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N31911 accident description

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Tail numberN31911
Accident dateAugust 18, 2006
Aircraft typePiper PA-32RT-300
LocationHartsville, SC
Near 34.446389 N, -79.886944 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On August 18, 2006, at 0841 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32RT-300, N31911, registered to and operated by a private pilot, collided with trees during an instrument approach to Darlington County Jetport, Darlington, South Carolina. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91, with an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed for the flight from Crisp County-Cordele Airport, Cordele, Georgia to Darlington County Jetport, Darlington, South Carolina. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed. The private pilot and passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was destroyed by impact forces. The flight originated from, Crisp County Airport, Cordele, Georgia, on August 18, 2006, at 0700.

Personnel from the Florence Regional Airport (FLO) control tower reported that the pilot contacted them and requested the current weather conditions and radar vectors to the GPS runway 5-approach to Darlington Jetport Airport (UDG). The Control tower personnel cleared him for the approach, and established him on the 050 radial inbound to the airport. About 6 miles from UDG, they cleared him to land, terminated radar service, and instructed him to change over to the UDG UNICOM frequency. Shortly afterwards, approximately 4-miles from the final approach fix (UMAGE), the pilot reported a missed approach, made a left turn, and began a descent to 1,400 feet. The tower controller then contacted the pilot, and inquired if he "had the airport insight." He responded "negative." The airplane continued to descend until it was lost off radar. At that point, the FLO control tower personnel made attempts to make contact with the pilot but there was no acknowledgment.

A witness in the vicinity of the accident reported that he was in his backyard when he heard an airplane engine running. However, he could not see the airplane. The witness continued by saying that he heard the engine "shut off" and he then heard a loud "bang." He said that he waited to hear if there was an explosion or to see if there was smoke, but did he not hear or see anything. At 1230, the Darlington County Emergency Management personnel located the airplane off of a small private road in a field in Darlington County.


The pilot, age 61, held a private pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land issued on December 9, 2006, and a third class medical certificate, which was issued on January 5, 2006, with a medical restriction that required him to wear glasses for near vision. The pilot's certificate was updated on February 10, 2000, with an instrument rating. The certificate revealed that the pilot had a total of 3,023 civilian flight hours. The pilot's logbooks were not recovered for examination.


The six-seat, low-wing, retractable-gear, serial number (S/N) 32R-7885138, manufactured in 1978. It was powered by a Lycoming O-540-K1G5D, 300-horsepower engine, and equipped with a Hartzell model HC-C3TR-1RF constant speed propeller.

Review of the airplane's logbooks revealed that the last annual inspection was conducted on June 1, 2006, at a recorded tachometer time of 5,229.06 hours. Review of the engine logbooks revealed that the engine had a total of 2,049.14 hours since major overhaul. According to Lycoming service instruction No. 1009AS, the IO-540-K1G5D series engines should be overhauled after an accumulation of 2,000 hours time in service since new or previous overhaul.

Review of refueling records revealed that the airplane was refueled on August 8, 2006 at Cordele flying Service, Incorporated, Cordele, Georgia, with 43 gallons of 100 low lead fuel, and 2 quarts of oil.


The Darlington Jetport Airport, Darlington, South Carolina, 0835 weather observation was: winds 200 degrees at 6 knots, visibility 4 miles, sky conditions broken 500, temperature 23 degrees Celsius, dew point 21 degrees, altimeter setting 30.12.


The wreckage was located in an open field, about 4 miles southwest of the Darlington County Airport (UDG). A ground scar from a tree to the impact crater measured 83 feet. The wreckage debris line continued extended forward for 248 feet. The impact crater was 2-feet deep, and 3-feet in width. The wreckage debris line was on an approximate heading of 240-degrees magnetic. All components of the airplane, which are necessary for flight, were located at the accident site.

Examination of the airframe and flight control system components revealed no evidence of preimpact mechanical malfunction. Examination of the engine revealed it remained partially attached to the airframe. The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft, and the spinner was crushed. Blade-A was bent aft mid-span of the blade with span-wise scoring, and wrinkled at the blade tip. Blade B was bent aft at the blade hub with span-wise scoring, and wrinkled at the blade tip. Blade C was bent aft at the blade hub with span-wise scoring, and wrinkled at the blade tip. Examination of the engine and system components revealed no evidence of preimpact mechanical malfunction. Examination of the instruments revealed that they were destroyed and rendered little information. The tachometer was captured at 2,625 rpm and showed 5,273.90 hours.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot on August 19, 2006, by Newberry Pathology Associates, Newberry, South Carolina, as authorized by the Darlington County coroner. The autopsy findings included "blunt force trauma of the head."

The Forensic Toxicology Research Section, Federal Aviation Administration, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, reported that the postmortem toxicology of specimens from the pilot were unsuitable for analysis.


According to the Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular #60-4A "Pilot Spatial Disorientation," "Surface references and the natural horizon may at times become obscured, although visibility may be above visual flight rule minimums. Lack of natural horizon or surface reference is common on over water flights, at night, and especially at night in extremely sparsely populated areas or in low visibility conditions, A sloping cloud formation, an obscured horizon, a dark scene spread with ground lights and stars and certain geometric patterns of ground lights can provide inaccurate visual information for aligning the aircraft correctly with the actual horizon. The disoriented pilot may place the aircraft in a dangerous attitude."

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