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N57297 accident description

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Tail numberN57297
Accident dateAugust 19, 2001
Aircraft typePiper PA-28-151
LocationRienzi, MS
Near 34.761667 N, -88.634166 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On August 19, 2001, at 0343 central daylight time, a Piper PA-28-151, N57297, registered to Muscle Shoals Aviation, Inc., and operated by the private pilot, collided with trees and the terrain during a night flight near Rienzi, Mississippi. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 with no flight plan filed. Weather conditions at the accident site were not determined, however, weather conditions at the nearest weather facility reported a low cloud condition. The airplane was destroyed, and the private pilot and two passengers received fatal injuries. The flight departed the Tunica Municipal Airport in Tunica, Mississippi, at 0249.

According to the fixed base operator at Northwest Alabama Regional Airport in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the recently certificated private pilot and two passengers departed the airport on the afternoon of August 18, 2001, with a planned destination of Tunica. The airplane departed with 36 gallons of fuel. The pilot and passengers reportedly spent several hours in Tunica. A limo driver from a local hotel stated that he drove the pilot and two passengers back to Tunica Municipal Airport for their return flight to Muscle Shoals at about 0235 on August 19, 2001. About the time of the accident, a witness reported hearing an airplane flying in the vicinity of the accident site.

On August 19, 2001, a search for the missing airplane was launched. On August 22, 2001, after an extensive air and ground search by local officials, the airplane wreckage was located in a wooded area adjacent to a cornfield in Rienzi.


The pilot held a private pilot's certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. A review of the pilot's flight logbook showed the pilot's total flight time was 63 hours, all of which were in a PA-28-151. The pilot's total pilot-in-command time was 22 hours, total night time was 4 hours, and total night pilot-in-command time was one hour. The pilot held a third class medical dated December 20, 1999, valid with no waivers or limitations.


The PA-28-151, N57297, was owned by Muscle Shoals Aviation, Inc., of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It was a low-wing airplane powered by a Lycoming O-320-E3D 150-hp engine. A review of the airplane's maintenance log revealed that there was an annual inspection performed on July 21, 2001.


The nearest weather reporting station was located at the Tupelo Municipal-Lemons Airport in Tupelo, Mississippi, approximately 30 miles south of the accident site at a field elevation of 324 feet. The 0353 observation from the weather facility reported scattered clouds at 800 feet AGL, overcast at 1,600 feet AGL, visibility 8 statue miles, temperature 23 degrees Celsius, dew point 21 degrees Celsius, winds 190 degrees magnetic at 6 knots, altimeter 29.92". An update was issued at 0402 that reported broken clouds at 800 feet AGL, overcast at 1,600 feet AGL, ceilings variable from 800 feet to 1,300 feet AGL, visibility 9 statute miles, temperature 23 degrees Celsius, dew point 22 degrees Celsius. A review of the weather depiction map issued at 0500 outlines an area of instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions from the center of Mississippi extending to the northeast into Alabama and southern Tennessee.

The United States Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department reported moon data for the vicinity of the accident. There was a New Moon on the evening of August 18, 2001, at 2155 central daylight time. Moonset was 1946 on August 18, 2001, and moonrise was 0642 on August 19, 2001. The phase of the moon on August 19, 2001, was waxing crescent with one percent of the moon's visible disk illuminated.


Examination of the accident site showed the airplane rested in a nose-low attitude adjacent to two trees. Wreckage debris was scattered over am area approximately 70 feet land and 35 feet wide. The wreckage path was orientated on a 240 degree magnetic heading. The engine assembly was buried several inches into the ground. The empennage section was stacked on top of the cockpit and passenger sections of the airframe at the point of ground impact. The wings and propeller were separated from the fuselage.

The left wing was found southwest of the fuselage and main wreckage. The left wing assembly displayed impact damage to the leading edge just inboard of the fuel tank area. The left main spar was bowed aft. The left fuel tank was fragmented and separated from the wing. The left aileron was in place and secure. The left aileron control cable was attached to the bell crank but separated near the wing root area. The balance cable was intact to an area just inboard of the right aileron bell crank attach point where it had separated. Both separations appeared consistent with the impact damage. The left flap was separated and found near the inboard right wing section on the opposite side of the fuselage. The left flap also displayed damage consistent with the damage seen to the left inboard wing area.

The inboard section of the right wing was found a few feet from the fuselage and main wreckage. The right wing received perpendicular chord wise impact damage along the leading edge and the fuel tank was fragmented. The right wing was separated at the outboard section, and approximately 6 to 8 feet of the wing structure was lodged in a tree. The right wing flap was partially attached to the inboard section. The right aileron was separated and found adjacent to the inboard wing section. The right aileron control cable was not evident and believed to be with the outboard wing section in the tree.

The empennage control surfaces remained with the fuselage. The tips of the rudder, vertical fin, and right side of the stabilator were separated and found in the immediate vicinity of the main wreckage. All noted damage was impact related. All control hinge and stop bolts were in place and secure. All control cable attach points were secure. The stabilator pitch trim drum inner shaft had an extension of about 8.5 threads or 25 percent of the available nose-up trim. This is consistent with approximately 3 degrees of the available 12 degrees nose-up trim.

The forward fuselage section rested on top of the engine assembly and sustained extensive deformation damage. The cabin door was separated. The occupants' seats were also damaged. The instrument panel and radio stack sustained crush damage. Damage to the seat belts and shoulder harnesses were consistent with their usage at the time of impact. The altimeter was recovered and the kollsman was found set at 29.86 inches. Rudder control cables were secure to both the "T" bar and rudder pedals. Several cuts in the control cables were noted in the cabin area that appeared to have been made during extrication.

The propeller was found adjacent to the right inboard wing section. One blade showed significant "S" bending, and the other was wavy and bent forward 8 to 10 inches from the tip. Both blades displayed scratches along the leading edge. At least four saplings approximately two inches in diameter were severed and displayed clean diagonal cuts.

Examination of the airframe and the engine assembly revealed no evidence of a mechanical malfunction or component failure.


The post-mortem examination of the pilot was performed by Dr. Haynes at the office of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Atlanta, Georgia. The forensic toxicology was preformed by the Federal Aviation Administration Toxicology and Accident Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The toxicology revealed: 104 (mg/dl, mg/hg) ethanol detected in muscle; 10 (mg/dl,mg/hg) acetaldehyde detected in muscle; and 11( mg/dl, mg/hg ) n-propanol detected in muscle. The tests were negative for carbon monoxide and cyanide. The toxicology report stated that the specimens were putrefied, and the presence of ethanol may have been the result of post-mortem production of ethanol rather than ethanol ingestion.


A hand-held Gamin global positioning system (GPS) model GPS III Pilot was retrieved from the wreckage and submitted to the manufacturer for data extraction. The unit was received in good condition, was able to power on normally, and was able to establish communication with a personal computer. Data extracted from the unit included a series of track points at 3- to 9-second intervals, each of which recorded the date, time, latitude, longitude, altitude, ground speed, and magnetic heading. The data includes the flight's origin at Tunica, Mississippi, at 0249, and ends at N 34:45.758, W 88:38.053 in Rienzi, Mississippi, at 0343. The data indicate nearly constant heading fluctuations alternately to the right and the left throughout the flight, depicting a scalloped flight path and eventual descending 360-degree turn to the right at the end of the data set.

The airplane wreckage was released on January 23, 2002, to Muscle Shoals Aviation, Inc.

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