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N88AM accident description

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Tail numberN88AM
Accident dateSeptember 01, 2000
Aircraft typePiper PA-46-310P
LocationSo. Lake Tahoe, CA
Near 38.893889 N, -119.995277 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On September 1, 2000, at 1550 Pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-46-310P, N88AM, crashed into trees and terrain while turning downwind after takeoff from the Lake Tahoe Airport, South Lake Tahoe, California. The pilot had requested and been approved for a left downwind departure from runway 18 by the airport control tower operator. The airplane was destroyed by the collision sequence and post impact fire. The certificated private pilot and three passengers received fatal injuries. The airplane was owned and operated by the pilot as a personal flight under 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated from South Lake Tahoe airport at 1549. Marginal visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and an IFR flight plan had been filed but not activated. The accident site was about 0.5 miles from the airport. The airport elevation was 6,264 feet msl.

According to the Lake Tahoe control tower operator, at 1542, a clearance to taxi to runway 18 was issued after a transmitted request from the pilot. Additional wind and altimeter information was given. At 1548, the pilot requested takeoff clearance and a left downwind departure. The controller gave the clearance to takeoff, approved a left downwind departure, and issued winds at 140 degrees and 12 knots. The controller then reported hearing an ELT (emergency locator transmitter) transmission at 1550. A verbal transmission from an unknown source was also received at 1550, and it communicated that there was an aircraft down. Smoke was observed 0.5 miles southeast of the airport. No emergency transmissions from the pilot were reported.

Witnesses on the ground reported the airplane lifted off on the 8,544-foot-long runway 18 abeam the terminal building at midfield, then almost immediately begin a crosswind turn. The turn had continued nearly 180 degrees when the airplane descended suddenly striking several pine trees before crashing between two houses. Several witnesses described the airplane's bank angle at nearly 90 degrees.

Additional witnesses reported seeing the airplane in flight moments before it crashed. An employee of Allegiant Air who was on the observation deck at the terminal saw the airplane bank hard to the left and stated that she thought it was in trouble and going to stall. "The turn was too steep [for having just lifted off] and the airplane had banked better than 45 degrees as it flew over the windsock," she continued. A mechanic who worked on the airplane earlier that day watched the airplane takeoff. He reported the engine sounding like it was under full power. Two other witnesses also gave an account of the engine sound. One lived just outside the airport and reported hearing the loud roar of the engine as it approached and crashed through the trees. The other reported hearing the engine revved up very loud and hearing an inconsistency in the sound just before the crash. According to the witness, the engine sputtered and then the power returned. The statement also indicated that the wing attitude was vertical instead of horizontal before the crash.


A review of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airmen records revealed the pilot held a private pilot certificate with airplane single engine land, multiengine land, and instrument ratings. His most recent certificate issuance was the addition of a multiengine land rating on November 16, 1999. The pilot also held a second-class medical certificate that was issued on December 21, 1999. It did not have any limitations or waivers. An examination of the pilot's logbook indicated a total flight time of 2,343.8, and the last entry recorded was November 16, 1999. The pilot reported having 2,428 hours on the certificate application for the multiengine rating. According to a personal associate of the pilot, he had over 2,500 hours of total flight time accumulated and had flown 200 hours in the last 6 months. The pilot was reported to have been logging the more recent flight time on a computer, which was not available for review by the Safety Board.

The FAA airmen and medical certification databases did not locate any U.S. airmen or aviation medical records on the passenger seated in the right front position.

The pilot was also the registered owner and operator of the airplane. A witness and associate of the pilot indicated that the airplane had been purchased about 6 months prior to the accident. FAA aircraft registry and ownership records identify the pilot as having obtained the airplane in March 2000.


The 1985 Piper Malibu PA-46-310P airplane, serial number 46-8508056, last received an annual inspection on October 25, 1999. Review of the airplane logbooks revealed 2,845 hours on the airframe at that time. By March 15, 2000, the airplane had accumulated 2,900.3 hours. This airplane was equipped with a Teledyne Continental TSIO-550C1B engine, serial number 802521. It was installed on June 08, 1995, under Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) SA00380AT. Total time on the engine at date of the annual inspection was 815.9 hours.

