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N7687J accident description

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Tail numberN7687J
Accident dateFebruary 27, 2004
Aircraft typePiper PA-28R-180
LocationPine Mtn Club, CA
Near 34.865833 N, -119.164167 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

1.1 HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On February 27, 2004, at 2045 Pacific standard time (PST), a Piper PA-28R-180, N7687J, collided with mountainous terrain surrounding Pine Mountain Club, California. The airplane was owned and operated by the private pilot under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The pilot was fatally injured and the airplane was destroyed. Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the personal cross-country flight. The flight originated at Long Beach Airport, Long Beach, California, and was en route to Sacramento, California.

Conversations with the pilot's family revealed that the pilot was living and working in the Temecula-Long Beach area during the week. On the weekends he would regularly fly to Sacramento, California, and spend the weekend with his family. A friend of the pilot, who had flown with him, said that his normal route of flight to Sacramento was to depart the Long Beach Airport, follow the I-5 Interstate Freeway north through the Tejon Pass, and continue north to arrive at Sacramento Executive airport.

A review of Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) radar data revealed that the airplane departed Long Beach Airport at 1939, on an initial westerly heading. Crossing over San Pedro the airplane turned right and took a northerly heading, paralleling the I-5 interstate, and leveled off at 9,500 feet. At 2029, over the Tejon Pass (elevation: 4,239 feet), the airplane diverted to the west, and climbed to 10,000 feet. The elevation of the mountainous terrain to the west of the Tejon Pass ranges from 5,000 feet in the valley, to mountain peaks and ridges between 7,000 feet and 8,840 feet to the north and south. As the airplane proceeded west, radar recorded his altitude decreasing through 9,000 feet and a rate of descent of 1,100 feet per minute. The last radar beacon target reported an altitude of 7,100 feet at 2041:09.

Examination of radio communications between the pilot and Air Traffic Control (ATC) revealed that upon contacting Bakersfield Approach at 2031, the pilot checked in at 10,000 feet and requested an altitude of 10,500 feet. Three minutes later the pilot confirmed his destination was Sacramento, and that he was diverting to the west for cloud avoidance. Six minutes later the pilot requested a descent to 8,500 feet. ATC approved the descent at the pilot's discretion, and advised him to maintain VFR (Visual Flight Rules). One minute later the pilot requested 4,500 feet. ATC advised the pilot that he was in the vicinity of high terrain. The pilot said he could see the ground but he did not have good visibility and then requested a vector. ATC advised him to adjust his heading northbound towards lower terrain, that he was below the minimum vectoring altitude, and to maintain VFR. The pilot responded by saying he could see pretty well and would take a northbound heading. No further communications with the pilot were established.

A ground witness in Pine Mountain Club reported that he heard an airplane flying low and fast around 2040. He observed the airplane's position lights traveling from south to north just below clouds. It was snowing and he estimated the clouds to be below the mountain peaks. Another witness reported seeing an explosion and fireball on the north face of the mountain slopes about 2045, just below the cloud overcast.

1.5 PERSONNEL INFORMATION

A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records obtained from the Airman and Aircraft records center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, revealed that the pilot was issued his private pilot certificate on October 25, 2003, with an airplane single engine land rating. On the airman certificate application he reported a total flight experience as 95.7 hours with 55 hours of dual instruction, 8.5 hours of cross-country experience, 3 hours of night instruction, and 3.9 hours of experience as pilot-in-command at night. A pilot logbook was never obtained or recovered by the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) and was presumed to be destroyed.

The pilot possessed a third-class medical with a waiver for corrective lenses, with a date of issue of August 13, 2002.

1.6 AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The Piper Aircraft Corporation data plate was located on the lower portion of the rear empennage tail cone and identified the airplane as model PA-28R-180, serial number 28R-31106. The airplane was of metal construction, low wing, single engine, with retractable tricycle landing gear. The airframe and power plant maintenance log books were not recovered by the Safety Booard IIC and were presumed to be destroyed.

The pilot's family provided aircraft records that were located at his residence. These records were historical in nature, summarizing maintenance performed by each of the previous owners and yearly time on the engine and airframe. The most current record was from April 27, 2002, and documented the airframe hours as 6,759.46 hours and the engine total time since overhaul (TTSOH) as 1,328.99 hours. FAA records show that the airplane was registered to the pilot on May 8, 2002.

