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N3029Y accident description

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Tail numberN3029Y
Accident dateSeptember 23, 2008
Aircraft typePiper PA-32
LocationAtlanta, GA
Near 33.908056 N, -84.310278 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

On September 23, 2008, about 1355 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32-300, N3029Y, was substantially damaged when it impacted trees and terrain when attempting to return to Dekalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK), Atlanta, Georgia, shortly after takeoff. The certificated commercial pilot, the sole occupant, was killed. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, and no flight plan was filed.

According to relatives of the pilot, the pilot resided in Michigan, and had flown his Beechcraft Bonanza to PDK the day prior to the accident, in order to complete the sale of the Bonanza. The pilot planned to take the accident airplane in partial trade for the Bonanza, and fly it back to Michigan.

According to the pilot who delivered the accident airplane to PDK, it was kept in a hangar at Craig Municipal Airport (CRG), Jacksonville, Florida. The delivery pilot stated that the flight was uneventful, and that he arrived at PDK about 0845, about 5 to 10 minutes after the Bonanza. Shortly after arrival, the delivery pilot permitted the accident pilot to conduct a pre-buy examination of the accident airplane. The upper engine cowl and several other access panels were removed from the airplane for the examination, and then re-installed. The delivery pilot said that he departed CRG with full fuel, and that after arrival at PDK, he requested a fuel top-off from the fixed-base operator (FBO). FBO records indicated that 34 gallons were added to the accident airplane, and that the fuel transaction was closed out at 1552 the day before the accident.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) personnel from the PDK air traffic control tower (ATCT), the accident airplane departed PDK about 1352. The pilot requested a radio frequency change in order to obtain flight following services from air traffic control (ATC). PDK ATCT personnel provided the pilot with a frequency for Atlanta Departure, and then approved his frequency change. About 1355, the pilot declared an emergency and informed PDK ATCT that he needed to return to PDK. PDK ATCT acknowledged the request, but no further transmissions were received from the airplane.

The accident site was located in a residential neighborhood, approximately 1 3/4 miles north of the threshold of PDK runway 16. According to witnesses in the vicinity of the accident site, none of them saw the airplane prior to its first tree strike, and most only heard, rather than saw, the accident. Some witnesses reported hearing engine sounds, while others reported that they did not hear any engine sounds.

Witness marks indicated that the airplane first struck two trees at the northern boundary of a residential property, approximately 30 feet above the tree bases. Approximately 42 feet beyond the first trees, the airplane struck another tree approximately 12 feet above its base. About 34 feet beyond that, the airplane impacted trees and a 5-foot high earthen berm that formed the southern boundary of the same residential property. Airplane debris and displaced earth from the berm splayed out from the resulting crater another 60 feet, to where the main wreckage was located. The main wreckage consisted of the engine, cockpit/cabin, tailcone and empennage. The debris path was oriented along a heading of approximately 160 degrees magnetic.

The accident airplane was manufactured in 1979. It was a six place, low wing airplane of all metal construction, with fixed, tricycle-configuration landing gear. According to the Pilots Operating Handbook (POH) the airplane was equipped with two fuel tanks that held a total of 94 gallons of usable fuel. Each tank was actually comprised of two separate but interconnected tanks in each wing. The fuel selector valve had three positions: “Off, Left and Right.” Secondary flight controls included manually actuated flaps and pitch trim.

The airplane was equipped with a Lycoming IO-540 piston engine, and a Hartzell three blade, constant-speed propeller. The engine was overhauled by Lycoming in December 2005, placed in service in March 2006, and had accumulated approximately 350 hours in service at the time of the accident. The most recent annual inspection was accomplished in April 2008. At the time, the airplane had accumulated a total time in service of 5,511 hours.

The cockpit/cabin came to rest inverted, pointing back along the debris path, with significant crush damage. The tailcone and empennage were relatively intact; the tailcone came to rest pointing up, with the vertical stabilizer pointing in the direction of travel. Fragments of the wings, cowl and landing gear were distributed along the debris path. All fuel tanks were severely compromised.

Portions of the left and right horizontal stabilizers, the vertical tail, the windshield, and the upper surfaces of the tailcone and the engine cowl exhibited an oily coating which also contained dirt and some vegetation matter. Portions of the upper surfaces of the left-side engine cylinders also contained an oily coating. The landing gear fairings, wings and the majority of the fuselage did not exhibit a similar oily coating.

One propeller blade was found separated from the propeller hub, and lying near the crater in the berm. The blade was bent approximately 90 degrees forward near the mid-span point, and exhibited chordwise scratching and trailing edge S-bending. The other two blades remained attached to the hub, and were located just short of the main wreckage. One blade was jammed in approximately the “feathered” position, curved aft approximately 20 degrees at the root, and exhibited chordwise scratching. The outboard 4 inches of the blade were bent forward. The other blade rotated freely in the hub, was curved aft approximately 75 degrees near the mid-span point, and was missing the outboard 4 inches. The blade exhibited leading edge gouges, chordwise scratching, and trailing edge S-bending.

