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On June 18, 2011, about 0950 central daylight time, a Piper PA-28-140, N1803T, was substantially damaged when it impacted trees and the ground following a takeoff from Guntersville Municipal Airport – Joe Starnes Field (8A1), Guntersville, Alabama. The intended destination was Destin/Ft. Walton Beach Airport (DTS), Destin, Florida. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed. The certificated private pilot and two passengers were fatally injured, and one passenger was seriously injured. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
The flight originated at Lebanon Municipal Airport (M54), Lebanon, Tennessee, earlier in the day. The flight landed at 8A1, refueled, and was departing for DTS at the time of the accident. According to records obtained from a fixed base operator at 8A1, the airplane had received 35.8 gallons of 100LL aviation fuel. According to several eyewitnesses, the airplane was observed becoming airborne about two-thirds of the way down the departure runway. It then pitched up to a nose high attitude, leveled, pitched up again to approximately the same pitch attitude, and subsequently appeared to have a "high sink rate" when the airplane descended behind a tree line. One of the eyewitnesses stated that the airplane was approximately 35-40 feet above ground level and that the pitch attitude was between 20 and 35 degrees. Another witness reported seeing the airplane come over the tree line behind his residence, impact the ground in a nose low attitude, and two occupants were ejected from the airplane. He further reported that he did not hear any "unusual engine noises." Other witnesses reported that shortly after impact, white smoke was observed coming from the forward area of the cockpit, in the vicinity of the engine, and was followed by flames.
The pilot, age 52, held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. His most recent application for a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third-class medical certificate was issued on July 30, 2010. The records at that time indicated 500 hours of total flight experience and 200 hours of flight experience in the accident airplane make and model.
The single-engine, four-seat, low-wing monoplane, all metal construction, fixed-gear airplane, was manufactured in 1971 and was issued an FAA airworthiness certificate on February 3, 1971. It was equipped with a Lycoming O-320-E3D 150-horsepower engine. The airplane's most recent annual inspection was completed on September 3, 2010. At the time of the inspection, the reported aircraft total time was 3,480.71 total hours and a recorded tachometer time of 1,249.5 hours. The engine's most recent inspection was completed on September 3, 2010. At the time of the inspection the recorded Engine Total Time was 5,815.26 hours, 659.6 flight hours time in since major overhaul, and a recorded tachometer time of 1,249.5 flight hours. An entry in the engine logbook dated April 29, 2011 indicated that the engine had been reinstalled after maintenance work was performed; at the time of the entry the recorded tachometer time was 1,261.6 flight hours. According to FAA records, the airplane was owned by Aviation Unlimited, Inc. and according to the owner, the accident pilot was considering purchasing the airplane at the time of the accident.
The 0955 recorded weather observation at Albertville Municipal Airport (8A0), Albertville, Alabama, located approximately 10 miles to the south of the accident location, included wind from 220 degrees at 9 knots, visibility 10 miles, scattered cloud layers at 1,400 feet and 2,000 feet above ground level, temperature 27 degrees C, dew point 21 degrees C; altimeter 30.01 inches of mercury.
The airport was a public use airport and at the time of the accident did not have an operating control tower. The airport was equipped with one runway designated as runway 03/21. The asphalt runway was reported in good condition and was 3,368-feet-long by 95-feet-wide. The reported departure runway had a 0.4 percent up gradient and required a 14:1 climb gradient to clear all the obstructions.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane was located in an open treed lot in a residential area approximately 1,550 feet from the departure runway threshold and slightly left of the extended center line of the runway. The right and left wings were separated from the airplane and located adjacent to the fuselage and engine. The debris path from the first tree strike, as observed by small downed branches and eyewitness statement, was oriented on a heading of 205 degrees; the airplane came to rest on a heading of 355 degrees and at height of 642 feet above mean sea level. The left wing was located resting against the base of a tree, came to rest on the leading edge, forward and parallel to the fuselage. The right wing was located adjacent to the tail and on the left side of the fuselage. The right wing was also resting against the base of a tree, came to rest on the leading edge, and parallel to the fuselage. The tail section remained attached to the fuselage connected by the rudder and elevator cables, the skin was thermally damaged.
The left wing had impact damage on the leading edge and crumpling on the wingtip at approximately a 45 degree angle and inboard from the wingtip approximately 3 feet. The left wing was separated from the fuselage, the aileron remained attached and continuity was confirmed from the base of the control column to the cable break in the wingroot and from the wingroot to the aileron and the counterweight remained attached. The fuel cap remained secured and in place; fuel was confirmed in the fuel tank. The aft wing attach bolt was absent; however the fuselage attach hole was slightly elongated and imprints similar to a washer was seen on one side of each attach point. The stall warning lift detector was located in the left wing and was removed. Continuity was confirmed when the lift detector was activated. The wing was installed with four vortex generates located at the wing root.
The right wing had impact damage on the leading edge and crumpling on the wingtip at approximately a 30 degree angle and inboard from the wingtip approximately 4 feet. The right wing was separated from the fuselage, the aileron remained attached and continuity was confirmed from the base of the control column to the cable break at the wingroot and from the wingroot to the aileron. The counterweight remained attached and in place. The fuel cap remained secured and in place; fuel was confirmed in the fuel tank; however, a breach of the fuel tank resulted in fuel observed leaking from the tank the following day. The wing was installed with four vortex generates located at the wing root.
