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N4451X accident description

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Tail numberN4451X
Accident dateMarch 14, 2002
Aircraft typePiper PA32R-300
LocationBroadway, NC
Near 35.512222 N, -78.977778 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On March 14, 2002, about 1628 eastern standard time, a Piper PA32R-300, N4451X, registered to Ram Air Freight Inc., and operating as a Title 14 CFR Part 135 nonscheduled cargo flight, collided with a television transmission tower in Broadway, North Carolina. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The commercial-rated pilot, the sole occupant of the aircraft received fatal injuries, and the tower and the airplane were destroyed. The flight originated from Greenville, North Carolina, the same day, about 1545.

A witness stated that he, his wife, and their two children were in their front yard, and they heard an aircraft engine. They all turned around to look at the airplane and he said he noted that the airplane was flying "westward or into the sun." He stated that as the airplane approached the tower, it appeared to have been lower than other airplanes he had seen fly over the tower previously. He stated that the airplane appeared to hit a guy wire, and that he did not notice any attempt to correct the flight path before the collision occurred. He also said that there had been no signs of trouble with the airplane's engine. As the airplane collided, it "jolted to the left, and exploded in mid air." He said that the collision appeared to have occurred about 3/4 of the way up the tower, and about 4 or 5 seconds after the explosion, the tower fell in the direction that the aircraft had been traveling. He said that at the time of the accident, the sky was clear, and the tower was visible.


The pilot, age 28, held both FAA commercial pilot, and flight instructor certificates, with airplane single and multiengine land and instrument ratings. The pilot also held a ground instructor certificate with advanced and instrument ratings. Records indicated that the commercial pilot certificate had been issued on March 24, 2000, and the flight instructor certificate was last issued on December 21, 2000. He also held an FAA first class medical certificate, issued on July 2, 2001, with no stated limitations.

The pilot's personal logbook was not obtained by the NTSB, however, according to information obtained from the operator, Ram Air Freight Inc., the pilot had accumulated about 1,709 flight hours, of which about 600 hours were in the same make and model airplane as the accident airplane, about 187 hours had been flown in the last 90 days, and 39 hours were flown in the last 30 days. Ram Air Freight's pilot related records also showed that the pilot had been hired and had received his initial FAA Part 135 competency flight check on July 5, 2001. He was a check airman for Ram Air Freight Inc., and had made about seven previous flights along that route. According to the address on the pilot's certificate, he resided in the town of Sanford, North Carolina, about 10 miles from the accident site.


The accident airplane is a 1975 Piper Lance, model number PA-32R-300, serial number 32R-7680018. It was outfitted with two seats, and configured to carry cargo. At the time of the accident it was transporting checks and other financial documents for Wachovia Bank.

N4451X was equipped with a Textron Lycoming IO-540K-1B5D. The serial number was not verifiable at the scene, however, maintenance records showed that its serial number was L-21296-48A. The engine had last been overhauled at the Lycoming factory, and had been installed in on July 24, 2001. It had last received an annual inspection on March 7, 2002, about 16 hours before the accident, and had accumulated a total of 3807.7 hours, about 472.5 hours since major overhaul. At the time of the accident, the airplane had accumulated a total of 13550 flight hours. The airplane was equipped with a Hartzell propeller, model number HC-C2YK-1B CH33007B.

Airplane maintenance records also showed that the airplane had received its last static system, altimeter and transponder calibration check on January 3, 2002, and its last VOR receiver check on January 2, 2002.


Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The Sanford-Lee County Regional Airport 1701, surface weather observation was, clear skies, winds from 160 degrees at 6 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, temperature 22 degrees C, dewpoint temperature 14 degrees C, altimeter setting 30.06 inHg.

A review of pertinent astrological data showed that sunset was projected to be at 1823 eastern standard time, and the end of civil twilight projected for 1848. At the time of the accident the sun's altitude above the horizon was 22 degrees, with a true bearing of 250 degrees. Moonset was projected to be at 1901 eastern standard time, and the moon's phase was a waxing crescent, projected to be 1 percent illuminated.


The accident tower is a strobe equipped, galvanized, guy wired communications tower, which according to information supplied by the tower engineer at the scene, was owned by Capital Broadcasting Company, and was leased to WKFT channel 40. According to the antenna license, the tower's address is 1452 Buckhorn Road, Broadway, North Carolina.