A remanufactured Hartzell propeller, model number BHC-C2YF-1BF, hub serial number 4991SJ, was also installed on the airplane on June 08, 1995. The date of remanufacture recorded was March 22, 1995. The propeller maintenance logbook submitted for the investigation indicated that Palm Beach Propeller, Inc., had overhauled both the propeller and the governor.

Modifications made to the airplane included extended fuel caps, a wing spoiler system, and a nose gear door that provided engine cooling. According to New Piper Aircraft, Inc., the fueling ports were not a factory installation and allowed the operator to add an additional 10 gallons of fuel per tank, bringing the total capacity to 140 gallons. Maintenance logs established August 29, 1995, as the date of installation in accordance with an STC. The airplane weight and balance form had been amended to reflect the additional filler caps. Total time on the airframe at that point was 2,068.9 hours.

A personal associate of the pilot who had previously flown in the airplane reported a problem with the autopilot. The statement indicated that the associate observed the pilot having difficulty disengaging the autopilot while on board. By the same account, the pilot reported to the associate that on earlier occasions it would activate without being switched on. The mechanic who worked on the airplane the day of the accident also reported the pilot having past problems with the electric trim system on the autopilot. No recent maintenance was performed on the autopilot according to logbook records kept by the previous owner. The operating manual states that the KFC-150 autopilot/flight director deactivates after a roll rate of 14 degrees per second and a pitch rate of 8 degrees is reached. When the heading mode is set, the autopilot will turn at a maximum bank angle of 20 degrees. Axis servos, bridle cables, and autopilot instrumentation was not located in the wreckage and presumed thermally destroyed.

The KFC-150 system incorporates an electric trim to relieve control pressures when the autopilot has engaged the pitch servo. The elevator trim surface was found with a downward deflection and a total of 9 threads on the jackscrew actuator were observed. New Piper Aircraft, Inc., reports that this position corresponds to a nose up setting of just above neutral. A jackscrew actuator position of 7 to 8 threads is the takeoff setting (neutral), and 14 to 15 threads equals a full nose up deflection of the trim. Both the electric trim and autopilot rocker switches are capable of adjusting the pitch attitude at a rate of approximately 0.9 degrees per second. Manual stick forces required to counteract the pitch trim adjustments were obtained through a Piper Aircraft flight test report; number VB-1352. The maximum setting for the flight test was minus 23 degrees (nose up), and it corresponded to 51 pounds of control force needed to override the trim adjustment. A setting of minus 12 degrees corresponded to 25 pounds of force. These results were found under climb altitude conditions and 110 knots of airspeed (published best rate of climb). Airworthiness standard limitations for stick forces are 75 pounds for pitch and 60 pounds for roll (14 CFR Part 23).

The airplane was sent to Airborne Electronics to have maintenance performed on the elevator trim, according to a work order from Clarksburg Air Repair dated August 21, 2000. A voided record from Airborne Electronics dated 08/24/00 was obtained and it noted that the aircraft was returned to the owner before the work was done at the owner's request.

The associate also reported the pilot's disappointment in the airplane's climb performance after it was painted. The airplane was disassembled for the paint application and the painting was completed on June 21, 2001. Static ports were not identified in the wreckage and also presumed thermally consumed.

The airplane was last refueled at Oasis Aviation on September 1, 2000, and a copy of the fueling record was obtained for review. At that time, 99.5 gallons of 100 octane low lead fuel was added. An employee of Oasis Aviation reported receiving a phone call from the pilot asking to fuel all tanks on the airplane. This employee also drove one of the passengers from the hanger to the airplane, which was parked on the north end of the tarmac. Oasis Aviation fueled six other aircraft from the same fuel truck. There were no problems reported from the day's previous customers.

The Safety Board investigation produced the post accident calculations for takeoff performance and weight and balance examination. The front and rear seat passenger weights were taken from department of motor vehicle records, and baggage was conservatively estimated, based on the remains found at the wreckage site not thermally consumed in the post impact fire.

Weight and Balance Computation Matrix:

Weight (lbs.) Arm (inches) Moment Basic Empty Weight 2837.04 135.06 383170.62 F-seat (left) 190 135.5 25745.00 F-seat (right) 176 135.5 24254.50 M-seat (left) 0 177.0 0 M-seat (right) 0 177.0 0 R-seat (left) 105 218.75 22968.80 R-seat (right) 160 218.75 35000.00 Fuel 840 150.31 126260.40 F-baggage 20 est. 88.6 1772.00 R-baggage 20 est. 248.23 4964.60

Totals 4351.04 624135.92

Center of Gravity = 624135/4,338 = 143.446

The report submitted by New Piper Aircraft, Inc. on this airplane included a weight and balance work-up, which calculated a gross weight of 4,426 pounds.