Examination of the airplane revealed that the flap position handle was in the first detent which correlated to flaps extended to 10 degrees.
The empennage remained attached, connected by the flight control cables, and was thermally damaged. The elevator and rudder remained attached to the empennage. The elevator trim was measured and had 9 exposed threads which correlate to a slight nose up setting. The aft edge of the rudder had missing paint that was similar in dimension and color as paint transfer located 16.25 feet above ground level on an adjacent tree.
The cabin area exhibited thermal damage. The seats remained attached to their respective attach points, except for the pilot seat which was partially attached at the feet on the inboard track; however, were separated from the outboard track. The seatbelt buckles were located; however, the seatbelt webbing was thermally destroyed. The pilot and left rear passenger seat belts were not connected at the male and female ends; however, witnesses that responded to the crash location reported that they had released the seatbelt for the left rear passenger to assist in their extraction. The right front and rear passenger seatbelt buckles were found still connected at the male and female end. The right front passenger's shoulder harness was found retracted and not attached to the lap belt. Two passengers had been ejected from the airplane during the impact sequence one passenger was located 93 inches from the cabin entry door and the other was located 203 inches from the cabin entry door.
The fuel selector valve was located in the cockpit, and indicated that the right wing fuel tank was selected. The throttle cable remained attached to the throttle arm. The throttle plate and the carburetor housing flange remained attached to the engine. The carburetor was fractured across the throttle bore and the mixture control remained attached to the mixture control arm on the carburetor.
As first viewed, the engine was resting upright, nose low and remained attached to the aircraft by the tubular engine mount. The engine cowling was partially separated and the accessory case and rear mounted accessories were fire damaged. The exhaust muffler was crushed and the exhaust tubing was damaged. The propeller remained attached to the engine crankshaft flange. The propeller spinner was crushed and the crankshaft flange was bent. One propeller blade was curved forward slightly and the other propeller blade was bent aft about 15 degrees at about 18 inches outboard of the propeller hub and exhibited abraded paint on the leading edge and twisting of the blade.
The carburetor was fractured across the throttle bore, partially separated from the engine and thermally damaged. No fuel stains were noted on the outside of the carburetor bowl assembly and the bowl screw safety washers were in place. The carburetor fuel inlet screen was removed and no debris noted. The carburetor was disassembled and one of the floats separated from the float assembly as the float bowl was removed. Drips of solidified solder were observed hanging from the bottoms of the floats. No fuel was observed in the float bowl. The engine driven fuel pump was fractured, partially separated from the engine, and fire damaged. The airframe electric fuel pump and fuel strainer were thermally destroyed.
Both magnetos remained attached to the engine and exhibited thermal damage. The left magneto was rotated by hand and produced spark from all four electrode towers. The right magneto could be rotated by hand but produced no spark. It was disassembled and the capacitor and distributor block were thermally damaged. The spark plugs exhibited light gray to dark gray coloration and appeared to have a normal wear condition. Cylinders No. 1 and 3 bottom sparkplugs were oily. Lead deposits were noted in the electrode wells of Cylinder Nos. 1, 2, and 3 bottom sparkplugs. The bottom sparkplugs were tested using a Champion sparkplug checker and produced spark. The ignition harness was fire and impact damaged.
The starter and alternator remained attached to the engine. The alternator case and the starter ring gear support were impact fractured. The alternator belt remained in place and was broken.
The vacuum pump remained attached to the engine and was fire damaged. The drive coupling was unbroken but melted. The pump was disassembled and the carbon rotor and vanes were observed intact.
Oil drained from the oil sump as the oil suction screen was removed. No metallic debris was noted in the oil suction screen. The oil filter media was charred but no metallic debris noted between the folds. The oil cooler remained attached to the front cooling baffles and was impact damaged. The oil cooler hoses were fire damaged and remained attached to the oil cooler and the engine accessory case.
The engine was rotated by hand utilizing a tool inserted in the vacuum pump drive pad. Continuity of the crankshaft to the rear gears and to the valve train was confirmed. Compression and suction were observed from all four cylinders. The interiors of the cylinders were examined using a lighted borescope. Light rust pitting was observed on the walls of all four cylinder bores. A line was observed on the cylinder wall of the No. 1 cylinder in the area of the aft piston pin contact area. The cylinder was removed and only a light line was observed which could not be felt with a fingernail.
No indication of pre-impact damage or malfunction of the airframe or engine was observed.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences performed an autopsy on the pilot on June 1, 2011. The autopsy findings included "multiple blunt force injuries," and the report listed the specific injuries. The reported cause of death was blunt force injuries.
Toxicological testing was performed post mortem at the FAA’s Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The tests were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and no drugs of abuse were detected.
According to the Piper PA-28-140 "Pilot's Operating Manual," at the time of takeoff the airplane was approximately 110 pounds over the max allowable takeoff weight. The calculated density altitude at the time of the accident was approximately 2,000 feet. In order for the airplane to takeoff and climb at max gross weight the required takeoff distance was 2,200 feet.
The Piper PA-28-140 "Pilot's Operating Manual," Chapter 7 "Operating Instructions" states in part "STALLS… visual stall warning is provided by a red light located on the left side of the instrument panel which illuminates automatically between 5 and 10 miles per hour above stall speed…loss of altitude during stalls can be as great as 200 feet, depending on configuration and power…"