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On August 2, 2012, about 0830 Alaska daylight time, a Piper PA-32-301 airplane, N8200M, was destroyed when it collided with steep, mountainous, tree-covered terrain during cruise flight, about 16 miles northeast of Hoonah, Alaska. The airplane was being operated by Air Excursions, Juneau, Alaska, as a visual flight rules (VFR) cargo flight, under the provision of Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations Part 135, when the accident occurred. The certificated commercial pilot, the sole occupant, received fatal injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the point of departure, and company VFR flight following procedures were in effect. The airplane departed Juneau, about 0820 as flight 303, bound for Gustavus, Alaska.
The area between Juneau and Gustavus consists of remote inland fjords, coastal waterways, and steep mountainous, tree-covered terrain.
During a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC) on August 2, the director of operations for Air Excursions reported that during the flight to Gustavus, company dispatch lost all contact with the airplane. When the airplane failed to reach its destination, a search was initiated. Subsequently, the fragmented airplane wreckage was located in a densely wooded area along its anticipated route of flight. The pilot had not reported any mechanical anomalies.
Another Air Excursions pilot flying in the area at the time of the accident, reported hearing the accident pilot making routine position reports near Point Howard over the company’s radio frequency just prior to the accident.
According to the Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report (NTSB form 6120.1) submitted by the operator, the pilot, age 56, held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, airplane multi-engine land, airplane single-engine sea, and instrument airplane. His most recent first-class medical certificate was issued on May 22, 2012, and contained the limitation that he must wear corrective lenses for near and distant vision.
According to records provided by Air Excursions, the pilot had logged about 3,708 hours of total flight experience at the time of the accident, of which 175 were accrued in the previous 90 days. He completed a biennial flight review on June 20, 2012, in a Piper PA-32-300 series airplane.
The airplane was a Piper PA-32-301, manufactured in 1980, and equipped with a Lycoming IO-540 series engine.
According to the Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report (NTSB Form 6120.1) submitted by Air Excursions, the airplane had a total time in service of 15,529 flight hours. The last recorded inspection of the engine and airframe was a 100-hour inspection, on July 29, 2012, about 29 flight hours before the accident.
The closest weather reporting facility was the Hoonah Airport, about 16 miles south-southwest of the accident site. About 26 minutes after the accident, at 0856, a weather observation from the Hoonah Airport was reporting, in part: Wind, 060 degrees (true) at 6 knots; visibility, 4 statute miles with light rain and mist; clouds and sky condition, 2,300 feet few, 3,300 feet overcast; temperature, 55 degrees F; dew point, 54 degrees F; altimeter, 30.15 inHg.
Pilots flying in the area at the time of the accident reported rain and mist with low ceilings, reduced visibility, and mountain obscuration.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Continuous poor weather conditions prevented the NTSB IIC from reaching the accident site until August 4.
The airplane impacted an area of steep, mountainous, tree-covered terrain, southwest of an area known as Point Howard, and adjacent to the southeastern shoreline of Howard Bay, at an elevation of approximately 900 feet mean sea level. The average heights of the trees surrounding the accident site were in excess of 100 feet, and large sections of the airplane's fragmented structure remained suspended in the tall trees.
Portions of the severely fragmented airplane wreckage were scattered along a debris path oriented along a magnetic heading of 190 degrees, and measured about 300 feet in length.
All of the airplane’s major components were located within the wreckage path.
Due to impact damage, control continuity could not be established at the accident site. The first portion of the airplane wreckage that could be seen from the ground, and still suspended high up in the trees, was a portion of the right wing. The wreckage path through the trees started as a shallow entry with an increasing downward arch. About mid debris field, a large section of the aft portion of the cabin was still suspended in the trees. The engine impacted the ground about three-quarters of the distance of the wreckage path. The portion of the airplane at the end of the debris field was the instrument panel and engine firewall.
An examination of the engine and propeller at the site revealed torsional twisting and bending of the propeller, and hot metal plastic folding of the exhaust manifold.
The postaccident examination of the airframe and engine, by the NTSB IIC revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.
According to the operator, the airplane wreckage was not recovered from the accident site.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
A postmortem examination of the pilot was done under the authority of the Alaska State Medical Examiner, Anchorage, Alaska, on August 6, 2012. The examination revealed that the cause of death was attributed to multiple blunt forces, traumatic injuries.
A toxicological examination by the FAA’s Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) on September 4, 2012, was negative for any alcohol or drugs.
The FAA implemented national automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) technology in Alaska, and the accident airplane was equipped with an avionics package as part of that program.
Formerly known as Capstone, the joint industry/FAA program (which includes ground-based stations, satellites, and aircraft avionics) currently provides pilots with situational awareness by displaying the airplane's position over terrain, while using GPS technology, coupled with an instrument panel mounted, moving map display. Additionally, the Capstone equipment installed in the accident airplane provided the pilot with color shading on the moving map, which depicts terrain elevation changes. Terrain displayed on the pilot's moving map that is within 300 feet of the airplane will be displayed in red, alerting the pilot of close proximity to terrain. The ADS-B equipment installed in the accident airplane included two Chelton Multi-function display (MFD) units. One MFD provides the pilot with moving map with terrain awareness information, and the other provides primary flight display information.
A benefit of the ADS-B technology is that it simultaneously broadcasts aircraft position and other data to any aircraft, or ground station equipped to receive it, providing flight crews and management personnel with a real time, moving map display of other ADS-B equipped aircraft in the area.
The NTSB IIC’s review of archived data showed the accident airplane’s departure from Juneau, its climb, and track en route toward the destination airport. After crossing the north end of Admiralty Island, the recorded flight track data revealed that the airplane started a shallow descent while crossing the open ocean waters of Lynn Canal as it progressed toward Point Howard.
As the flight progressed in a south-southwest heading, it eventually passed over Point Howard and then Howard Bay before continuing towards its destination. The airplane’s recorded flight track disappeared southwest of the western shoreline of Howard Bay, in an area of steep, mountainous, tree-covered terrain. The airplane’s recorded track data revealed no unusual or extreme deviations of altitude, speed, or course heading before the track disappeared.
A pilot flying an Air Excursions Piper PA-31-350 near the accident site reported that, he watched the accident airplane’s progress southwest bound using the ADS-B equipment in his airplane. He said that as the accident airplane approached Point Howard, it began a gradual descent near an area of rising, mountainous terrain. When the pilot of the Piper PA-31-350 attempted to contact the accident pilot on their company radio frequency, the track abruptly disappeared from view, and there was no further contact from the accident pilot.
Other pilots flying in the area, about the time of the accident, reported low ceilings, rain, fog, and mist, with reduced visibility and mountain obscurations.