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N160D accident description

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Tail numberN160D
Accident dateMarch 09, 2002
Aircraft typePiper PA-28-160
LocationLaurens, SC
Near 34.583333 N, -81.95 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On March 9, 2002, at 0453 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-160, N160D, registered to and operated by the pilot, collided with the ground while maneuvering for an instrument approach to the Greenwood Airport near Laurens, South Carolina. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 with an instrument flight plan. Instrument weather conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The private pilot and his passenger received fatal injuries. The airplane was destroyed. The flight departed Harrison City County, Ohio, at 0130.

On March 8, 2002, at 1035, the pilot obtained an outlook briefing from the Cleveland, Ohio Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS), for the flight to Greenwood, South Carolina. The Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for the route was briefed to the pilot and subject to change. The pilot was advised to get a standard preflight briefing before leaving on his flight. At 2029, the pilot telephoned Cleveland AFSS to get another outlook briefing. The pilot was told that there was a storm developing north of his route, which may affect the decision to make the trip.

At 2120, the pilot telephoned Cleveland AFSS again to request another outlook briefing for the next morning. The pilot asked if it would be better to depart that same evening. He was given the necessary data and informed that he would have to make that decision. The pilot acknowledged that he would have to make that decision and would call back.

At 2247, the pilot telephoned Cleveland AFSS and filed an instrument flight plan from Harrison City County Airport to Greenwood, South Carolina, at a proposed departure time of 0001 on March 9, 2003. The summarized current weather data for the route was given and a forecast for fog at Greenwood, South Carolina. The pilot stated that he had Greenville, South Carolina as an alternate airport. The pilot was told that Greenville Spartanburg, South Carolina looked better as an alternate.

The Cleveland AFSS briefer stated that although the Terminal Aerodrome Forecast looked good, the Airmet for instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions would still apply for his destination due to the fog. The pilot filed the instrument flight plan, Cleveland AFSS verified that the pilot would depart under visual flight rules and contact Cleveland Center for his clearance. At 0348, the pilot activated the flight plan with Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).

At 0414, Atlanta ARTCC contacted the pilot to verify he was at 9000 feet, and the pilot acknowledged. At 0439, ARTCC cleared the flight to descend at the pilot's discretion, and maintain 4000 feet. The pilot confirmed the clearance. The pilot was given the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) frequency at Greenwood, South Carolina, to obtain current weather conditions. The pilot was then asked what type of approach would he like; the pilot responded that he would take the VOR approach to runway 27.

At 0447, the flight was cleared direct to the Greenwood VOR and the pilot was cleared to maintain 4000 feet. At 0448, the flight was cleared to descend to 3300 feet, the pilot responded 3300 feet. This was the last transmission made by the pilot. At 0456, ARTCC reported they no longer had radio contact and was losing radar contact.

According to a witness, at approximately 0450, a sound of an airplane circling near their home. Another witness stated that the sound of the engine running was heard throughout the entire time the airplane was overhead. Several minutes later, a "loud thud" was heard. When the witness looked outside their home in the direction of the thud, they did not see anything. The witness observed foggy weather conditions at the time. The downed airplane was located several hours later following a ground search.


Review of the information on file with the FAA Airman's Certification Division, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, revealed the pilot held a private certificate with an airplane single engine land and an instrument rating, issued on October 17, 1998. Review of the pilot's logbook, revealed total time was approximately 474 hours. The pilot held a third class medical certificate, dated April 26, 2001 with no limitations or waivers. No record of the pilot's Biannual Flight Review (BFR) proficiency check was ascertained.


A review of the airplane logbooks revealed the last recorded altimeter, static, and transponder system checks were completed on February 22, 2002. The last annual inspection was conducted on December 22, 2001. The tachometer time at the annual inspection was 2083 hours and the airframe total time was 2977 hours.