1.7 METEOROLOGICAL INFORMAITON

Detailed information concerning the meteorological conditions can be found in the Safety Board Meteorological factual report that is included in the official docket of this accident. There is no record that the pilot requested or received a weather briefing.

1.7.1 Surface Observations

The two closest Automated Surface Observing Systems (ASOS) to the accident site are in Bakersfield, California (KBFL), and Sandberg, California (KSDB). KBFL is 34 nautical miles away from the accident site on a heading of 9 degrees, and KSDB is approximately 23 nautical miles from the accident at 112 degrees. Observations from both stations surrounding the time of the accident are below. The station elevation of KBFL and KSDB are roughly 497 and 4,520 feet, respectively.

Bakersfield, California (KBFL)

Time-1954; wind-350 degrees (o) at 3 knots; visibility-10 miles; sky condition-few at 4,100 feet above ground level (agl), scattered at 5,000 feet agl, and broken at 6,000 feet agl; temperature-9 degrees Celsius (oC); dew point temperature-6 oC; altimeter setting-30.07 inches of Mercury (inHg).

Time-2054; wind-320o at 3 knots; visibility-10 miles; sky condition-few at 4,100 feet agl; temperature-8oC; dew point temperature-6oC; altimeter setting-30.09 inHg.

Sandberg, California (KSDB)

Time-2007; wind-340o at 13 knots, gusting to 17 and varying from 310o to 60o; visibility-10 miles; sky condition-broken at 700 feet agl and broken at 1,400 feet agl; temperature-0oC; dew point temperature-minus 1oC; altimeter setting-29.97 inHg; Remarks-ceiling varying from 400 to 1,000 feet.

Time-2052; wind-340o at 18 knots, gusting to 22 knots; visibility-10 miles; sky condition-broken at 500 feet agl, broken at 2,500 feet agl, and overcast at 3,200 feet agl; temperature-0oC; dew point temperature-minus 1oC; altimeter setting-29.98 inHg; Remarks-ceiling varying between 400 and 900 feet.

1.7.2 AIRMET & SIGMET Information

There were no SIGMET's issued at the time of the accident that included the accident location. However, there were two AIRMET's (ZULU and TANGO) that did include the location of the accident, and the boundary of a third AIRMET (SIERRA) was in close proximity to the accident site. These three AIRMET's were issued at approximately 0245Z (1845 PST) and valid until 0900Z (0100 PST) on February 28, 2004. Relevant portions of these AIRMET's are presented below.

AIRMET TANGO FOR TURBULENCE

Occasional moderate turbulence below 20,000 feet. Conditions continuing beyond 0100 through 1900.

AIRMET ZULU FOR ICING

Occasional moderate rime or mixed icing in cloud and precipitation between 5,000 and 14,000 feet. Conditions ending between 2000 and 2300. Freezing level between 5,000 and 6,000 feet.

AIRMET SIERRA FOR IFR AND MOUNTAIN OBSCURATION

Mountains occasionally obscured by clouds, fog, and mist. Conditions ending in California, Oregon, and western Washington between 2200 and 0100.

1.7.3 Astronomical information

Astronomical data was calculated for the day and location of the accident. Sunset occurred at 1857. The moon was at an altitude of 65 degrees, on a magnetic bearing of 252 degrees, and was 50 percent illuminated.

1.9 COMMUNICATION

Cassette tape re-recordings of radio communications between the pilot and ATC were obtained and reviewed. The tapes revealed that the pilot checked in with Bakersfield Approach Control at 2031 and 10,000 feet, and requested 10,500 feet. Three minutes later the approach controller confirmed with the pilot that his destination was Sacramento, and that he was diverting west for cloud avoidance. Six minutes later the pilot requested a descent to 8,500 feet. The descent was approved and the pilot was instructed to maintain VFR. One minute later the pilot requested 4,500 feet. The controller advised the pilot to keep an eye out for terrain, that he was in an area of high terrain. The pilot said that he could see the ground but did not have good visibility and then requested a vector. The controller advised the pilot to adjust his heading northbound towards lower terrain, that he was below the minimum vectoring altitude, and to maintain VFR. The pilot confirmed that he was maintaining VFR and that it was clearing up. He said he would take a northbound heading. That was the last transmission from N7637J, which occurred approximately 2042.