The published maximum gross takeoff weight was 4,100 pounds (maximum ramp weight was 4,118). Forward limit of the center of gravity envelope is 130.7 inches while the aft limit is 147.1 inches from the datum plane. Accurate takeoff, ground roll, and climb performance data could not be determined from the Pilot Operating Handbook due to the gross weight calculations being outside the performance envelope.

According to the takeoff and climb performance charts in the Airplane Flight Manual, under the prevailing weather conditions and at the published maximum gross takeoff weight, the airplane has a ground roll of approximately 2,010 feet (see witness statements under history of flight). Climb performance results under equal conditions, gear and flaps retracted, indicated a climb rate of 1,095 feet per minute.


The METAR report for the Lake Tahoe Airport (TVL) indicated winds were at 140 degrees at 13 knots. Visibility was 7 miles with rain showers in the vicinity. Before takeoff the pilot was given an advisory by the controller that the winds were at 170 degrees at 14 knots and the altimeter setting was 30.00 inHg. The reported cloud ceiling was broken at 3,000 feet. A witness who was at the airport that day reported light rain. The mountains surrounding the airport were reported as being obscured by the cloud cover.


FAA air traffic records that the pilot received a weather briefing and filed an IFR flight plan to San Diego at 1419 local time before embarking on the flight.


The Lake Tahoe Airport located in the city of South Lake Tahoe, has an elevation of 6,264 feet. It is served by a part time non-federal air traffic control tower. The Airport Facility Directory reports the preferred runway for high performance aircraft as 18 and a right downwind departure is recommended. The airport is surrounded on the east, south, and west by trees and rapidly rising terrain. Runway 18 is 8,544 feet long and 150 feet wide. It is surfaced with grooved asphalt.

Using the Engineering Airport Layout Plan, the Lake Tahoe Airport Manager measured the distance from a point on the runway perpendicular with terminal building to the end point of runway 18 and found it to be 4,850 feet (see History of Flight and Aircraft Information). The distance was calibrated using the scale provided in the layout plan.


The wreckage site was located in a 100-foot by 75-foot wooded area in the backyard of a residence on the 1600 block of Semat Street. The El Dorado County Sheriff reported that the airplane was fully engulfed in flames upon arrival. The sheriff report referenced a diagram of the site that was taken and portrayed the impact debris pattern. Wreckage was found through an east-northeast direction with the initial impact (tree damage) reported on the southwest side. The tip of one tree and a 4-foot section of an 80-foot tall tree had been sheered off. Two other trees showed impact damage on the southwest sides as well. The first tree exhibited damage 10 to 20 feet from the ground. The second, a 3-foot diameter tree located about 6 feet away from the first, was sheered off approximately 15 feet from the ground. A large area of the backyard and several trees had been burned from the post impact fire. Firefighters extinguished the fire about 1620.

The airplane wreckage lay in two main areas on the ground below several trees, some of which were damaged by the impact of the airplane. The engine and propeller were still joined together but separated from the main fuselage. The propeller exhibited twists and the outboard half of one blade was bent forward away from the cockpit. The nose cone was dented around its circumference in several places on its surface without torsional deformation. Both turbo chargers were separated from the engine assembly. A small portion of the airplane's skin or structure was found imbedded in a fallen tree segment.

Part of the cockpit, nose gear strut and wheel assembly, and engine mounting brackets were lying a few feet away. They were damaged from impact and post impact fire. The front cockpit section was not complete and had been partially incinerated. The canopy had been thermally consumed. Instruments from the cockpit and the panel itself had been destroyed by impact and consumed by the post impact fire. The manufacturer's representative recorded an altimeter reading of 44,300 feet and reported that flying surface control cables had been destroyed by fire. The full span of the right wing remained attached to the fuselage. The right wing had two large fractures; the first was evident upwards about the first third and the other was located at the second third of it's span. The first fracture exhibited separation completely through the wing from the leading edge through the flap section. There was also some thermal damage to the skin surface.

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