The Greenwood County Airport 0456 local automated weather observation reported, winds calm, visibility 7 statute miles, overcast 600 feet, temperature 13 degrees Celsius, and a dew point of 12 degrees Celsius. The altimeter setting was 30.30 inches, with ceilings of 300 feet variable to 700 feet. Weather information provided by witnesses in the area at the time of the accident, reported dense fog. Greenville Downtown Airport 0453 local automated weather observation reported, winds calm, visibility 10 statute miles, overcast 800 feet, temperature 14 degrees Celsius, and a dewpoint of 13 degrees Celsius. The altimeter setting was 30.32 inches. Greenwood County Airport is located 14 nautical miles south of the accident site.


Examination of the accident site showed that wreckage debris was scattered in a heavily wooded area over an area 110 feet long and 30 feet wide. The wreckage path was oriented on a 005-degree magnetic heading. The engine and propeller assemblies were buried about four feet into the ground in a near perpendicular nose down attitude. All flight control surfaces were located at the site. The fuel system was ruptured and there was no smell of fuel or discoloration of the foliage at the accident site. The flight control cables were traced from the flight controls to the ailerons, elevator, and rudder assemblies.

The fuselage assembly and its components were 10 feet forward of the engine assembly. The instrument panel showed impact damage. The directional gyro was examined and the rotor and rotor housing both displayed rotational scoring. The attitude gyro was also examined, and showed rotational scoring on rotor and rotor housing. The electric fuel pump was examined and was found unobstructed.

Examination of the left wing revealed it was separated from the main fuselage. The leading edge of the left wing received chord-wise damage. The left aileron was separated and had crush damage. The control cables were frayed at separation. The left wing flap assembly position was undetermined due to crush damage. The left main landing gear was attached to the wing and displayed crush damage. The vertical stabilizer received crush damage and stop assembly was intact. The rudder assembly was intact to the vertical stabilizer. The horizontal stabilizer displayed crush damage and stop assembly was intact. The right wing was separated from the main fuselage, and received chord-wise damage. The right aileron was damage and the control cables were frayed at separation. The right wing flap assembly position was undetermined due to impact damage. The right main landing gear was attached to the wing and displayed crush damage. The Cabin was compressed, and the forward cabin door was damage and was separated from the fuselage. The aft baggage door was separated from the main fuselage with crush damage. The nose gear was damaged and scattered through the accident site.

Examination of the engine assembly revealed accessory section components were separated from their respective mounting pad. The engine crankcase remained intact, cracks were observed at the front, near the nose main bearing. The rear accessory case was cracked near the oil pump. The oil sump was broken and no oil was recovered. The carburetor received severe crush damage. No fuel was found in the fuel bowl, and control position was unreliable. The throttle shaft was broken off from the throttle body, and also the mixture cable. No pre-impact mechanical deficiencies were noted. The vacuum pump was impact separated, and the intermediate drive coupling was not located. The drive gears were intact, and pump rotor had been broken internally.

Examination of the propeller assembly revealed it remained attached to the engine. One blade-exhibited "S" type bending forward near the tip, and aft near the hub. The opposite blade was bent aft with signs of torsional twisting. Both blades had chordwise scoring and abrasions.


The Newberry Pathology Associates office in Newberry, South Carolina, performed the postmortem examination of the private pilot on March 10, 2002. The cause of death was multiple blunt force trauma. The Forensic Toxicology Research Section, Federal Aviation Administration, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma performed postmortem toxicology of specimens from the pilot. The results were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, drugs and alcohol.

The Newberry Pathology Associates office in Newberry, South Carolina, performed the postmortem examination of the passenger on March 10, 2002. The cause of death was multiple blunt force trauma.


According to the Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular #60-4A: If neither horizon nor surface references exist, the attitude of an aircraft must be determine by artificial means from the flight instruments. Sight, supported by other senses, allows the pilot to maintain orientation. During periods of low visibility the senses sometimes conflict with what is seen. When this happens, a pilot is particularly vulnerable to disorientation. The degree of disorientation may vary with individual pilots. Spatial disorientation to a pilot means the inability to tell which way is "up".

The wreckage was released to an insurance adjuster with American International Group, on June 21, 2002.

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