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N8155C accident description

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Tail numberN8155C
Accident dateOctober 27, 2007
Aircraft typePiper PA-28-181
LocationBoynton Beach, FL
Near 26.511389 N, -80.104444 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

On October 27, 2007, about 2012 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-181, N8155C, was substantially damaged when it impacted trees and terrain in Boynton Beach, Florida. The certificated flight instructor (CFI) and private pilot were fatally injured, and the passenger received serious injuries. Night visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for the instructional flight, which was operating under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control (ATC) information, radar contact with N8155C was initially established about 1813, shortly after the airplane departed Palm Beach County Airpark (LNA), Lantana, Florida. The pilots then conducted four practice instrument approaches at four different airports in Florida. These included Tamiami airport (TMB), Miami (about 1820), Opa Locka airport (OPF), Miami (about 1913), Ft. Lauderdale Executive airport (FXE), Ft. Lauderdale (about 1935), and Pompano Beach airpark (PMP), Pompano Beach (about 1957). About 2010, during their return to LNA, the pilots reported that they were unable to hold altitude due to an unspecified engine problem, and advised ATC that they "need to land as soon as possible." The airplane was lost from ATC radio and radar contact shortly thereafter, and about 2017 an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal was detected. According to the Palm Beach Sheriff Aviation Division, they were notified of the ELT signal at 2017, and their subsequent helicopter search located the wreckage at 2127.

Several witnesses on the ground reported that they heard or saw an airplane in the area with engine problems. Most of these witnesses reported that unusual engine noises drew their attention to the airplane; almost uniformly, the witnesses described the engine as "sputtering." Two individuals who were located in a home approximately 300 feet from the wreckage heard the impact, but when they stepped outside and visually scanned the area where the wreckage was located, they did not see it.

The wreckage was located on a residential golf course, approximately 5 1/2 miles south of LNA. All major components of the airplane were found at the accident site. The final flight track was oriented on a magnetic heading of 270 degrees. The airplane first impacted a tree approximately 30 feet high. Approximately 160 feet beyond this, the airplane impacted a stand of taller, more substantial trees, and the outboard two feet of the left wing was found at the base of these trees. The airplane then struck a tree 110 feet beyond this, at a height of approximately 15 feet above the ground. It first impacted the ground 70 feet beyond this last tree, and came to rest approximately 40 feet beyond the initial ground scar.

The final fuselage attitude was approximately 135 degrees right wing down, and the longitudinal axis was on a 230 degree magnetic heading. The forward top cabin was crushed down and aft. The cabin door was separated and crushed, and the upper half of this door was found in the initial ground scar. The windshield was destroyed, and fragments were found in and near the initial ground scar.

The instrument panel and sub-panel exhibited crush damage and buckling. The mixture and throttle levers were found in the forward position. The carburetor heat lever was found in a mid position. The key was in the ignition switch, and the switch was in the 'Both' position. The master and electric fuel pump switches were in their respective 'On' positions. The flap handle was found in the flaps retracted position. The fuel selector valve was found selected to the right fuel tank position. The fuel selector was field tested by applying low pressure air through the broken fuel lines at the left and right wing root areas. The fuel selector valve functioned correctly in all three of its setting positions.

The left wing was separated from the airplane at the wing root. Palm Beach County Sheriff Department video shows that this wing remained attached to the fuselage by control cables, but was subsequently separated by rescue personal. The flap and most of the aileron remained attached to the wing. The left wing root flap mechanism eyebolt was measured to be approximately 3 1/4 inches from the bottom of the fuselage, which corresponded to the flaps being fully retracted. The forward inboard end of the fuel tank was breached. The fuel cap was found installed and secure. Blue liquid presumed to be 100LL avgas was found in the tank. Some of this was drained from the tank, and it contained unidentified contamination, and approximately 2 ounces of water. A total of approximately six gallons of fuel was recovered from the tank. The fuel tank finger screen was removed, and was clean and free from blockage.

The right wing was separated from the airplane at the wing root, and was found inverted, several feet forward of the main wreckage. The fiberglass wing tip was found near the initial ground scar. The aileron and flap remained attached to the wing. The right wing root flap mechanism eyebolt was measured to be approximately 3 1/4 inches from the bottom of the fuselage, which corresponded to the flaps being fully retracted. The fuel tank was not breached, and the cap was installed and secure. Approximately 1/2 cup of blue liquid, presumed to be 100LL avgas, was found in the tank. This fuel was clear and bright, with no visible contamination or water. The fuel tank finger screen was removed, and was clean and free from blockage.

