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N55676 accident description

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Tail numberN55676
Accident dateMay 10, 1997
Aircraft typePiper PA-28R-200
LocationTigard, OR
Additional details: None

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On May 10, 1997, about 1440 Pacific daylight time, N55676, a Piper PA-28R-200, operated by the owner/pilot, collided with trees and was destroyed during a forced landing. The forced landing was precipitated by a reported loss of engine power while on final approach to a private airstrip in Tigard, Oregon. The private pilot and his passenger were killed. There was a postcrash fire. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed. The personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR 91.

The accident flight originated from the Tigard airstrip earlier in the day. The grass airstrip is known as the Meyer Riverside Airpark, and was owned by the accident pilot. It is surrounded by homes and trees. According to numerous witnesses (witness interview synopses attached), the accident pilot, age 75, decided to take the 16-year-old passenger on a local flight and have lunch at a nearby airport restaurant. None of the witnesses knew exactly which airport was the destination; however, they stated that the pilot routinely flew to the Oregon airports in Independence, Salem, and Mulino, for lunch.

According to witness statements and fuel logs, the airplane was "topped off" with fuel before the accident flight at the Meyer Riverside Airpark. One witness observed the accident pilot perform a "run-up" of the accident airplane in preparation for takeoff about 1130 on the morning of the accident. The witness stated that he did not notice anything unusual with the run-up at the time.

In an attempt to ascertain the destination of the flight after takeoff, the Safety Board requested and received recorded radar data from the Seattle Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) for the time period of 1130 until 1150 on the day of the accident, and at the location of the Meyer Riverside Airpark Airport. No recorded radar tracks were found to indicate that an airplane had departed the airstrip; however, according to the personnel at the ARTCC, radar coverage does not extend below an altitude of about 2,000 feet above ground level (agl) at that location. The Safety Board also requested and received recorded radar data for the time period beginning 1413 and ending 1443 in an attempt to find any radar tracks of incoming traffic to the Meyer Riverside Airpark; no recorded radar tracks were found.

According to records and recorded voice communications at the Air Traffic Control Tower at McNary Field in Salem, Oregon, the accident airplane did not land there. According to the manager of Annie's Restaurant at the uncontrolled Independence State Airport, in Independence, Oregon, none of the restaurant staff remembered seeing the pilot and passenger dine there for lunch on the day of the accident, and there were also no fuel or food receipts with the pilot's name or tail number found.

The Safety Board subsequently contacted the Portland-Mulino Airport Cafe and spoke to a waitress who was working by herself at the cafe on the day of the accident. The waitress stated that she remembered an "older gentleman and a younger boy" having lunch at the cafe. She remembered that the two were sitting "at the third table" and were discussing flying. She also stated that they left the cafe after paying cash for their lunch, and that they did not stay an unusually long or unusually short period of time.

According to witnesses at the Meyer Riverside Airpark, the accident airplane was later observed to enter the standard left-hand traffic pattern for Runway 34 about 1430 while flying about 800 feet above the ground. Other witnesses observed the landing gear extended as the airplane was approaching the airstrip from the south about 1/2-mile from the runway while flying about 200 feet above the ground. Some of the witnesses heard the engine "sputter" and "cough," then "rev up" just before the sound of the impact with trees.

One of the witnesses stated that he was working outside in a wrecking yard, located "on Route 99 between Sherwood and Tigard," south of the airstrip, when he heard an airplane "chugging out... then it just quit chugging... like it was starving for fuel." He looked up and noticed the airplane flying toward the northwest. He remembered that the wings were level, and that the airplane "...wasn't too high up..." but "...wasn't down in the trees." He stated that he observed this "...right after lunch" on the day of the accident, and he saw smoke rise up from where the crash site was later found.

Another witness, a commuter airline pilot, stated that he was outside of his home near the airstrip and had just finished mowing his lawn when he heard a "sputter for about 4 or 5 seconds." Then, he heard it "rev up" for about 2 seconds, followed by silence for about 5 seconds, and finally the sound of an impact. He immediately called local authorities and proceeded to the accident site. No radio distress calls were recorded or reported by any Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control facility, or by persons monitoring the common traffic advisory frequency at the Meyer Riverside Airpark.

