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N3071R accident description

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Tail numberN3071R
Accident dateJuly 26, 1996
Aircraft typePiper PA-28R-200
LocationLibby, MT
Additional details: None

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On July 26, 1996, about 0900 mountain daylight time, N3071R, a Piper PA-28R-200, operated by Action Flying Service, Inc. Hayden Lake, Idaho, collided with rising terrain and was destroyed near Libby, Montana. There was a ground fire. The airline transport pilot and his two passengers were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed. The aerial survey business flight departed from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, about 0840 and was conducted under 14 CFR 91. The flight was destined for Libby, Montana.

According to the vice president of the Intermountain Forest Industry Association (IFIA), a trade organization, the passengers were employees of the IFIA. The vice president was aware of the itinerary of the accident flight because it was discussed in a staff meeting a few days prior to the accident. The vice president stated that the purpose of the flight was to review and photo-document proposed salvage logging project sites in the Kootnai National Forrest.

The vice president understood that the passengers were to hire a pilot and aircraft and fly from Coeur d' Alene direct to an area near the head waters of the Yaak River just south of the Canadian border in Montana. After over-flying the area and taking some photographs of proposed logging project sites, the airplane was to land at Libby and drop off one of the passengers, so that he could attend a meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee held at the U.S. Forest Service office in Libby. A car had been driven to the Libby Airport by the passenger's staff assistant, so that the passenger could drive his car home to Missoula, Montana, after the meeting. Meanwhile, the staff assistant was supposed to board the airplane in Libby, then fly with the pilot and other passenger to Orafino, Idaho, to photograph more sites. From Orafino, the airplane was to return to Coeur d'Alene.

The vice president stated that his employees had the authority to hire pilots and airplanes and pay them in various fashions. It was done routinely. The vice president stated that he thinks one of the passengers contacted the accident pilot on the evening prior to the accident on his own accord. The pilot was not an employee of IFIA.

According to a representative of the Idaho Forest Industry (IFI), the accident pilot was employed as a corporate pilot for the IFI Cessna Citation business jet. The IFI representative, who had no knowledge of the flight prior to the accident, stated that he thought the accident flight was supposed to depart Coeur d'Alene to pick up a passenger in Libby, then fly to the Yaak River Valley.

According to the operator of Action Flying Service, the accident pilot was "checked out" in the airplane on the evening prior to the accident. The operator stated that the pilot arrived on the afternoon previous to the day of the accident with the intention of renting an airplane from Action Flying Service. The operator stated that it was the first time the pilot had ever rented airplanes there.

The operator stated that the pilot seemed to "feel fine" during the 15-minute flight. He said that the pilot told him he was going to fly the airplane the next day to Kalispell to perform some aerial photography. He also stated that the pilot departed the next day from runway 23 about 7:40 a.m. (0840 mountain daylight time). It was the operator's understanding that the flight had been delayed because one of the passengers had forgotten to bring a camera and had to go back home and get it.

The operator stated that he had no knowledge of any problems with the airplane prior to the accident flight, and that the airplane had been "topped off" with fuel prior to the 15-minute check-out flight. The airplane had not been flown until the accident flight.

A ground witness (statement map location attached) stated that he heard an airplane flying overhead at an altitude of about 1,500 to 2,000 feet above Bull Lake "around nine o'clock" in the morning on the day of the accident. He stated that he was fishing in a boat with his son on the "very north end of Bull Lake" about the time of the accident. Bull Lake is located about 2 miles west of the accident site. The witness stated that he looked up at the airplane and noticed it was white with a colored stripe. He stated that the "... motor was missing..." and "...cutting in and out" as the airplane flew overhead. He remembered commenting to his son that "...the engine sounded worse than his boat motor." He described the sound as similar to the frequent "popping" of a "...lawn mower engine or clunker car." The witness' boat motor was not running at the time the witness heard the airplane. He stated that he thought the airplane "...wasn't high enough to clear" the terrain. He did not notice any fire or smoke coming from the airplane, and he cannot recall if the landing gear was extended or retracted.

The witness observed the airplane flying straight and level for about one minute, until it disappeared from view behind trees. He stated that the airplane did not climb, descend, or turn during the entire one minute he observed it. About "three or four minutes" later, he heard a sound that he later surmised was the airplane's impact with terrain. He then observed smoke rising from the ground and he reported the smoke to the campground host. He did not realize the smoke was from the aircraft accident at the time.

