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N8603N accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Reform, AL
33.378451°N, 88.015301°W

Tail number N8603N
Accident date 05 Dec 1996
Aircraft type Piper PA32-300D
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On December 5, 1996, about 1850 central standard time, a Piper PA-32-300D, N8603N, registered to West Florida Air Inc., operating as a Title 14 CFR Part 91, ferry flight, crashed during a forced landing near Reform, Alabama. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The airplane was destroyed. The private pilot received fatal injuries. The airplane had been purchased on the same day as the accident, and had departed from Aberdeen, Mississippi, about 1826, en route to Tampa, Florida.

The pilot made initial contact with Columbus Air Force Base, Approach Control (CMB App), Columbus, Mississippi, at 1827:22. He had departed Monroe County Airport, was climbing through 1,500 feet, en route to Tampa, and would be at a cruise altitude of 9,500 feet. The controller responded and told the pilot he was in radar contact 5 miles east of the departure airport.

There were no further radio communications with the flight until 1839:39, when the pilot said to the controller: "...I'm experiencing major trouble, I need the closest airport."

At 1840:09, the controller at CMB App asked the pilot what his intentions were. The pilot replied, "closest airport please, I have total engine failure." The pilot was told that the closest airport to his present position was Reform, about 10 miles south, and was given a vector of 190 degrees.

At 1841:18, the pilot reported to the CMB controller, "I got partial engine failure, I got a slow descent at 80 miles an hour."

The pilot was advised of the airport's runway length and width, in addition to the airport's elevation. The CMB controller told the pilot at 1842:42, "...Reform airport...does not have lighting available." The pilot asked, " lights, no beacon," and the controller answered, "no sir, no lights no beacon."

The pilot was given the runway alignment 18/36 and was advised that the airport was at his 12 o'clock position and 5 miles. In addition, the controller told the pilot that they were attempting to have someone go to the airport and turn the lights on. The pilot said, "I've got my landing light on, I'm at 5,000 feet descending about 800 feet a minute." The controller described where the airport was in reference to some land marks, and the pilot said he was "looking."

At 1847:50, the pilot was told that the airport was at his 12 o'clock position and 2 miles. The pilot said, "...roger passing 2,000 feet, I still don't have anything in sight, there's a Texaco station or something right in front of me." The controller said that the Texaco station was close to the airport. The pilot asked for and was given the elevation of the airport and the current altimeter setting.

At 1848:30, the controller said, "8603N airport is now off your left hand side for a mile and a half." The pilot said, "sure wish I had some power." The controller told the pilot he was "about one mile out now...." The pilot asked, "is it north south," and the controller told him that the runways run north and south.

The controller told the pilot of N8603N that the airport was off his left side, and at 1849:15, the pilot said; "I'm going for the dark spot that's...just south of a major route looks like a highway through the center of town, running east west through the center of town."

The controller said, "understand you're goin put it down on a highway east side of the town right...." The pilot said, "no sir, behind the...highway or in between the highway." The controller acknowledged the transmission and said "roger."

The pilot of a Beech Baron, N78VC, on the frequency asked the CMB controller if he copied the transmission from the pilot of N8603N, and the controller said, "no sir I didn't copy say again."

At 1850:00, the pilot of N78VC said, "that airplane said he was going to stall it into the trees, he was in the trees." The controller acknowledged that the pilot of N78VC had relayed that N8603N was in the trees, and the controller gave the pilot of N78VC permission to search for N8603N. The controller attempted to contact the pilot of N8603N to see if he was still on the radio frequency with negative results. Radio and radar contact were lost, there was no further contact with the pilot of N8603N.

The CMB controller asked the pilot of N78VC, "...what was his last transmission he made sir," and the pilot of N78VC said at 1851:14, "last transmission made was...that he was over the trees and that he was gonna have to stall it into the trees. He missed the runway."

At 1859: 51, the CMB Approach controller said to the pilot of N78VC, "[the] Sheriff department just called us back and told us they do have...pilot controlled lighting now which is 122.9."

According to the pilot of N78VC, "...the pilot over Reform...stated that he could not see the runway because the lights would not activate...the last transmission I heard...was that he had missed the runway and was going to 'stall it into the trees.' I was approximately 25 miles west...when the pilot made his last transmission. [ATC] vectored our aircraft to the last known position of the missing aircraft as they [ATC] attempted to contact him. We arrived over the site about 10 to 15 minutes after the last transmission. The light at the airport were not on so I attempted to activate them with pilot controlled lighting. I tried four or five times to activate the lights, but was unable to get them to illuminate. After approximately 3 minutes of our circling, a vehicle arrived at the airport. A few moments later the lights were activated. I did not raise the lights from aircraft..."

A witness had observed the airplane at a low altitude west of the airport, "with colored lights." The witness said; "It was like it was gliding. There was no came over [West Alabama Bank]...and was descending lower and seemed [within] about 30 seconds I heard a crash...I didn't see anything, I didn't hear the sound of an airplane. The engine or anything. It was the lights I noticed, because the plane was so low."

The Reform Police Department went out to the airport after the crash, and reported that the runway lights were "on" when they arrived.

The accident occurred during the hours of darkness approximately 33 degrees, 23 minutes north, and 088 degrees, 09 minutes west.


