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N31328 accident description

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Tail numberN31328
Accident dateMay 29, 1995
Aircraft typePiper J3C-65
LocationGreenville, SC
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On May 29, 1995, at 1207 eastern daylight time, a Piper J3C-65, N31328, collided with terrain following an in flight loss of control at Donaldson Center, in Greenville, South Carolina. The commercial pilot/certificated flight instructor was fatally injured, and a pilot-rated passenger had minor injuries. The aircraft was operated under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 by Donaldson Air Services, Inc. Visual meteorological conditions existed at the time, and no flight plan was filed for the local, personal flight. The flight originated in Greenville about 1125 on the same day.

The passenger, who was in the rear seat, reported that he had just completed two touch and go landings. The front seat pilot assumed the controls after the second landing. The front seat pilot initiated a steep, left hand turn. About 100 to 200 feet above ground level, the aircraft stalled. The aircraft collided with the ground in a right wing low, nose low attitude. The aircraft caught fire, and the rear seat pilot assisted the front seat pilot from the burning wreckage.


Information on the pilot-in-command, James W. Keith, is included in this report at the section titled "First Pilot Information." Information on the pilot rated passenger, Thomas E. Nix, is included in Supplement E, attached to this report.


Information on the aircraft is included in this report at the section titled "Aircraft Information."

Included in the aircraft maintenance records was an FAA Form 337, Major Repair and Alteration Form, which approved the installation of an automotive gasoline supplemental type certificate (STC). The form was dated May 7, 1991. According to representatives of the owner, the aircraft had been operating on automotive gasoline at the time of the accident.


Visual meteorological conditions existed at the time of the accident. A listing of weather observations for Donaldson Center are included as an attachment to this report. Wind gusts were not recorded during the observations closest to the time of the accident, however, gusts were recorded subsequent to the accident.


The wreckage was located about 525 feet southeast of the side edge of runway 22, in a grassy area, at Donaldson Center (see airport diagram, attached to this report). The wreckage distribution path was about 77 feet log, beginning with impact marks on the ground, and ending at the main wreckage. A wreckage distribution diagram is included as an attachment to this report.

The aircraft came to rest in an upright attitude. The right, main landing gear assembly was separated from the airframe. The remaining landing gear remained in place. There was extensive fire damage to the left wing, inboard half of the right wing, and fuselage. The engine also received extensive fire damage. The empennage was essentially intact, except for light heat damage.

Flight control continuity was confirmed to all flight control surfaces on the airframe. The elevator trim jack screw was found in a position which corresponded to a full nose up position. The aircraft was not fitted with trailing edge flaps. The lift struts were still connected at all points, on both wings. The wooden spars on the right wing were broken in an upward direction. There was no evidence of rot or deterioration on the fracture surfaces. Except for fire damage, the left wing spar structure was intact.

The fuel tank, mounted aft of the engine, was burned, and no residual fuel was found. There was general fire damage to the engine and cowling. The propeller remained attached to the engine. One blade exhibited aft bending at the tip. The other blade was "s" curved, with the tip bent forward. There were chordwise scratches on both blade surfaces.


An autopsy of the first pilot was not performed due to the nature of his injuries, and due to the wishes of the family. Toxicology testing was performed at the Greenville Memorial Hospital, according to standard procedures. A copy of the toxicological report was provided by the Greenville County Coroner. The report indicated that the tests were positive for butalbital, serum 3.0 ug/ml; amitriptyline 12 ng/ml; and nortriptyline 10 ng/ml (total tricyclics 22 ng/ml). The report also indicated that the positive drugs were below the therapeutic level. The coroner stated that he discussed the case with the trauma center doctors who stated that the opiates (butabital) were the result of morphine given at the trauma center. The tricyclic, antidepressants, were not administered at the trauma center.

Hospital records of toxicology tests accomplished on the pilot-rated passenger, were requested. The hospital responded that there was "nothing for '95."


The engine was removed from the airframe, and transported to a local aviation technical college for examination. The crankshaft was rotated by hand; all cylinders except the number three cylinder showed evidence of compression. Impact damage was noted on the cylinder; the intake valve push rod and shroud had been crushed. The cylinder was removed, and the intake valve was found to be not seated. The intake valve was then removed. There was no evidence of deposits on the intake valve stem and guide. The dimensions of stem and guide were found to be within acceptable tolerances. The cylinder was replaced, and the engine was prepared for a test run.

There was fire damage to the magnetos and spark plug wiring harness; only one magneto would operate when tested. The carburetor had fire and heat damage and was replaced with an operable unit. The engine was then mounted on a test stand.

The carburetor bowl was filled with fuel, and the engine was started by hand. The engine ran successfully until the fuel was used from the carburetor. This procedure was repeated, and the engine again ran successfully.


The aircraft wreckage was released to Donaldson Aircraft Services, Inc.

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