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NTSB Identification: LAX99LA011

On October 17, 1998, at 1345 hours Pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-28-181, N6870F, was destroyed after it overran the runway and crashed into the ocean during an aborted landing at Shelter Cove, California. The aircraft was operated by Atkins Air, of Lincoln, California, and rented by the pilot under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The private pilot and two passengers sustained fatal injuries. The personal flight originated from the Little River Airport near Mendocino, California, approximately 30 minutes earlier. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed.

A friend stated the pilot flew to Mendocino from Lincoln the day before to meet with a group of friends for the weekend. He said some of them decided to fly to Shelter Cove for lunch. Two aircraft launched; he was in the first aircraft. The aircraft he was in landed and parked in a tie down area at the end of runway 30 on the right side. As the accident aircraft was landing, he heard his pilot comment the aircraft was steep, fast, and would not be able to land. A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector noted the runway was clearly marked "1/2" with large signs on both sides of the runway at the halfway point. Several pilots observed the aircraft was fast and still 25 feet in the air at the halfway point. The friend in the first plane noted smoke from the tires after it was on the runway and thought the brakes were being applied. Witnesses reported full power was applied and a takeoff attempted. Witnesses said the ground at the end of the runway sloped down. The aircraft collided with a chain link fence at liftoff, separating the nose landing gear. As the aircraft followed the slope of the terrain, it struck a building, some equipment, and a small storage shed. It then struck rocks on the edge of an inlet before the witnesses lost sight of it as it sank in the ocean. Witnesses reported the winds as light and variable.


FAA records indicated the pilot was issued a private pilot, aircraft single engine land certificate on August 21, 1997. A third-class medical was issued on August 25, 1998, and contained the restriction "must wear corrective lenses." The pilot's personal flight records were not located. On the application for the August 25, 1998, medical certificate the pilot reported a total flight time of 140 hours. Transition training documents from the operator dated July 3, 1998 stated the pilot was limited by the company to VFR (visual flight rules) and no mountain flying.

A pilot rated passenger was in the right front seat. FAA records indicated a student pilot certificate was issued on November 25, 1996. A third-class medical was issued to the passenger on November 25, 1996, and contained the limitation that lenses must be worn for distant vision and in possession for near vision. These records indicated a total time of 10 hours.


FAA records indicated the aircraft was a Piper, PA-28-181, serial number 28-7790170. Maintenance records showed an annual inspection was completed on September 11, 1998. An entry in the records dated October 2, 1998, noted the airframe total time was 5,157.7 hours. The aircraft was powered by a Textron Lycoming O-360-A4M. An engine overhaul was recorded on April 2, 1997, at a total time of 4,174.8 hours.


The Airport Facility Directory, Southwest U. S., indicated Shelter Cove had a single runway, 12-30. It was constructed of asphalt, and listed as 3,400 feet long and 75 feet wide. A remark noted runway 30 had a displaced threshold of 500 feet due to a tree. Field elevation was listed as 69 feet mean sea level (msl). Pattern altitude was listed as 869 feet msl.


A Humboldt County sheriff's deputy determined the aircraft traveled 385 feet past the end of runway 30 before contacting the fence. It traveled another 20 feet and collided with a shed. It then hit some equipment at a water treatment plant, shearing off the right main landing gear. The aircraft started veering to the right and struck a small shed 100 feet from the fence. An FAA inspector noted two scrapes in the ground leading to the shed, which he felt were consistent with the remainder of the nose and right main landing gear struts. The aircraft came to rest upright in a coastal inlet with steeply sloped sides. The FAA inspector stated the face of the rock formation showed evidence of recent impact. Witnesses observed the aircraft on rocks in the inlet. They noted two people strapped to seats in the fuselage and a third floating in the water. Wave action in the inlet moved the aircraft off the rocks and it sank. Divers determined the water movement in the inlet was too severe and dangerous to attempt a salvage operation. Miscellaneous small parts were found at the water treatment plant. A portion of the door and horizontal stabilizer was recovered. The following day a seat cushion and the left main landing gear were recovered from the throat of the inlet.


Autopsies on the pilot and pilot-rated passenger were completed by the Humboldt County Coroner's Office. The third victim was not recovered. Toxicological testing of specimens of the pilot-in-command and the pilot-rated passenger was performed by the FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The results of analysis of the specimens from both were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, volatiles, and tested drugs. Coroner's remarks noted contusions consistent with shoulder restraint marks.