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N39770 accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Opelika, AL
32.645412°N, 85.378280°W

Tail number N39770
Accident date 15 Apr 1994
Aircraft type Piper PA-28-181
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On April 15, 1994, about 1000 central daylight time, a Piper PA-28-181, N39770, was substantially damaged following an in- flight breakup, and collision with terrain, near Opelika, Alabama. The non-instrument rated private pilot and his passenger were fatally injured in the accident. The aircraft was operated, by the pilot, under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 . Visual meteorological conditions existed at the time, and no flight plan had been filed for the personal flight. The flight departed Plant City, Florida at an undetermined time, and was destined for Clarksville, Tennessee.

According to witnesses, a loud, high pitched engine noise was heard, followed by a loud bang similar to a rifle shot. The aircraft was then observed exiting the cloud base in a nose down spiral. Immediately after exiting the cloud base, the aircraft right wing was observed to separate, and the aircraft impacted the terrain.


The pilot held a private pilot certificate with airplane single engine rating. He held a third class medical certificate with a restriction for the use of glasses while acting as pilot.

The pilot had taken the written examination for an airplane instrument rating on April 5, 1992, and had accumulated 18 hours of flight training in preparation for the instrument rating practical test. He had not completed his training, nor taken the practical test for the rating.


The Piper PA-28-181 is a four place, single engine, fixed tricycle gear, utility airplane.

The aircraft log book shows that on December 30, 1993, personnel at Shelby Aviation, Incorporated of Millington, Tennessee replaced both rear fuselage-to-wing attach point brackets.


Witnesses in the area reported that at the time of the accident, there were dark black clouds in the area with a ceiling of about 800 feet above ground level. The winds in the area were reported as out of the northwest and gusty.

The weather radar depiction chart of the southeastern United States, at 1300 on April 15, 1994, showed areas of moderate to heavy precipitation in the vicinity of the accident.


The aircraft wreckage was distributed over an area approximately 1500 feet in length. The wreckage was distributed on a magnetic bearing of approximately 320 degrees.

The left and right horizontal stabilizers were the first pieces of wreckage in the direction of impact. The stabilizers were bent up and aft, at the point where the stabilizers attached to the fuselage.

The vertical stabilizer was found approximately 600 feet northwest of the horizontal stabilizers, and the rudder and rudder trim tab were 100 feet northwest of the vertical stabilizer.

The right wing, right aileron, and right main landing gear were found approximately 200 feet northwest of the rudder. The right main spar showed signs of upward bending at the fracture point.

The main wreckage was located approximately 300 feet northwest of the right wing. The main wreckage consisted of the aircraft engine, fuselage and cabin section of the aircraft, and the left wing.

There was continuity of the engine drive train. The propeller showed signs of chordwise scratching, and twisting toward low pitch.

The rudder and elevator control cables were fractured at the rear of the fuselage at a point were the empennage attaches to the fuselage. The cable fractures had a horse tail appearance, and the individual strands of cable showed signs of necking down at the fracture ends.

The right aileron control cable was fractured at the point where the wing attaches to the fuselage. The cable fracture had a horse tail appearance, and the individual strands of cable showed signs of necking down at the fracture ends.

There was continuity of the left aileron control cable into the cabin area of the aircraft.

Neither the left nor right wing rear attach bolts were located. The wing's rear attach point brackets were in place on both wings, and both sides of the fuselage. The holes in the brackets, where the bolts are attached, did not show any signs of stretching or stress.


An autopsy of Mr. Pass was conducted by Dr. Alfredo Paredes of the Alabama Department of Forensic Science in Dothan, Alabama. Dr. Paredes stated that the cause of death was from multiple blunt force injuries received in the accident.

A toxicological examination of Mr. Pass was conducted by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences at Dothan, Alabama. The tests were negative for the presence of ethanol and drugs.


The aircraft wreckage was released to Deputy Gill Wakefield of the Lee County Sheriff's Office on March 15, 1994.

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