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N35405 accident description

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Tail numberN35405
Accident dateSeptember 23, 1997
Aircraft typePiper 28(AF)
Cessna 172(NTSB)
LocationNormalville, PA
Near 39.96667 N, -79.36667 W
Additional details: Green/White and Scattered

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On September 23, 1997, at 2027 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172, N35405, was destroyed when it collided with trees and terrain while in cruise flight near Normalville, Pennsylvania. The certificated airline transport pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight that originated at Steubenville, Ohio (2G2), approximately 2000, with an intended destination of Williamsport, Pennsylvania (IPT). No flight plan was filed for the flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) received a report on September 24, 1997, at 1252, stating N35405 was missing. Approximately 1800, the airplane was found in wooded terrain on top of a ridgeline about 2,800 feet mean sea level (msl).

In a telephone interview, a Park Ranger who lived approximately 1/2 mile from the accident site said that he heard the airplane, but did not see it. He said he could not recall what the weather was at the time of the accident. He stated:

"When I heard the airplane, it sounded like the engine revved at its max for about 3 to 5 seconds. The engine was revved up -- really loud -- I mean max. I kept looking for the plane, but I never saw it."

The Ranger further stated that he did not hear any sounds of impact and that days passed before he learned of the accident.

The accident occurred in the hours of darkness about 39 degrees 58 minutes north latitude, and 79 degrees 21 minutes west longitude.

PILOT INFORMATION

The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane multi-engine land and instrument airplane. He also held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land and instrument airplane.

The pilot's most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Second Class Medical Certificate was issued on May 12, 1996.

The pilot's logbook was not recovered. A review of his employer's records revealed he had approximately 5,400 hours of total flight experience, of which 4,800 hours were in multi-engine airplanes. The pilot reported a total of 600 hours of night and 570 hours of actual instrument flight experience. The pilot accumulated approximately 45 hours of multi-engine flight experience in the month prior to the accident.

The pilot's flight experience in make and model could not be determined.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

The airplane collided with an unlighted ridge during the hours of darkness. Both the sun and the moon were below the horizon at the time of the accident. A weather observation taken, at 1950, at Johnstown, Pennsylvania (JST)), reported: scattered cloud layer at 1,000 feet, visibility 6 miles with mist. Measured ceiling was 2,500 feet broken with an overcast layer at 3,300 feet.

In a written statement, an FAA Inspector stated he was driving in the area around 1700 and noted the weather along the ridgeline. He said, "The ridgeline was partially obscured by clouds."

WRECKAGE INFORMATION

The airplane wreckage was examined on September 25, 1997, and all major components were accounted for at the scene. The wreckage path was oriented in the direction of the departure airport on an approximate magnetic heading of 330 degrees, and covered a distance of 285 feet. The wreckage path was divided into 1 foot increments identified as wreckage points (WP).

The initial point of impact was a tree strike approximately 70 feet above ground level (AGL). The base of the tree was on top of a ridgeline approximately 2,800 feet msl. Tree strikes along the wreckage path were on progressively lower points on the trunks, on descending terrain. Several pieces of angular cut wood were found along the wreckage path.

The right wing tip was found at WP 60 and the left wing tip was found at WP 100. The left wing and flap were suspended in a tree at WP 160, approximately 60 feet above the ground. The left elevator was at WP 190.

The left wing spar was completely separated from the left wing and found at WP 228 along with the left cabin door. Both the wing spar and the door came to rest approximately 12 feet left of centerline.

The initial ground impact scar was at WP 170, approximately 1 foot in depth and 5 feet in diameter.

The main fuselage was upright at WP 285. The left and right wings were separated from the fuselage and cabin roof areas. However, the left wing and the inboard sections of the right wing were still attached by control cables.

The engine was crushed aft into the fuselage on the left side. The windshield posts and the wing box/cabin roof area were not attached to the fuselage. The pilot's control yoke was broken, and the control column was bent.

The engine crankshaft was broken just aft of the propeller flange. The propeller blades displayed similar twisting, bending, leading edge gouging and chordwise scratching. The tip of one propeller blade was broken off.

