inverted with the fuselage crushed down to the top of the seats. The outboard portion of the right wing was separated as was the left side of the stabilator, the vertical stabilizer and an upper portion of the rudder. The empennage remained attached to the main wreckage by control cables only. All separated components were recovered in the debris field. The outboard portion of the right wing, with the wingtip was located about 330 feet to the east of the main wreckage. The right wing inboard section remained secured to the fuselage and extended out about 7 feet. The entire flap was in place; however, it displayed damage to the outboard 17 inches that was consistent with propeller strikes. The aft spar of the wing, the wing skin and aileron bellcrank, all located in the same area, also displayed damage consistent with propeller strikes.
The majority of the PA24 was consumed by a post-impact fire. All components were located at the accident site with the exception of the outboard portion of the right stabilator. The left wing was adjacent to the fuselage and displayed impact damage along the span of the leading edge aft, to the main spar. About 5 feet of the inboard portion of the wing was separated from the fuselage and outboard section. The right wing was separated from the fuselage and displayed impact damage along the full span. The center section outboard of the wheel-well was separated from the main portion. The wingtip was separated and found adjacent to the wing. The cabin area was compressed against the firewall and the instrument panel was fragmented. The landing gear and flaps were observed in the retracted position.
Flight control continuity was verified from the respective flight control surfaces to the cockpits of both airplanes.
Examination of both engines and their respective propellers revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Autopsies were performed on both pilots by the Office of the Medical Examiner, Orange County, New York.
Toxicological testing was performed on both pilots by the FAA Bioaeronautical Science Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Airplane Performance Study
An NTSB Airplane Performance Specialist derived the ground track for both airplanes as well as basic flight parameters utilizing available recorded radar data. While the PA28 departed first, the PA24 was over 20 knots faster than the PA28. As a result, once airborne, it took the PA24 less than 5 minutes to catch-up with the PA28. The airplanes converged at an altitude of about 1,850 feet msl, with the PA24 approaching from below and behind the PA28. Pitch, bank, and heading angle estimates for both airplanes were normal until around the time of the collision when both airplanes abruptly pitch down.
Federal Aviation Regulations
Federal Aviation Administration Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR), 91.111, Operating near other aircraft, stated in part:
"(a) No person may operate an aircraft so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard.
(b) No person may operate an aircraft in formation flight except by arrangement with the pilot in command of each aircraft in the formation…."
FAA FAR 91.113, Right-of-way rules: Except water operations, stated in part:
"…(b) General. When weather conditions permit, regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft. When a rule of this section gives another aircraft the right-of-way, the pilot shall give way to that aircraft and may not pass over, under, or ahead of it unless well clear.
…(f) Overtaking. Each aircraft that is being overtaken has the right-of-way and each pilot of an overtaking aircraft shall alter course to the right to pass well clear…."
According to astronomical data obtained from the U.S Naval Observatory for Montgomery, New York, about the time of the accident, the sun was positioned about 55 degrees above the horizon, and about 235 degrees east of north.