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N39696 accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Pelham, AL
32.279586°N, 88.120021°W

Tail number N39696
Accident date 08 Dec 1999
Aircraft type Piper PA-32RT-300T
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On December 8, 1999, about 1717 central standard time, a Piper PA-32RT-300T, N39696, registered to a private individual, operating as a Title 14 Part 91 personal flight, crashed while maneuvering near Pelham, Alabama. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The airplane was destroyed by impact and postcrash fire and the student pilot, the sole occupant, received fatal injuries. The flight departed Bessemer Airport, Bessemer, Alabama, at some time after 1630.

According to a witness, an FAA licensed pilot, between 1715 and 1725 he heard the airplane fly overhead his residence at a "much too low" altitude and at an "over revved" power setting on an easterly heading in a descent. As he ran onto his back porch, he noted the weather had deteriorated with fog and drizzle, and the ridge line east of his house was becoming obscured. He and his wife heard an impact, and saw the glow of a fire near the ridge line. He immediately called 911. He stated he heard no sounds of engine instability or malfunction. Other witness statements recounted that the engine sounds were of a smoothly running engine. See witness reports, attachments to this report.


The pilot's flight logbook was not recovered, however, at the time of his application for a third class medical /student pilot certificate, on June 6, 1999, he listed his flight time as 300 hours, with 50 hours in the last 6 months. The pilot had on his person, a student pilot's license with a PA-32RT endorsement dated "7/1" by a CFI. Federal Air Regulation 61.87 states that an endorsement entered on a student pilot's license for a particular make and model of aircraft is valid for 90 days. The CFI was contacted and confirmed that his endorsement entry of "7/1" on the license was for the calendar year, 1999. He stated that he had probably flown 200 dual hours with the pilot over a period of two years, usually accompanying the pilot on his business trips because of the pilot's busy schedule. He added that he thought the pilot flew another 50 to 75 hours with another CFI, and had probably logged an additional 50 hours solo. He stated the pilot was becoming proficient at handling the airplane, but he said he had never flown in any weather. The CFI added that he had accompanied the pilot to Phoenix, Arizona, about 2 years before the accident when the airplane was purchased.


The airframe and engine logbooks were not recovered. The pilot's daughter stated the logs would have been in a briefcase in the airplane. The only maintenance records recovered at the accident site were invoices from Bessemer Aviation, Bessemer, Alabama, who performed an annual inspection on the airplane on September 3, 1999 at a tachometer time of 3892.8 hours. Copies of some aircraft maintenance log pages were attached to those invoices. Altimeter and static systems had been tested to 20,000 feet on August 8, 1997 by a certified repair station. Post crash examination of the wreckage revealed the airplane had been modified by installation of the following STC's: SA4345WE, (cowling cooling louvers), SA1401NM, (wingtip lights), SA4005NM, (pulse lights), SA609GL, (aileron-flap-stabilator gap seals), and SA1217GL, (wing root fairing). The CFI who accompanied the pilot during the airplane's purchase stated that the time on the engine, at that time, was 200 hours over recommended TBO.


The Shelby County Airport, 1653 surface weather observation was 2,000 feet overcast, 6 sm in light rain, temperature 54 degrees F, dew point 52 degrees F, wind from 140 degrees at 5 knots. Witnesses stated the hill tops and ridge lines near the accident site were obscured in clouds, mist, and smoke. They stated that localized land clearing fires near the accident site worsened the already deteriorating visibility. Law enforcement personnel reported that it was raining during and after the accident. Sunset occurred at 1640, and civil twilight ended at 1707 on that day.


The aircraft impacted densely wooded 2- to 10-inch diameter pine trees along a ridge line oriented generally northeast-southwest at about 825 feet elevation, at coordinates N33 15.44 and W086 45.39. The location is about 1 1/2 miles east of the entrance to the Olde Weatherly residential section of Pelham, Alabama, that was undergoing land clearing for home and golf course development. The general topography of the area is hilly and heavily forested. The wreckage path through the trees revealed an airplane attitude of about a 20-degree left bank and about 20 degrees of descent on a 360-degree heading. The distance from first tree impact to main wreckage was 164 feet, and the debris field extended another 200 feet. The main wreckage was consumed by postcrash fire. The engine separated and was found 96 feet beyond the main wreckage. Wing tank fuel spewed to the right of centerline of the wreckage path for about 150 feet, which also described the extent of the ground fire.