Control cable continuity was established from the cockpit area to the elevator and rudder. The left aileron control cable was attached from the cockpit to the aileron. The right aileron and crossover cable appeared to have failed in overload.

Examination of the #1 and #2 navigation radios revealed the #1 radio was set at 108.2. The #1 and #2 communication radios were set at 121.5 and 122.0 respectively. The transponder code was set at 1200.

The engine was removed from the airframe for further examination.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

An autopsy was performed on September 25, 1997, by Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, of the St. Francis Central Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The toxicological testing report, from the FAA toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, revealed negative for drugs and alcohol for the pilot.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

The engine was examined in Laughlintown, Pennsylvania on September 26, 1997.

Examination of the engine revealed continuity throughout the powertrain and valvetrain. Magneto to engine timing was confirmed and both magnetos produced spark at the spark plugs. Compression was verified using the "thumb" method and fuel was found in the carburetor.

The carburetor airbox was crushed and a braze repair on the butterfly valve was broken.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The Steubenville Airport was located about 3 miles southwest of the Class B airspace of the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A straight line drawn between 2G2 and IPT measured a magnetic course of 080 degrees and carried through the PIT Class B airspace. Telephone conversations with the pilot's employer and the pilot's brother revealed that the pilot would routinely chose routing to avoid communications with air traffic control. The pilot's employer stated, "[The pilot] just chose not to talk to anybody." The pilot's brother stated, "That would be typical of him also. When he was flying for pleasure, he would chose routing where he wouldn't have to talk to anyone. Flying from Steubenville to Williamsport, it wouldn't surprise me that he would [avoid Pittsburgh]."

The Indian Head (IHD) variable omni range (VOR) navigation transmitter was located about 31 miles southeast of the Pittsburgh Class B airspace. The frequency for the VOR was 108.2. A direct line between 2G2 and IHD revealed a magnetic course of 112 degrees. The course line extended across the southern section of the PIT Class B airspace; however, in that area the Class B airspace extended from 4,000 feet to 8,000 feet msl.

The wreckage was located about 1 mile south of the IHD VOR, and the wreckage path was oriented on a magnetic heading of 330 degrees.

In a telephone interview, the pilot's employer and aircraft owner stated that the pilot dispatched the airplane from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for a flight to Steubenville, Ohio, to conduct personal business on the morning of September 23, 1997. He said the pilot was to return on the evening of the same day. The owner said the weather that morning was "marginal", and the pilot should have filed an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan.

FAA records revealed the pilot flew IFR from IPT to 2G2. At 1942, he received an abbreviated weather briefing from the Cleveland Flight Service Station (FSS) for a visual flight rules (VFR) flight from 2G2 to IPT. The pilot declined to file a flight plan. The recording equipment in use at the time of the briefing was not operational, and a recording of the briefing was not obtained.

The pilot's employer also stated that the week before the accident, he received a complaint from a passenger that the pilot slept at the flight controls.

Telephone interviews with a passenger, a friend, and family members about the pilot's propensity to sleep at the flight controls revealed the following:

The passenger said that on a return flight to Williamsport with a co-worker, the airplane was flying down a valley north of Williamsport when it descended below terrain between the airplane and the destination airport. He said:

"We were going down a valley just north of Williamsport and we came down low enough where he had to climb several hundred feet to get over the mountains. He had to climb at least 500 feet to clear the mountains and even then we were not that far above the mountain. [My co-worker] thought he was asleep, but he started to take corrective action before [my co-worker] said anything."

According to the pilot's brother, "I would have to verify that he would doze off pretty quickly, pretty easily. He would doze."

According to his ex-wife, "Sometimes he did do that. He said he wasn't sleeping, that he just had his eyes shut. I thought he was sleeping, but he said he wasn't."

According to a friend:

"I've been with him when he would fall asleep. He would doze off. We would be all trimmed out and he would fall asleep. If the airplane made any change - a bump, or a change in engine noise, or if he got a radio call - he would wake up. I never told him once to wake up."

Two witnesses interviewed felt it noteworthy that the pilot was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. According to one witness, "[The pilot] did not wear a seat belt. He did not wear it during takeoff and landing, he only wore it during turbulence and stormy weather."

The airplane wreckage was released on September 26, 1997, to a representative of the owners insurance company.

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