The witness stated that the airplane flight path took it "...toward Libby, across the valley..." and toward the crash area in higher terrain. He stated that clear, calm, sunny daylight conditions existed at the time of the accident. The witness also stated that he saw and heard another airplane earlier that morning (around dawn) and that the airplane "sounded normal."

Another witness (statements and maps attached), who was employed by the U.S. Forest Service as a campground host, was near the north end of Bull lake on the morning of the accident. The witness stated that he observed a "... light plane coming from the [southeast] over Bull Lake...." He stated that the airplane was flying about 800 to 1,000 feet above the lake, and the engine "... seemed to almost quit." He stated that the engine "coughed or missed three times and then ran normal..." and the airplane "dropped some in altitude then picked up and regained altitude..." twice within a two-minute time span. He then observed the airplane flying in a northeasterly direction toward rising terrain. He did not observe any smoke or fire coming from the airplane, nor did he observe any other airplanes that morning.

At 0910, U.S. Forest Service personnel spotted smoke rising from the Cabinet Mountains near Libby; they dispatched a helicopter to survey the scene. The airplane wreckage was located at 1218 and was engulfed in a ground fire. The accident occurred during the hours of daylight at the following coordinates: North 48 degrees, 17.04 minutes, and West 115 degrees, 46.33 minutes.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The aircraft, a 1969 Piper model PA-28R-200 "Cherokee Arrow II", was a four-seat, low-wing, airplane powered by a single 200-horsepower Lycoming fuel-injected engine with a controllable-pitch propeller. The airplane was operated as a lease-back rental aircraft by Action Flying Service, Inc.

An examination of the airframe and engine maintenance logbooks did not reveal any unresolved discrepancies prior to the accident. An examination of the airplane's flight log for the month of July 1996 indicated that the airplane had been flown for about 50 hours with no discrepancies recorded.

An examination of a fuel receipt dated July 25, 1996, indicated that the accident airplane received 16.1 gallons of 100 low lead aviation gasoline on the evening prior to the accident.

The airplane was equipped with retractable landing gear, which is hydraulically actuated by an electrically powered reversible pump. According to technical information from the New Piper Aircraft Company, the pump is controlled by a selector switch on the instrument panel, and the landing gear is retracted or extended in about seven seconds. The landing gear is held up in the retracted position with hydraulic pressure, and locked down into the extended position with the aide of mechanical downlock mechanisms.

Also incorporated in the system is a pressure sensing device which lowers the gear regardless of gear selector position, depending upon airspeed and engine power (propeller slipstream). Gear extension is designed to occur, even if the selector is in the up position, at airspeeds below approximately 105 miles per hour (mph) with power off. The extension speeds will vary from approximately 85 mph to approximately 105 mph depending upon power settings and altitude.

Manual override of the automatic gear extension device is provided by an emergency gear lever located between the front seats. The lever must be held in the raised position, at which time the gear position is controlled by the selector switch regardless of airspeed/power combinations. The lever can also be locked into the raised (override) position by pushing in a latching device located on the left side panel of the console below the level of the lever.

According to performance charts (excerpt attached) found in the accident airplane owners handbook, the maximum rate of climb is about 560 feet per minute under the following conditions: gross weight of 2,600 pounds; density altitude of 6,700 feet; flaps retracted; landing gear retracted. This rate of climb would be decreased if the landing gear were extended or the best rate-of-climb airspeed was not maintained.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot, age 61, was issued an FAA airline transport pilot certificate with a rating for multi-engine land airplanes, and a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land airplanes, and multi-engine seaplanes. He was also a certified flight instructor with ratings in single and multi-engine instrument airplanes. The pilot also held type-ratings for the Cessna CE-500 business jet, Convair models 240, 340 and 440 twin-turboprop transports, and several Learjet models.

An examination of copies from pilot's flight logbook revealed that the pilot had logged a total of 15,536 hours of total flight time. During the 30 days previous to the accident, the pilot had logged a total of 30 hours, including 12 hours in a single-engine Cessna 180, about 1 hour in a Piper PA-28R, and the remainder in a Cessna CE-500 business jet. No evidence of recent single-engine light airplane mountain flying was found.