The wings and empennage were sheared from the fuselage as it descended through the trees. The main landing gear, although retracted, received rearward stress from tree collision and broke free of their trunnion mounts and separated. The ground crater measured 8 feet long by 10 to 12 inches deep, and revealed evidence of intense postcrash fire. The propeller hub separated at the engine crankshaft flange, and the heavily damaged blades revealed numerous chordwise gouges and rippling, and when viewed spanwise, displayed "S" shaped bending. Both blades had broken loose from their pitch control links and rotated freely within the hub. Several tree branches were severed in a cleanly cut helix pattern consistent with a propeller strike. The propeller spinner was rotationally crush-molded to the propeller dome and had to be incrementally cut away. The engine separated from the airframe and the core was located 96 feet forward of the main wreckage, 12 feet left of centerline. Fragments of oil sump, induction sump, accessory case, accessories, and their drive gears littered the wreckage path from main crater to the core engine.

Complete flight control continuity was verified in all axes, except the left aileron whose control cable was separated near the left wing root. The cable separation site's appearance was consistent with tension overload. Examination of the stabilator trim drum revealed a shaft extension corresponding to a pitch trim tab setting of about 45 percent of full nose down travel. Main wreckage fire precluded extracting most data from the radios, instruments, or cockpit controls.

Tear down examination of the engine revealed valve train continuity and compression at all cylinders. The oil sump, induction sump, and accessory case were crushed and separated at impact and accessory drive continuity could not be confirmed. A small amount of engine oil in the rocker arm areas appeared uncontaminated. The accessory drive gears and metal pieces of the crankcase, accessories, and magnetos were spread throughout the debris field. The oil finger screen revealed no contamination or metal particles. Both magnetos were separated and destroyed. Examination of the vacuum pump revealed worn but functional vanes and housing. The rotor was fractured in a manner consistent with impact forces. The oil pump revealed oil film on the gears, and appeared functional. The turbocharger induction impeller revealed rotational blade damage that matched scoring on the housing. The fuel injector assembly and the inlet screen revealed no fuel contamination. Only 2 of 12 spark plug electrodes could be removed and examined, and they revealed normal coloring per Champion Spark Plugs Check-A-Plug Chart AV-27.

A defaced directional gyro instrument was recovered and disassembly examined for proper precrash operation. The gyro bearings functioned smoothly. The rotor component of the gyro revealed rotational scoring.


Post-mortem examination of the pilot was performed on December 9, 1999, at the Cooper Green Hospital, Jefferson County, Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, by Joseph H. Embry, M.D., and revealed cause of death to be multiple blunt force injuries. No findings that could be considered causal were noted. Toxicological tests were conducted at the Federal Aviation Administration Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Positive results for ethanol and acetaldehyde were detected in the kidney and muscle; however, the report stated that the ethanol found in this case may potentially be from postmortem ethanol formation and not from ingestion of ethanol.


According to transcripts of a telephone conversation between the pilot of N39696 and the FAA Anniston Flight Service Station at 1145 on the day of the accident, the pilot inquired about en route weather between Bessemer, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the time period, 4 to 5 o'clock of that day, at an altitude between 3,000 and 5,000 feet. The pilot also inquired about weather for the same route the next day, and then bid the briefer goodbye without stating his intentions. See the transcript, an attachment to this report under "Reports from Other Federal Agencies".

According to the pilot's daughter, the pilot left a telephone message on his former wife's message machine at 1630 on the day of the accident, and stated that he was still on the ground at the Bessemer airport. She stated she was aware that he was planning a trip to Chattanooga, but also stated, "Dad doesn't fly in weather". Witnesses to the flight's departure could not be found. There were no recent fuel purchase receipts for N39696 according to personnel at Bessemer Aviation, the airport's fixed-base operator.


The wreckage, except some original invoices for maintenance performed by Bessemer Aviation and attached aircraft logbook page copies, retained by the FAA FSDO, Birmingham, was released to Mr. Patrick Dent, owner and operator of Dent Aviation Services, LLC, at the Shelby County Airport, Alabaster, Alabama, on December 10, 1999. The maintenance invoices were returned to a representative of the estate by the FAA on May 3, 2000.

(c) 2009-2018 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.