1.12 WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The wreckage was located in mountainous terrain about a 1/2 mile north of the small community of Pine Mountain Club. KernCounty Sheriff Search and Rescue crews identified the location as 34 degrees 51.952 minutes north latitude by 119 degrees 09.842 minutes west longitude, at an elevation of 6,683 feet msl. The airplane rested about 300 feet below a mountain ridgeline that averaged 7,000 feet mean sea level (msl). The 40-degree sloped terrain consisted of loose gravely soil, patches of snow, and was populated with mid sized pine trees and yucca plants.

The wreckage was reduced to ash and melted metal in the cockpit and cabin area. The wings, tail, and engine were all present in their appropriate locations. The propeller was located about 15 feet uphill of the airplane in line with the fuselage. The airplane was oriented on a magnetic bearing of 350 from tail to nose, in an uphill direction. Disturbed soil a few feet to the east of the fuselage was observed with burned yucca plants and a fuselage hat section stringer embedded 3 feet horizontally into the mountainside.

The right wing had a 3-foot rectangular hole in the inboard leading edge; ash, and melted metal were present. There was a shallow semicircular leading edge impression on the outboard wing panel. The wing tip was crushed aft 30 degrees, inboard to outboard. The fiberglass cloth of the wingtip was present at the end of the wing. The aileron was attached to its hinges and a 2x2 foot section of bubbled paint was on the wing just above the aileron. The left flap was in the retracted position and the left landing gear wheel was in the wing wheel well.

The aft empennage and tail section was present starting about 4 feet forward of the vertical stabilizer. Black sooty swirl colorations were observed on the empennage. The stabilator appeared undamaged, as well as the rudder and vertical stabilizer. The stabilator trim tab was observed to be deflected upward about 0.25 inches and the trim jack screw was measured to be extended 0.75 inches.

The left inner wing panel exhibited signs of thermal damage along a 30-degree line from the lower wing root to the middle of the wing leading edge. The outboard section of wing upper surface skin exhibited multiple 45-degree wing skin buckles originating from inboard to outboard. The landing gear strut and wheel were in the wheel well. The aileron was present on its hinges and the flap was in the retracted position.

The control cables from the ailerons, rudder, and stabilator were traced to the cockpit. All control surface cable connections, turnbuckles, and bell cranks were present. The control cables were attached to the chain linkages and the chains were on the yolk sprockets. The aileron control cable center turnbuckle appeared melted and separated.

The cockpit was reduced to ash with only the steel frames of the control column and seats identifiable. The avionics were located as a mass of melted circuit boards. The only positively identified cockpit instruments were the altimeter and suction gauge.

The engine was attached to the airframe firewall. The engine and engine mount deflected downward about 20 degrees. The engine hoses and wire bundles on the left side were reduced to brittle, weak, and ashen materials. The left magneto was completely reduced to ash. The right side of the engine appeared less thermally damaged and the right magneto was present with minimal apparent thermal damage. The propeller was detached and the crankshaft section exhibited a 45-degree fracture face along the inner circumfral area. The engine had a fuel injection system. Throttle and mixture control cables were traced from the throttle body to the cockpit.

The propeller was located about 15 feet uphill from the main wreckage. Both propeller blades exhibited substantial leading edge polishing and chordwise striations. One blade had a dime-sized indentation on the leading edge with scratches radiating in the chordwise direction.

1.13 MEDICAL AND PAHTOLOGICAL INFORMATION

The Kern County Sheriff-Coroner completed an autopsy on the pilot. The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological analysis from samples obtained during the autopsy. The results of analysis of the specimens were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and listed drugs.

1.4 FIRE

A post impact fire consumed the fuselage, empennage, engine compartment, and the inboard sections of both wings. The rugged mountainous terrain and remote location restricted the ability of the fire crews to arrive on scene until the next day.

1.16 TESTS AND RESEARCH

Engine

The engine was examined on site. The engine data plate markings were Lycoming, model: IO-360-B1E, serial number: L-5253-51A. The engine cylinder rocker covers were removed; all valves, springs, rocker arms, push rods present and appeared undamaged. The sparkplugs were removed and examined. They exhibited a dark gray color with no evidence of mechanical damage. The right magneto was secure in its mounting pad. The left magneto was thermally destroyed.

1.18 ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Fuel

The family provided a credit card receipt from Exxon-Mobil Aviation. The receipt documents that 14.6 gal of aviation gasoline was purchased at Long Beach Airport on February 27, 2004, at 06:02:56 PM, for tail number N7687J.

Wreckage Location

The wreckage was not recovered and remains at the accident location.

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