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N4575L accident description

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Tail numberN4575L
Accident dateAugust 29, 1984
Aircraft typePiper PA-32R-301T
LocationTucson, AZ
Near 32.11667 N, -110.53333 W
Additional details: White/Yellow/Brown

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On August 29, 1984, about 2300 hours mountain standard time, a Piper PA-32R-301T, N4575L, collided with mountainous terrain in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona. The aircraft was destroyed and the commercial pilot and his three passengers received fatal injuries. The aircraft was being operated by Flight Trails as a personal flight under 14 CFR Part 91 when the accident occurred. The flight originated from Palomar airport, Carlsbad, California, about 2100 Pacific daylight time on the evening of the accident. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and no flight plan was filed.

On August 30, 1997, hikers found the aircraft at the 7,500-foot level of the Rincon mountains about 21 miles east of Tucson International airport. The hikers observed that the paint on the aircraft was faded and that scrub oak had grown up through the wreckage. The engine had separated from the aircraft and was found downslope of the main wreckage. The only seat belt buckle found by the hikers was unlatched.

A black leather satchel, containing approximately $30,000 to $50,000 of partially decomposed cash, was found in the wreckage. A partially burned .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol was also found.

The aircraft was originally reported missing on August 30, 1984, and search efforts were later suspended when it was not located. The Safety Board processed a missing aircraft file, LAX84LAMS4, which is superseded by this file. A private investigator hired by the aircraft manufacturer developed information that indicated their initial destination was Houston, Texas, however, no specific airport was identified.

PILOT INFORMATION

The operator reported that the pilot had checked out in the aircraft on the day of the accident. No pilot logbooks were available for review. The total flight time reflected in this report is based on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records that indicated 7,500 civil flight hours and 2,000 military flight hours. Investigators were unable to determine the pilot's BFR status or instrument currency. The pilot had been furloughed by Western Airlines where he had been employed as a flight engineer.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The aircraft was equipped with a factory rebuilt engine. The total time on the engine was estimated as 373 hours with 21 hours since its last 100-hour inspection.

Prior to departure there were 102 gallons of 100/130-octane aviation fuel aboard the aircraft.

The aircraft was equipped with an onboard oxygen system.

METEOROLOCIAL CONDITIONS

A weather study conducted by the Safety Board determined that, at the time of the accident, a high-pressure system was centered over the desert southwest. Based on radar and satellite data, no convective activity had been detected within several hours in the vicinity of the accident site.

A computation of moon illumination for the time and location of the accident showed 14 percent illumination. The moon elevation was 29.6 degrees and the magnetic bearing was 228.5 degrees.

AIDS TO NAVIGATION

The current Phoenix Sectional chart (November 5, 1998) indicates the minimum altitude for aircraft flying over Saguaro National Park is ground elevation plus 2,000 feet. The chart also depicts Rincon Peak, located within the park boundary, as having an elevation of 8,482 feet msl. Tucson VORTAC is located within line of sight of the impact site. The accident occurred 4 statute miles north of the V-16 centerline.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The wreckage was located about the 7,500 foot level, less than a mile north of Rincon Peak at 32 degrees 7.15 minutes north latitude and 110 degrees 31.24 minutes west longitude. The terrain at the accident site initially slopes downward toward the west at about 45 degrees before leveling off as it reaches the desert floor at about the 2,600 foot level. Based on the distribution of wreckage, it was estimated that the final heading of the aircraft at rest was 90 degrees. The terrain at the accident site was covered with boulders and native brush.

The aircraft was recovered by Air Transport and stored at their facility in Phoenix, Arizona, on October 24, 1998. On November 5, 1998, Safety Board investigators conducted an examination of the wreckage.

In addition to evidence of impact and fire damage, there was also evidence of exposure to the natural elements that had accumulated over a period of more than 14 years.

The center fuselage and cabin area had been mostly consumed by fire. Portions of the forward and rear cabin doors were recovered but also showed evidence of impact and fire damage. Fragments of seat frames were recovered but there was not sufficient structure remaining to make a determination as to which seat or seats they represented. One seatbelt was found latched, while a second was found unlatched.

The components of the wreckage were laid out in a two-dimensional display. All flight control surfaces were present. The left wing exhibited fire damage and leading edge crushing along its entire span. Both the aileron and flap surfaces remained partially attached to the wing. The right wing also exhibited leading edge crushing and fire damage that was confined to the inboard section of the wing. At one point on the right wing, a semicircular indentation was evident. Both the aileron and flap surfaces also remained partially attached to the wing.

The empennage section had separated from the main fuselage and it, too, exhibited evidence of impact and fire damage. The horizontal and vertical control surfaces remained attached to the empennage. The rudder control surface had been partially consumed by fire. The right horizontal trim tab was still attached to the stabilator but the left trim tab had been burned away. The trim drum was found with four exposed threads. The horizontal counterweight and fairing assembly had separated and were not recovered.

The propeller blades had separated from the hub and were not recovered. The hub showed evidence of impact and fire damage. The propeller governor was also destroyed by fire and impact and was not inspected.

The engine exhibited evidence of impact damage and exposure to fire. The crankshaft was frozen and could not be rotated by hand. The rear engine case and the bottom sump components and accessories had been consumed by fire. The remaining steel components from the engine exhibited rust. The engine data plate was missing from the case and was not recovered.

The top No. 1 spark plug had frozen in position, but after exerting unusual force the plug was removed. Upon examination, the plug tip was found to be corroded and rusty, however, the electrode wear appeared normal when it was compared to Champion's Check-a-Plug chart.

The fuel injectors were destroyed by fire and impact and were not inspected.

The engine air inlet was destroyed by fire and impact and was not inspected.

Both magnetos had been destroyed by fire and could not be tested or examined.

The vacuum pump was destroyed by fire and was not inspected.

The turbo charger data plate was missing and was not recovered. The unit was burned and rusted. Attempts to rotate the unit by hand were unsuccessful.

Engine and propeller controls were separated, crushed, and fire damaged.

The oil cooler was crushed and fire damaged.

The engine case was melted around the engine-driven fuel pump.

There were no aircraft forms or records available for inspection.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

All occupants were transported to the Pima County Medical Examiner's facility. No autopsies were performed nor were any toxicological samples taken.

FIRE

Evidence of postcrash fire was noted through scorched paint and partially melted and consumed metal wreckage fragments.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Estimated flight time from takeoff until the accident and total fuel consumption were based on expected performance data for this make and model aircraft, as well as the distance traveled.

The ELT was not recovered from the accident site.

The wreckage was released to a representative of the registered owner on March 24, 1999.

(c) 2009-2011 Lee C. Baker. For informational purposes only.