The tower site was situated on a hill top, in a heavily wooded area, close to the borders of Harnett and Lee counties, in a rural area of North Carolina, about 7 miles from the town of Broadway, North Carolina. The tower's charted elevation was 1749 ft AGL (2149 ft MSL). The tower site is a fenced-in compound, consisting of the tower with its associated guy wires, antennas, cabling, waveguide/piping, routed from the tower to the electronic equipment building, located at the base of the tower. The areas bordering the compound consists of forest, brush, and other vegetation, in an area what consists of rolling hills and associated ravines. Guy wires from the tower radiated from the tower outward to concrete blocked anchor positions, located a significant distance outboard.

The accident debris field covered an area of about a 700-yard radius, radiating outward from the tower's plotted position, and because of the towers total collapse, to each guy wire anchor point. There was a mix of airplane pieces/debris, debris from the damaged equipment building, damaged fencing that surrounded the antenna, and sections of antenna tower and guy wire. The upper sections of the tower had fallen in the general vicinity of the tower's position, with longer sections of tower having collapsed outward from the compound and into the wooded areas immediately surrounding the tower. Some sections of tower also fell on the building that housed the equipment and damaged sections of its roof and walls. All the guy wires lay on the ground, and some had unraveled, displaying individual strands, and some strands had frayed. Along areas where each guy wire normally would have been suspended, after the accident the wires lay on the ground surrounded by severed tree branches, uprooted brush/vegetation, and deeply gouged mounds of disturbed soil, from the towers preaccident position, outboard to the guy wire anchor blocks. Impact marks, as well as burn/soot marks were found on sections 45 and 46 of the tower structure, and when the tower engineer referenced the relative position of these tower sections to the engineering tower drawings, the sections of tower were determined to correspond to a tower elevation of about 1,425 feet.

The airplane was destroyed as a result of the impact and subsequent explosion, and scattered sections of airplane parts/pieces and cargo were spread throughout the heavily wooded/ brush areas surrounding the tower. Airplane related debris was located generally to the west and along the general direction of flight, with pieces of the airplane being suspended in the trees, and many other pieces of airplane debris/cargo positioned as much as 200 to 300 yards from the tower position. All pieces of the airplane displayed evidence of fire and overstress damage consistent with a high energy, high velocity impact. The impact, explosion and destruction/fragmentation of the airplane precluded verification of flight control continuity, however upon reviewing the airplane pieces that remained, no preaccident failure or malfunctions were evident with the airframe, the flight controls, or the engine. Some airplane instruments were recovered and they had incurred fire and/or impact damage. The altimeter was damaged but readable, and indicated an altitude of between 1,100 and 1,200 feet on its face, with a corresponding reading of 29.98 in the Kollsman window.

The left wing had separated at the wing root and its associated aileron and flap had incurred damage. The left main landing gear had detached from the wing, and the left inboard fuel tank had been consumed by fire. The outboard fuel tank had its fuel cap in place, but the tank had also incurred damage and was leaking fuel. The right wing had separated at the root, and the associated aileron and flap had also separated from the wing, with each displaying fire and impact damage. The outboard portion of the right wing had also separated near the outboard fuel tank. The empennage had separated from the main fuselage, and the vertical fin had also separated and exhibited signs of fire damage. The rudder had separated at the rudder horn, but was attached at the middle hinge, and the he rudder cables separated consistent with overload in the general area where the main fuselage had separated. The stabilator had also incurred damage, and the stabilator trim actuator measurement was 3/8 inches, and no threads exposed, consistent with nose down trim having been applied.

The propeller was positioned with the engine as if it was still attached to the engine crankshaft, but the propeller mounting bolts had sheared, and it had detached. One of the propeller blades was about 29 inches long, and its end had incurred damage and was curled aft slightly. It also had a gouge about 25 inches outboard from the hub, and there was leading edge damage about 21 inches outboard from the hub. The other blade was about 18 inches long, and it also had gouging, overstress and other damage, consistent with an impact. The propeller governor had separated from its mounting pad on the engine, and was not recovered.