According to the operator of the accident airplane, the accident pilot was "checked out" in the accident airplane on the evening prior to the accident. The operator stated that he provided some ground instruction to the pilot about the airplane and flew with the pilot in the airplane. The flight lasted about 15 minutes and consisted of flying in the traffic pattern and performing three touch-and-go landings. During the flight, the operator demonstrated the automatic landing gear extension feature of the airplane. The operator stated that the pilot had told him that he (the pilot) had some recent experience flying the PA-28R-200. The operator also stated that he felt the pilot was competent to fly the airplane.

According to FAA records, the pilot was issued an FAA Second Class Medical Certificate on July 9, 1996, with the limitation that he "must have available glasses for near vision."

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

According to U.S. Forest Service personnel who first located the wreckage, calm wind conditions existed on the morning of the accident near the accident site. The sky was clear with no obstructions to visibility, and the temperature was estimated to be about 58 degrees F. The Safety Board calculated that the density altitude at the accident site was about 6,700 feet at the time of the accident.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The airplane came to rest in heavily-wooded, sloping terrain of the Cabinet Mountains at an elevation of about 5,500 feet msl. The site is surrounded on three sides by rising terrain ranging from 6,000 feet msl to about 7,500 feet in height. The wreckage was distributed along a magnetic bearing of 058 degrees. The Libby Airport (elevation 2,601 feet msl) was located 11 nautical miles away along a magnetic bearing of 072 degrees from the accident site. The Bull Lake (elevation 2,323 feet msl) witness observations were located about 2 nautical miles west of the accident site. The Cabinet Mountains stand between Bull Lake and the Libby Airport. A topographic map displaying the witness locations, accident site, and topography is attached.

The wreckage distribution path was measured to be about 280 feet in length and was parallel with a rising ridge line. The beginning of the path was marked by a freshly sheared tree about 100 feet in height. Ground elevation of this tree was lower than the ground elevation of the main wreckage site. About 20 feet downrange of the initial tree strike, and to the south of it, the outboard portion of the left wing was found on the ground. A smaller wing piece was found in tree branches several feet downrange of the left wing section. About 180 feet from the initial tree strike, another freshly sheared tree top was found, followed 25 feet downrange by another freshly sheared tree. The main wreckage site was located about 75 feet from the nearest sheared tree. Despite several ground and aerial searches, no other tree strikes or aircraft components were found in the area.

The main wreckage exhibited evidence of an intense ground fire and continued to smolder during the on-scene investigation. The engine and propeller were found in the center of the wreckage. The inboard portion of the left wing was found inverted and adjacent to the main cabin wreckage. The entire right wing was found inverted on the opposite side of the main cabin wreckage; its outboard leading edge exhibited aft-ward compression damage. The vertical stabilizer and rudder was separated from the aft fuselage and remained attached to each other. The left half of the stabilator was found adjacent to the rudder. The right half of the stabilator, including the stabilator trim actuator, could not be identified and is presumed to have been consumed in the post-impact fire. No evidence of an in-flight fire, in-flight explosion, in-flight structural failure, or flight control deficiency was found.

An examination of the main landing gear downlock mechanisms revealed that both of the main landing gear were found in the extended and locked position. The nose gear was destroyed by impact and thermal forces and no determination of its position could be discerned.

The manually-driven cockpit flap handle was examined; the handle was in the fully retracted position. The needle of the tachometer was indicating about 1,500 revolutions per minute. A shadow that was produced by smoke was found on the instrument face, and exhibited an outline of the 1,500 RPM needle indication. All other cockpit controls, instruments, annunciators, and switches were consumed in the post-crash fire.

The engine, a Lycoming model IO-360-C1C, remained attached to the propeller and was found near the center of the main wreckage area. After an initial examination, it was extricated from the wreckage, partially disassembled, and inspected in detail. The entire engine exhibited ground fire damage. The engine baffling, oil sump and accessory section were consumed in the ground fire.

All engine accessories and the fuel injector servo were reduced to their steel components. A portion of the rear crankcase was destroyed, allowing internal views of the aft portions of the crankshaft and camshaft. The no. 3 and no. 4 connecting rods remained attached to the crankshaft and pistons. The no. 3 intake and no. 4 exhaust push rod shroud tubes were melted, allowing views of the no. 4 push rod, tappet body, and camshaft. The no. 1 and no. 3 induction pipes were separated from the cylinders; the nuts and portions of the melted intake fla

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