The airplane came to rest at the edge of an open field and was destroyed by a ground fire. The accident occurred during daylight conditions near the following coordinates: North 45 degrees, 23.99 minutes; West 122 degrees, 49.75 minutes. AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The accident airplane, a Piper PA-28R-200 "Arrow," was manufactured in 1973. It had been owned and operated by the accident pilot since 1988 and was registered under the name of Riverside Executives, Inc. The airplane was powered by a single Lycoming 200-horsepower model IO-360-C1C fuel-injected engine. It also had retractable flaps, a controllable propeller, and retractable landing gear.

An acquaintance said he flew with the accident pilot four days before the accident and he stated that he did not think the airplane had been flown again until the accident. He stated that there were "no problems with the airplane" during his flight, when they had flown to Aurora, Oregon, to "look at a car." After the flight, the airplane was taxied to the fuel pump at the Meyer airstrip. He said that both tanks were "topped off" with a total of 23.5 gallons of 100 low lead fuel.

Maintenance logbooks were not recovered despite repeated attempts by the Safety Board and the pilot's family to locate them. According to the pilot's grandson, who lived at the airstrip and was employed as a commuter pilot, the airplane underwent an annual inspection in June 1996, and he was unaware of any unresolved discrepancies.

The fuel system of the Piper PA-28R-200 incorporates two wing fuel tanks, each with a total capacity of 25 gallons in each tank. One gallon in each tank is considered unusable, giving a total of 24 gallons of usable fuel in each tank. The tanks are attached to the leading edge of the wing with screws and are an integral part of the wing structure. An auxiliary electric fuel pump is provided in case of a failure of the engine-driven fuel pump. A rocker type switch for controlling the electric pump is located on the cockpit switch panel above the throttle quadrant. According to the Piper PA-28R-200 Pilot Operating Manual, the electric pump should be ON during takeoff, switching of fuel tanks, and for landing.

The fuel tank selector is located on the left side wall below the pilot's instrument panel. It has three positions: OFF, LEFT TANK, and RIGHT TANK. There is no position that allows fuel to flow from both tanks simultaneously. The arrow on the handle of the selector points to the tank supplying fuel to the engine. The valve also incorporates a safety latch that prevents inadvertently selecting the "OFF" position. Fuel quantity for each tank and fuel pressure are indicated on gauges located in the instrument cluster to the left of the switch panel.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot, age 75, held an FAA Private Pilot Certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and airplane multiengine land. According to FAA records, excerpts of the pilot's personal logbook, and family members, the pilot had accumulated over 5,000 total flight hours, with over 500 hours in the accident airplane.

According to medical records obtained from the FAA, the pilot was granted a Special Issuance of an FAA Third Class Airman Medical Certificate on May 8, 1997, two days before the accident. The pilot was required to undergo the Special Issuance process because of a history of coronary artery bypass graft surgery. During the evaluation required for renewal of the Special Issuance, the pilot was noted to have the recent onset of chest pressure with peak exercise. On the exercise stress test accomplished as a requirement of his Special Issuance, the pilot had similar discomfort at peak exercise accompanied by electrocardiogram changes that are consistent with decreased blood supply to the heart. The pilot had previously been granted a Special Issuance of an FAA Third Class Airman Medical Certificate on April 25, 1996, that would have been valid at the time of the accident.

The Safety Board interviewed an acquaintance who stated that he flew "frequently" with the accident pilot. The acquaintance stated that he is an instrument-rated private pilot who rents two hangars at the Meyers Riverside Airpark. He stated that he flew with the accident pilot in the beginning of May 1997, and that he and the accident pilot would usually fly to Independence, Oregon, or the Portland-Mulino airport for lunch. He stated that when they would fly to the Portland-Mulino Airport, they would fly between 1,800 and 2,500 feet south toward Aurora, Oregon, then proceed directly east to the airport. He further stated that the accident pilot's fuel management habits were such that the accident pilot "... probably [would have switched fuel] tanks after 30 minutes, then every hour after that." The acquaintance also stated that the accident pilot sat on cushions in the left seat of the airplane and did not like to move them often to accommodate passengers in the left seat.

Another acquaintance of the accident pilot stated that he flew with the accident pilot and the accident passenger "two or three times before," and that the passenger always sat in the right front seat.

The passenger's brother stated that the passenger had been flying with the accident pilot for "about eight months" before the accident, and the passenger had flown "more than 25 times" with the accident pilot. He stated that the passenger did not tell anyone exactly where he and the accident pilot would be flying to on the day of the accident. He also stated that the passenger was not a "student pilot."