The 6-cylinder Lycoming engine came to rest about 400 yards west of the tower's plotted base position, in a shallow crater. As the engine lay in the crater, it was not affixed to the airframe, and was free of the cowling, support brackets, and fixtures. The engine had incurred impact damage, and the crankshaft could not be rotated. The right case half displayed several cracks extending over the top of the No. 6 cylinder case lifter bosses and between the No. 6 and No. 4 cylinder pads. In addition, the case in the vicinity of the No. 2 cylinder intake lifter boss had been crushed inward. The left front section of the engine case, from the propeller governor pad to the No. 2 cylinder mounting pad displayed deep horizontal gouging into the case metal. No. 2 and 4 cylinders were missing, and their mounting studs having been sheared at the cylinder mounting pads. No. 2 piston was also missing, but the piston pin and rod remained connected to the crankshaft. No. 4 cylinder piston sidewall displayed vertical scratches, but the piston was in place, and connected to the connecting rod, which was subsequently connected to the crankshaft. No. 6 cylinder assembly had also sustained impact damage to the cooling fins, but the assembly had remained relatively intact on the mounting pad, and examination with a borescope showed that although there was some damage, the push rod assemblies were in place. In addition, rocker arms, valve springs, and valves were all found to be in position and were coated with oil. The top of the No. 6 piston and the combustion chamber were coated with a light gray combustion deposit. Cylinders 1, 3, and 5 assemblies also sustained impact damage, but were relatively intact, and remained attached to their respective mounting pads on the case half. These cylinders also displayed a light grey combustion deposit at the top of the pistons, and associated rocker arms, springs, and valves were in position, and a coating of oil was present.

The engine accessories had separated from the engine, and all separation points exhibited signatures consistent with overstress. The air filter and oil sump assemblies had been destroyed, and lower section of the engine was exposed. The rear accessories housing was destroyed, leaving a few pieces and parts that were identifiable, such as the oil pump assembly, the oil filter adapter assembly, and a few housing pieces. The engine oil driven oil pump's drive shaft was easily rotated, and the housing, drive shaft and pump gears were intact, and coated with oil. The oil suction screen and oil filter element were also free of contamination. The fuel pump also had broken away from the accessory drive housing, and when examined, the drive shaft rotated easily. The fuel manifold assembly was intact, and when the cap was removed the spring, and the diaphragm were found to be intact. The piston moved freely, and there was some evidence of fuel within the distributor chamber. The fuel injector had separated during the accident, and the injector screen was clear of contamination. There also were trace amounts of fuel in the injector screen chamber. Fuel nozzle assemblies for cylinders No. 1, 3, and 5 and 6 were examined, and the nozzles were visibly open.

The ignition harness, the starter, and the alternator had all incurred impact damage and were destroyed. The magneto also had some impact damage to the cap and distributor assembly, but when tested the magneto's drive shaft rotated easily and the impulse coupling was engaging. Sparks were observed to emanate from the distributor tower to the case when tested. Several spark plugs had incurred damage or were missing, consistent with the impact, and the remaining spark plugs electrodes were noted to exhibit signatures consistent with normal wear. The vacuum pump was intact and when dissembled, its drum had cracked, but the carbon vanes were intact. The inside diameter of the vacuum pump housing exhibited rotational scratches. The throttle arm assembly was in the idle position, corresponding to the throttle being closed, and the mixture control arm had separated. The vacuum pump was intact, but when examined the vanes were intact, but drum was found to be cracked. The inside diameter of the vacuum pump housing exhibited rotational scratches.


Data obtained from the Federal Communications Commission database relevant to the tower showed three geographic positions relevant to the accident tower. One position was 35 degrees 30 minutes 44 seconds north latitude, 078 degrees 58 minutes 41 seconds west longitude, (NAD27). The second position was 35 degrees 30 minutes 45 seconds north latitude, 078 degrees 58 minutes 40 seconds west longitude (NAD-27), and the third position was listed as 35 degrees 30 minutes 45.0 seconds north latitude, 078 degrees 58 minutes 40.0 seconds west longitude ((WGS-83).

A geographic plot of the flight course from the departure airport, Pitt-Greenville Airport , Greenville, North Carolina, to Concord Regional Airport, Concord, North Carolina, showed that the course was about 265 degrees magnetic, and the track line connecting both the departure and destination airports was about a mile north of the accident tower's plotted position, as depicted on the then current Charlotte Sectional Aeronautical Chart for the area.

Tower documentation showed that the tower was equipped with strobes/high intensity obstruction lighting, and was not painted, in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration Circular No. 70/7460-1F. In addition, tower records also showed that at the time of the accident, the tower's obstruction lights had been recorded as being functional.


On March 15, 2002, postmortem examination of the pilot's remains was performed by a pathologist at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. According to the pathologist ,the cause of death was attributed to multiple severe trauma injuries. No

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