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N8047C accident description

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Tail numberN8047C
Accident dateJanuary 30, 2009
Aircraft typePiper PA-34-200T
LocationHuntington, WV
Near 38.343333 N, -82.556111 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

On January 30, 2009 at 1336 eastern standard time, a Piper PA34-200T, N8047C, was destroyed when it struck high-tension power lines and collided with terrain while maneuvering for landing at the Huntington Tri-State Airport (HTS), Huntington, West Virginia. The certificated private pilot, a certificated student pilot, and four passengers were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight which departed Lake in the Hills Airport (3CK), Lake in the Hills, Illinois, about 1000. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to a friend of the pilot's, the purpose of the flight was to look at airplanes for sale at Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and Clearwater, Florida. The friend had been asked to go along, but could not due to a scheduling conflict. On the day of the accident, the friend noticed there were six people on the airplane instead of the planned five, asked about weight and balance, and the pilot assured him that he had completed the proper calculations. The friend further advised the pilot to obtain a weather briefing and file a flight plan before departure. The pilot assured his friend he would get briefed and file a flight plan from the airplane using his cellular telephone. According to the fixed base operator, the airplane was "topped off" with 68.3 gallons of fuel prior to departure.

Preliminary radar and voice communication data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that the target identified as the accident airplane approached HTS from the southwest and the pilot contacted air traffic control shortly after 1300 by transmitting a "mayday" call. The pilot advised the controller, "I'm flying VFR (visual flight rules), low on fuel, and need to land." The controller asked the pilot if he was capable of instrument flight, and the pilot responded, "ah, yes."

During the next 30 minutes, the controller attempted to vector the airplane for an airport surveillance radar (ASR) approach, provide VFR vectors when the pilot announced he had "ground contact," and ultimately, a no-gyro ASR approach. At no time did the accident airplane acquire or maintain any of the altitudes or headings assigned by the controller. The airplane made a succession of left and right turns, 180-degree turns, and 360-degree turns, and the altitudes varied from below radar coverage, about 1,000 feet msl, up to 3,200 feet msl. The airplane turned and circled southwest of the airport and maneuvered as close as 2 miles from the airport, and as far as 7 miles away.

The pilot was largely unresponsive to the controller's requests and instructions, and on occasion, other pilots on the frequency would relay the instructions, also with no response. The controller issued several low altitude alert warnings, and at one point asked the pilot to "maintain any heading. Level your wings, and maintain any heading." When asked again if he was capable of instrument flight, the pilot replied, "No." When radar contact was lost, the airplane was 4 miles southwest of the airport, on a heading of about 120 degrees.

The airplane wreckage rested on steep, wooded, snow-covered terrain, about 625 feet elevation, and all major components were accounted for at the scene. The wreckage path was oriented 120 degrees magnetic, and was about 488 feet in length. The original impact points were two high-tension power lines, one severed, and one damaged, about 200 feet above the ground, and 700 feet elevation. The main wreckage came to rest inverted, oriented in the direction of travel. Several branches, as well as tree trunk sections about 6 inches in diameter, displayed clean angular cuts and were scattered along the wreckage path. A 6-foot length of 3-inch braided cable, consistent with the severed power line, was entangled with the wreckage.

The wings, landing gear, vertical fin, and rudder, were separated and fragmented along the entire wreckage path. Control cable continuity was established from the cockpit to the points of cable breaks and bellcrank separations out to the flight control surfaces. Both engines and both propeller systems were separated from their mounts and their respective engines. The "B" blade of the left propeller was not recovered, but the fracture at the hub was consistent with overload. The three remaining blades displayed similar twisting, bending, and chordwise scratching. The "B" blade on the right engine propeller displayed striations on the leading edge consistent with wire abrasion. Examination of the engines after recovery from the crash site showed both were impact damaged, and stripped of their accessories. The upper spark plugs were removed, and all electrodes were intact, light tan and gray in color, and displayed no abnormal wear. All four magnetos were rotated by hand and produced spark at all terminal towers. Both fuel manifolds were removed and examination revealed that they contained fuel and were absent of debris.

The crankshafts were rotated by hand at the accessory drive and continuity was established through the powertrain and valve train to the accessory sections, except where rockers and valves were impact damaged or completely separated. Compression was confirmed on all cylinders using the thumb method.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the airplane was manufactured in 1975. The airplane's maintenance logbooks were not recovered, and therefore the airplane's maintenance and inspection history could not be determined. However, examination of the airplane's tachometers revealed that the airplane had accrued an estimated 4,348 total aircraft hours.

Weight and balance calculations were performed using weight and balance documents recovered at the site, the actual weights of the occupants, and the baggage recovered at the scene. Calculations revealed the airplane weighed about 4,902 pounds at takeoff, with a center of gravity at 98.40 inches aft of datum. The zero fuel weight was calculated at 4,343.9 pounds, at 99.02 inches aft of datum. The manufacturer's center of gravity range at maximum gross weight was 90.6 to 95 inches aft of datum. The manufacturer's maximum allowable gross weight was 4,570 pounds.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine, multiengine, and glider. The pilot's logbook was not recovered; therefore his total flight experience could not be determined. His most recent FAA second class medical certificate was issued on December 17, 2008, and the pilot reported 2,200 total hours of flight experience on that date. The pilot did not possess an instrument rating.

At 1348, the weather conditions reported at HTS, located 4 nautical miles northwest of the accident site at 828 feet elevation, included an overcast ceiling at 1,000 feet, visibility 3/4 mile in snow, temperature -3 degrees Celsius, dewpoint -4 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 30.06 inches of mercury. The winds were from 290 degrees at 3 knots. The Chief of the Tri-State Airport fire department was on the parking ramp at the airport waiting for the accident airplane to arrive. He stated that the visibility was less than 1/4 mile due to heavy snow at the time of the accident.

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