The engine was found inverted, and partially attached to the firewall by cables and the engine mount. The engine mount was severely distorted, and most fittings were fractured. The firewall was heavily crumpled, and its central region was covered with a white powdery layer consistent with corrosion. The firewall was penetrated at the approximate center of the powdered area. The airplane battery was fractured and crushed against the aft side of the firewall, and was visible from the forward side of the firewall through the penetration.

The engine case was intact, with no cracks or penetrations. The engine oil sump was fractured and penetrated at its forward end. The exhaust system was crushed up and aft. The rocker arm cover and a portion of the number two cylinder were separated from the engine, and were found early in the debris path. Most of the engine accessories were found separated from the engine. The two oil coolers remained attached to the engine. The left oil cooler was crushed and compromised, but the right one was intact. The three hoses associated with the oil-cooling system appeared intact, and all six ends retained their fittings. Five of the six oil hose fittings were intact. The threads of the fractured oil hose fitting exhibited significant distortion. The oil dipstick was found separated from the engine, and its housing was fragmented.

The cockpit and cabin exhibited significant crush damage and structural disruption. The windshield was highly fragmented, and many of the instruments and avionics were separated from the instrument panel. An hour meter registered 4782.0 hours. The engine tachometer registered 5759.78 hours. The vertical speed indicator registered a 400 foot-per-minute descent. The ignition switch was found in the “BOTH” position, with the key broken off in the switch. The flap handle was bent, and not locked in any detent. The left flap actuator arm was found in a position that corresponded to flaps retracted. The stabilator trim tab actuator extension equated to a trim position of neutral to slightly airplane nose up.

The emergency locator transmitter (ELT) was an Artex model ELT-200. The ELT and its attached battery pack were intact. The cabin ELT switch was found in the “ON” position. No ELT signal was reported on the day of the accident, but about 22 hours after the accident, a signal was detected and reported. The battery pack carried a “Replace” date of December 2007.

Two Garmin handheld global positioning system (GPS) units and one Insight GEM 602 EGT-CHT engine monitor were recovered at the scene. These were retained by the National Transportation Safety Board for data downloads.

The engine was examined further at a secure facility. The crankshaft was slightly bent at the front end of the engine, but the front crank oil seal was intact. The propeller governor was destroyed, and only a few pieces of it were recovered. The fuel servo was impact-separated, its inlet screen was free of debris, and approximately 1/2 oz of clean fuel was recovered from it. The fuel side and air side diaphragms were intact, no internal abnormalities were noted, and the throttle arm was fractured and separated from the servo. The fuel flow divider diaphragm was intact, the spring was in place, and clean fuel remained in the unit. No abnormalities were noted.

The engine-driven fuel pump was impact-separated from the engine, but remained attached to the fuel servo by its hose. Clean fuel was recovered from the unit, the diaphragm was intact, and no abnormalities were noted. Fuel was recovered from the line between the electric boost pump and the engine driven pump. Five of the six fuel injector nozzles were recovered; the number 2 injector was not found. The number 4 injector was fractured in two. All recovered nozzles were free of obstructions.

All spark plugs were recovered, and all electrodes showed normal wear, and were gray in appearance. Both magnetos were impact-separated, and both sparked at all towers when hand rotated. The ignition harnesses were severely impact-damaged. The starter was impact separated and damaged. The alternator was impact-separated and severely damaged. The vacuum pump was impact-separated, and its drive remained attached to the engine. The pump was able to be hand rotated, but it presented high resistance. The oil filter was impact-separated. The filter element was wet with oil, and appeared clean with no particulates.

The engine was hand rotated, and thumb compressions were obtained on cylinder numbers 1, 5 and 6. The number 2 cylinder head exhibited the heaviest damage. All cylinders were removed from the engine. No damage other than impact damage was noted on any of the cylinders, pistons and connecting rods. All connecting rods were free to rotate on their bearing journals, and oil was found throughout the engine. The connecting rods from piston numbers 5 and 6 pistons were removed from the crankshaft. The bearings appeared normal and were coated with oil. No abnormalities were noted except for a possible slight wear or spalling area on the number 6 connecting rod bearing. This area was no larger than 1/8 inch by 1/16 inch. The crankshaft journals for piston numbers 5 and 6 appeared normal, and were coated with oil.

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single engine land, sea and instrument ratings, and a private pilot certificate with airplane multiengine land rating. FAA records indicated that the pilot’s most recent second-class medical was issued in June 2007, and that he reported 4,900 total hours of flight experience at that time.

The 1302 special weather observation at PDK reported winds from 100 degrees at 7 knots, direction variable between 060 and 130 degrees, clear skies, 10 miles visibility, temperature 26 degrees Celsius (C), dew point 12 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.28 inches of mercury.

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