The stabilator, stabilator trim, vertical fin, and rudder remained attached to the airplane. The fin, rudder, and left side of the stabilator had no major damage. Approximately two feet of the right outboard end of the stabilator was bent down approximately 45 degrees. The stabilator trim tab was found in a neutral position. Flight control continuity was established from the cockpit to all flight control surfaces, except for impact and recovery related separations.

The gascolator bowl was found safetied but loose against the gascolator housing. The bowl could be rotated, and had vertical freeplay of approximately 1/64 to 1/32 inches. A washer was found between the gascolator bowl tightening screw and the bowl. Neither the maintenance manual nor the parts catalog specified a washer in this location for this assembly. The outlet line fitting was finger tight in the gascolator housing. The electric fuel pump and gascolator were removed from the firewall as an assembly, and the components were then disassembled. Contaminants were found on the gascolator screen. The electric fuel pump was field tested, and was operational. Fuel was found in the electric fuel pump. Fine-grained black particulate matter was found inside the electric fuel pump, and adhering to its screen. The engine driven fuel pump was intact and was removed from the engine. Pumping action was noted when actuated by hand. The diaphragm and internal valves were intact. Water droplets and fuel were found in the pump.

A longitudinal stain, consistent with one made by flowing liquid, was found on the exterior side of the fuselage bottom skin. This stain began at the firewall just below the gascolator, and was approximately 6 inches wide at its origin. It tapered aft approximately 2 feet to a width of approximately 1 inch.

The engine remained partially attached to the airplane, and was found right-side up. No pre-impact mechanical anomalies were noted during the on-site examination. All spark plug electrodes exhibited moderate wear, medium gray color, and had normal gap settings. Borescope examination revealed that the combustion chambers exhibited the same gray color as the spark plugs, and no anomalies. The crankshaft was rotated by hand, and continuity of the crankshaft, camshaft, valve train, and accessory drives was established. Each cylinder produced thumb compression when the engine was rotated. The engine oil suction screen and filter element were free from contaminants. Both magnetos produced spark at all towers during hand rotation. The vacuum pump drive coupling was intact.

The carburetor was intact and remained attached to the engine. No fuel stains were observed on the exterior. The throttle valve and mixture controls were found in their mid-range positions. The throttle control cable end and the mixture control arm stop were broken. The carburetor air box and heat valve were impact damaged, and the heat valve was in the mid-range position. Approximately 1 ounce of blue fuel was found in, and drained from, the carburetor bowl. The fuel was cloudy in appearance. It was allowed to stand for approximately 2 hours to permit any possible contaminants settle out, but none were observed at the end of the period. The accelerator pump operated normally. The carburetor fuel inlet screen was clean. The carburetor bowl screws were found secured and properly torqued. The venturi was intact, and the condition and height adjustment of the plastic carburetor float were acceptable. The needle valve operated normally when low-pressure air was applied to the unit, and the needle valve and seat conditions were normal.

The two bladed fixed pitch metal propeller remained attached to the crankshaft flange. One blade was bent approximately 15 degrees aft. The leading edge of this blade displayed polishing. The other blade had no noticeable major damage.

The pilot in the left seat held a private pilot certificate with airplane single engine land (ASEL) rating. His most recent first class medical was dated November 15, 2006. He began his flight training in December 2006. According to his logbook, the pilot had approximately 360 hours total flight experience, including 42 hours of night experience, and 180 hours of dual instruction. The pilot had accrued approximately 17 hours of flight time in the 30 days prior to the accident. The accident flight was the pilot's first flight since October 22, 2007.

The certificated flight instructor in the right seat began instructing at the flight school in June 2007. His most recent second class medical was dated April 24, 2007. He held an Airline Transport Pilot certificate with ASEL and airplane multiengine land (AMEL) ratings, a Flight Instructor certificate with ASEL, AMEL and Instrument Airplane ratings, and a Ground Instructor certificate with Advanced and Instrument ratings. He reported approximately 12,500 hours of total flight experience on his last medical application. A summary sheet provided to the flight school by the CFI indicated that he had provided approximately 1300 hours of flight instruction in single engine airplanes as of April 2007.

According to FAA and maintenance records, the airplane was manufactured in 1980, and had accumulated approximately 1,000 hours in service in the year preceding the accident. The airplane had accumulated approximately 5,200 hours total time in service, and the engine had accumulated approximately 3,300 hours since the previous major overhaul. The last annual inspection was accomplished on October 3, 2007, during which an overhauled fuel sending unit and a fuel drain were replaced on the right fuel tank. Fueling information provided by the flight school indicated that the airplane was "topped off" just prior to the accident flight.

The 2053 weather observation at West Palm Beach airport (PBI), located approximately 10 miles north of the accident site, reported winds from 070 degrees at 10 knots, few clouds at 3000 feet, temperature 27 degrees Celsius, dew point 21 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 30.03 inches of mercury.

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