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N2157P accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Indio Hills, CA
33.831128°N, 116.231396°W

Tail number N2157P
Accident date 27 Oct 1996
Aircraft type Piper PA-44-180
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On October 27, 1996, at 1837 hours Pacific standard time, a Piper PA-44-180, N2157P, en route to Long Beach, California, lost radar and voice communication with Palm Springs TRACON. The aircraft broke up in-flight and was destroyed. The private pilot and his passenger received fatal injuries. The aircraft was rented by the pilot for a personal flight from the Long Beach Flying Club when the accident occurred. The flight originated in Goodyear, Arizona, on the afternoon of the accident. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the closest weather reporting facility.

Recorded radar data and air-ground communications maintained by the Federal Aviation Administration were reviewed. The review disclosed that the pilot was flight following with Palm Springs TRACON while cruising at 10,500 feet msl. About 1833, the pilot was assigned a new transponder beacon code and responded to controllers by repeating the last digit. About 1835, the radar mode C beacon target began an unannounced right turn while the mode C altitude returns indicated a descent until radar coverage was lost about 1837. Palm Springs TRACON controllers were unable to reestablish communications with the pilot after the turn began. Recorded radar data showed the aircraft was about 12 miles east of the Palm Springs VORTAC and inbound on the 088-degree radial when the controllers noted the deviation. The last mode C return for the aircraft was 4,500 feet msl.

The aircraft was located early the next morning by Riverside County Sheriff's Deputies near Happy Valley Drive about one block east of Dillon Road. The Bureau of Land Management personnel reported the accident site was located at 33 degrees 50.5 minutes north by 115 degrees 71.2 minutes west (UTM). The terrain elevation was reported as 1,100 feet msl.


The pilot received his instrument rating on May 3, 1991. According to the pilot's logbook, he last logged an instrument flight on April 15, 1996.


A review of the aircraft records by FAA airworthiness inspectors disclosed no discrepancies.

According to personnel at the Long Beach Flying Club, the aircraft returned from a flight at 1415, and had been refueled with 11.3 gallons at 1500. The standing procedure of the Club's refueler for the Piper Seminole is to fill the tanks to the base of the filler neck.

The pilot's spouse reported that among the pilot's personal effects was a fuel receipt from the Goodyear Executive Terminal dated the day of the accident with a local time of 1725. The receipt showed that the pilot bought 30 gallons of fuel.


At the time of the accident, witnesses on the ground reported overcast skies near the crash site. The witnesses also described the night as very dark. The moon was at 97 percent illumination, but was only 7 degrees above the horizon and positioned toward the right rear of the aircraft.

According to the Meteorology Group Chairman's report (appended to this report), the Palm Springs station observation at 1747 included an overcast layer at 15,000 feet.

The NWS Surface Analysis chart for 1900 indicated a low pressure system was located near the accident site. Satellite imagery showed a sharp drop in temperature during the last few miles of the flight. The radiative temperature at altitude near the accident site was -2 degrees Fahrenheit. The San Diego upper air sounding indicated that, at 9,988 feet, the temperature was 16 degrees Fahrenheit with a dew point of 14 degrees. Winds were 335 degrees true at 8 knots. At 11,934 feet, the temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit with a dew point of 4 degrees. Winds at that altitude were 017 degrees at 21 knots.

The Aviation Area Forecast for Southern California that was valid until October 28, 0700, and indicated that little change was expected.

At 1557, a PIREP was received from a pilot 10 miles east of Palm Springs. He reported the sky was overcast with tops ranging from 15,000 to 19,000 feet, and that he encountered traces of rime ice between 9,000 and 14,000 feet.


A detailed wreckage distribution chart was prepared and is attached to this report. The wreckage was distributed over an area approximately 2,000 feet in length. The wings were each separated from the aircraft outboard of the engine nacelles at the manufacturer's splice. The horizontal T-tail stabilizer and vertical stabilizer assembly were also separated from the aircraft. The rudder was separated from the vertical stabilizer. The fuselage was found in an inverted attitude on a heading of 170 degrees magnetic.

Both engines were still attached to the airframe, but both propellers were separated from the engines. The left propeller was separated at the crankshaft flange. The left propeller had one blade that was bent aft a few degrees at the midspan point. The opposite blade was bent forward at the midspan point. The right propeller had one blade that was bent slightly. The opposite blade was curled forward at the midspan point and exhibited a crack along with chordwise scratches.

The No. 1 cylinder intake push rod tube was bent on the left engine. The No. 2 and 4 cylinder intake and exhaust push rod tubes were also bent. The intake pipes were intact, but the exhaust system was crushed. The crankshaft was rotated and continuity was established to the accessory drive gears. Valve action and piston travel in the cylinders were also established.

The intake and exhaust push rod tubes were bent on all four cylinders of the right engine. The intake pipes were intact but the exhaust system had been crushed. The crankshaft was rotated and continuity was established to the accessory drive gears. Valve action and piston travel in the cylinders were also established.


An autopsy was conducted on October 29, 1996, by the Riverside County Coroner's Office, with specimens retained for toxicological examination. The toxicological tests were positive for ethanol and negative for all screened drug substances.

The coroner reported finding clinical evidence of diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and atherosclerosis with 90 percent occlusions in the left anterior descending, circumflex, and right coronary arteries.

There were no similar findings noted in the pilot's last AME medical examination. (A copy of the AME medical examination is appended to this report.)


The fracture surfaces from the main wing spars were submitted for metallurgical examination at the Safety Board's Materials Laboratory. A stereoscopic view of the fractures found no evidence of preexisting cracking or damage. The metallurgist reported the fractures were typical of overstress separations. (The Metallurgist's Factual Report is appended to this report.)

The FAA Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center used a radar plotting program to print out the beacon returns for the discrete codes of 0441 and 4603 in a plan view. The radar plot shows the beacon target entering an increasingly steep right turn and beginning a greater than standard rate descent until radar coverage was lost. (The radar plots are appended to this report.)


The aircraft was recovered by personnel from Aircraft Retrieval and stored in their facilities at the Compton airport on October 28, 1996.

The aircraft wreckage was released to a representative of the registered owner on February 19, 1997.

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