Information on the pilot is contained in this report on page 3, under First Pilot Information. According to FAA records the pilot of N8603N received a Notice of Proposed Certification, for a flight that the pilot flew on or about February 3, 1996. The pilot was notified that the described flight on that date was flown in an airplane that was in "an unairworthy condition," and that the pilot operated the airplane in a "careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the lives or property of others." It was proposed that all the pilot's certificates be suspended for a period of 270 days.


The airplane had been purchased by a Company in Florida, and the pilot was dispatched to Mississippi to perform an annual inspection and return the airplane to Florida. The seller of the airplane told the FAA that he observed the pilot drain the fuel that was in the airplane and then refuel the airplane. The seller did not see the pilot look into the engine compartment or perform an annual inspection. The aircraft's logbooks were recovered and showed that the last entry and the last annual were performed on August 1, 1988. Since 1988, the airplane had flown a total 30 hours. No ferry permit was issued for this flight.


Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. Meteorological information is contained in this report on page 3, under Weather Information.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot, on December 6, 1996, at the Medical Examiner's Office, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, by Dr. Kenneth E. Warner.

Toxicological tests were conducted at the Federal Aviation Administration, Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and revealed, " drugs or alcohol detected...."


The North Pickens Airport, was located 1 mile north of the city of Reform. The airport is not attended and there was no published hours of operations. The airport had one runway 18/36, which was published as being 5,143 feet long and 80 feet wide. The elevation was published as 237 feet mean sea (msl) level, and the pattern altitude was published as 1,280 feet msl. At the time of the accident the airport had only VFR approaches, no beacon, medium intensity runway lights (MIRL), and no published frequency, for activation of the runway lights.


The airplane impacted in rough terrain about 1 mile west of the airport. A section of the airplane's left wing was found lodged in the top of a tree. The airplane came to rest about 100 feet northeast of the tree, upside down, in a ravine. There were no ground scars observed, and damage to the surrounding terrain was limited to the broken limbs of the tree where the section of left wing was found.

The left and right wings had separated at the root. The left wing aileron cables were observed to have separated. The right wing remained with the wreckage and the right aileron cables were cut to facilitate removal of the airplane from the crash site. Control continuity was established from the empennage to the cockpit controls, for the rudder and stabilator.

Residual fuel was noted in the breached left fuel tank, and fuel was found dripping from the right main fuel tank. The fuel injector system was removed from the airplane for further testing.

The engine and propeller were still attached to the airframe and were removed from the wreckage to facilitate further examination. The engine and propeller were taken to the City of Reform's garage, where they were examined. The fuel injector was found with fuel, and had broken off the engine, at the throttle body throat. The throttle and mixture control arms were found broken off. The flow divider was disassembled. The unit revealed corrosion on the top diaphragm and spring. The diaphragm was found intact. The fuel supply and pressure lines were both found broken. Both magnetos were still attached and produced spark at all the leads when rotated. Both magnetos were removed from the engine for further tests. The propeller blades showed that one blade was bent rearward and curled slightly at the tip. The other blade was also bent rearward. Examination of the engine did not reveal any discrepancies.


The fuel injection system was tested under the supervision of the FAA, and no discrepancies were found. Water finding paste was used to test the fuel found in the airplane, and no water was noted.

Both magnetos from N8603N's engine were removed and taken to Continental Motor's, Bendix Magneto Division, Atlanta, Georgia, and tested, under the supervision of the NTSB, on January 16, 1997.

The left magneto, serial number: 928043, was placed on a test stand with a 100 watt lamp positioned nearby, and run to 3,600 rpm. After about 1 minute, one spark gap quit firing. After 5 minutes, two more spark gaps quit firing. After 8 minutes, the three remaining gaps quit firing. Magneto surface temperature near the coil area was measured after all gaps quit firing, and was 109 degrees F.

The right magneto, serial number: A-72833, was placed on a test stand with a 100 watt lamp positioned nearby, and run to 3,600 rpm. After 4 minutes 5 seconds, the No. 5 gap in the sparking order quit. After 5 minutes 45 seconds, the No. 1 gap in the sparking order quit. After 7 minutes 25 seconds, the No. 5 gap in the sparking order quit. After 7 minutes 33 seconds, the No. 3 gap in the sparking order quit. After 7 minutes 50 seconds, the No. 6 gap in the sparking order quit. After 9 minutes, the remaining No. 4 gap in the sparking order quit. The magneto surface temperature near the coil area was measured after all gaps quit firing, and was 113 degrees F.

After completion of the magneto runs, both magnetos were disassembled, and revealed that both the coils from each magneto were found cracked and leaking. The gear electrodes were not eroded and the distributor blocks did not show electrical distress.


The aircraft wreckage was released to Mr. Max Allen, representing the owner's insurance company, on December 7, 1996. Both magnetos were released to the owner's insurance company on January 16, 1997. The insurance adjuster acknowledged the release of the magnetos from the NTSB, as per a telephone conversation. The FAA made a separate agreement with the insurance company to look at the magnetos, and to return them to the insurance adjuster. As of April 16, 1997, Mr. Tyler Dedmen representing Sample International, Inc., Aviation Services, was to be in contact with the FAA at Birmingham, for the return of the magnetos.

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