A search of FAA records did not reveal any evidence that the passenger had ever received a Third Class Student Pilot Medical Certificate.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The airplane wreckage was examined at the accident site by the Safety Board on May 11, 1997, one day after the accident, and again on May 14 in Independence, Oregon, after the airplane had been removed. The accident site was located at the edge of a tree-lined, level, open field about 1/2-mile from the approach threshold of the Runway 34 at Meyer Riverside Airpark. The accident site was about 1/4-mile west of the extended centerline of Runway 34. An examination of the accident site revealed that the wreckage was distributed along a magnetic bearing of 188 degrees, nearly opposite the direction of Runway 34.

The wreckage distribution path began near a freshly sheared tree that was about 6 inches in diameter. The tree was sheered about 65 feet above the ground. Another tree, located about 10 feet beyond the first sheared tree, was also sheared off at a slightly lower height. Numerous tree branches, measuring about 4 inches in diameter, were found lying on the ground near these two trees. An examination of the branches revealed that they had been cleanly and diagonally severed.

An outboard section of the left wing, measuring 85 inches from the wing tip inboard to the point where it had separated from the inboard wing section, was found about 50 feet beyond the initial sheared tree in a clearing. The left wing fuel tank had been compromised and exhibited impact damage; its fuel cap remained secured to the tank. A semicircular pattern of compression damage was found about 54 inches inboard of the wingtip; the pattern was similar to the shape of the surrounding trees trunks and contained tree sap residue. The left aileron and a portion of the left flap remained secured to the wing section. No evidence of thermal damage was found on this wing section.

The majority of the leaves and vegetation in the vicinity of the sheared trees and left wing debris were brownish in color and defoliated as compared with the lush green vegetation that prevailed just outside of this area.

A ground scar was found about 80 feet beyond the initial sheared tree. The scar was similar in thickness and length to the leading edge of the airplane's right wing. The remainder of the airplane, including the inboard portion of the left wing and flap, entire right wing, empennage, and engine were found inverted about 105 feet beyond the initial sheared tree. The left main landing gear had separated from the left wing and was found about 70 feet to the east of the main wreckage.

The fuselage exhibited evidence of an intense ground fire. The majority of the cockpit and cabin area had been reduced to ash. The airspeed indicator read 50 miles per hour. The vertical speed indicator read minus 1,850 feet per minute. The directional gyro read 019 degrees. The cockpit flap control handle, that drives both flaps by a direct mechanical connection, was found in the fully-extended (40-degree) detent. The fuel selector valve was severely burned; it was removed for additional examination and testing. No other instruments or controls could be read.

The right wing had separated from the fuselage at a production break near its root. It was found lying flat and inverted on level terrain next to the burnt cabin area. An examination of the right wing revealed that it had received uniform compression damage along its entire leading edge. It did not exhibit any evidence of hydraulic bulging or deformation. The examination also revealed that the right wing had received only superficial thermal damage in the form of soot and scorched paint on the underside of the end of the wing near the burnt terrain and fuselage. The right main landing gear remained attached to the right wing and was found in the down and locked position. The fuel cap remained secured to the right wing. About one quart of blue fuel was found in the right wing tank. The tank itself was deformed and had small creases and holes in it. The supply and vent lines leading to and from the tank were separated at the wing root and were located in close proximity to the burnt terrain and fuselage.

The aft fuselage came to rest upright and was damaged by the postcrash fire. The vertical stabilizer and rudder were impact damaged and had separated from the main fuselage; they were found lying on top of the stabilator. Control cable continuity from the cockpit to the tail surfaces were verified. The stabilator trim actuator was found in a one-degree tab-up position.

No evidence of an in-flight structural failure was found. All primary and secondary flight control surfaces were accounted for at the main accident site. No evidence was found to indicate a flight control deficiency.

The engine was initially examined in-situ. The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft flange. A gross external examination of the engine did not reveal any evidence of preimpact catastrophic mechanical failure, although evidence of impact damage and severe postcrash fire damage were noted. The top spark plugs remained secured to the case, except for the no. 3 cylinder spark plugs that were mostly consumed in the postcrash fire. The remaining top sparkplugs were removed; their leads did not exhibit any mechanical damage but were burned. A view of all four combustion chambers did not reveal evidence of foreign object damage. The valve covers were removed and examined; no

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