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N5320L accident description

Delaware map... Delaware list
Crash location 39.218334°N, 75.596389°W
Nearest city Cheswold, DE
39.219279°N, 75.585760°W
0.6 miles away
Tail number N5320L
Accident date 12 Oct 2003
Aircraft type Piper PA-28-180
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On October 12, 2003, at 1905 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-180, N5320L, was substantially damaged while landing at the Delaware Airpark (33N), Cheswold, Delaware. The certificated commercial pilot was fatally injured, and a passenger was seriously injured. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which originated from the Hazelton Municipal Airport (HZL), Hazelton, Pennsylvania. The personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

According to the passenger, the flight departed 33N at approximately 1100, and proceeded to HZL. She recalled that the flight was smooth, and that there was a headwind. She also noticed that pilot switched fuel tanks from the left to the right tank during the flight.

On the return trip, the flight departed HZL approximately 1800. The pilot commented to the passenger that they had a good tailwind, and that the fuel burn would be low.

When the flight arrived in the Cheswold area, the passenger heard the pilot announce "downwind" on the radio, and the airplane began to descend. On final approach to runway 27, she noticed off to her right that a tree was above them, and subsequently felt a bump. The passenger then observed power lines, saw a bright flash, and did not recall anything further.

The passenger also stated that the final approach was unusual because they normally landed at 33N on runway 9, not runway 27. She added that the pilot was wearing eyeglasses during the flight.

The accident occurred during the hours of darkness, at 39 degrees, 13.22 minutes north longitude, 75 degrees, 35.23 minutes west latitude, at an elevation of 52 feet.


The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for single and multi-engine land, instrument airplane. He also held a flight instructor certificate for single and multi-engine land, instrument airplane. The pilot's most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) second-class medical certificate was issued on October 29, 2001. The medical required that the pilot wear corrective lenses for near and distant vision while performing flight duties.

According to the pilot's logbook, he had accumulated about 1,100 hours of total flight experience. The pilot had also accumulated about 88 hours of night flying experience and about 16 hours of actual instrument flight experience. His last biennial flight review was completed on December 23, 2002.


Review of the airplane's maintenance records by a FAA inspector did not reveal any abnormalities.


The weather reported at an airport located about 6 miles southeast of Cheswold, about the time of accident, included winds from 280 degrees at 5 knots and clear skies.


According to an FAA Airport Facilities Directory, runway 27 was a 3,582-foot long, 60-foot wide, 0.3 degree sloped, asphalt runway, equipped with medium intensity lighting. The runway had a 350 foot displaced threshold, which was marked with white paint, and illuminated in accordance with FAA AC 150/5340-30. The directory also mentioned an antenna was located along the approach path of the runway.

The runway was not equipped with a visual glideslope indicator.


On October 13, 2003, a FAA inspector examined the wreckage site. He observed that the airplane had struck a 56-foot high utility pole at the 46-foot level, which was located approximately 940 feet prior to the runway threshold. The airplane came to rest in a vertical position, with the propeller imbedded in the ground. Large concave dents were observed on the leading edge of the right wing, which was separated from the fuselage.

The inspector also noted that the utility pole was equipped with a red marker light.

Examination of the engine by the FAA inspector did not reveal any abnormalities.

After the accident, a representative of the power company which maintained the utility pole noted damage to the crown branches of an approximately 62-foot high Black Cherry tree, which was located about 1,300 feet prior to the runway threshold.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the State of Delaware, Office of the Medical examiner, Wilmington, Delaware, on October 15, 2003.

The FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma conducted toxicological testing on the pilot.


The calculated glideslope from the utility pole to the start of the runway surface was approximately 3.41 degrees. The calculated glideslope from the utility pole to the displaced runway threshold was approximately 2.49 degrees.

The calculated glideslope from the Black Cherry tree to the start of the runway surface was approximately 2.65 degrees. The calculated glideslope from the Black Cherry tree to the displaced runway threshold was approximately 2.11 degrees.


According to the Delaware Airpark manager, a Notice to Airman (NOTAM) was issued on September 29, 2003, to inform pilots of unlit 75-foot high power lines, located 1,000 feet east of runway 27. The NOTAM was to remain in effect until October 14, 2003, or if cancelled. The manager added that a printed copy of the NOTAM was posted on the airport's bulletin board.

Additionally the airport manager stated that he had contacted the utility company, which maintained one of the poles struck by the accident airplane, on September 29, 2003, to alert them of inoperative obstruction lights. The manager again contacted the utility company on September 30, October 2, and October 7, 2003 to alert them of inoperative obstruction lights. On October 9, 2003, the manager observed trucks from the utility company working on the poles; however, upon completion of the work, the obstruction lights remained inoperative.

Review of recordings provided by the Millville, New Jersey, Flight Service Station (FSS), revealed that an individual using the airplane registration number contacted an FSS briefer to obtain the current weather at HZL and any active temporary flight restrictions (TFR) along the route from the Delaware Airpark. The individual additionally stated that he had obtained a "computer weather briefing" earlier. The individual was provided the requested information and the briefing was ended. The individual did not request any NOTAM information from the briefer, and did not state that the flight was returning to the Delaware Airpark.

Attempts to locate data from computerized weather briefing services as they pertained to the pilot's name or the airplane's registration number were unsuccessful.

Review of sun and moon data obtained from the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Application Department for Cheswold, Delaware, on October 12, 2003, revealed that sunset was at 1829, civil twilight was at 1856, and nautical twilight was at 1927. There was no lunar illumination at the time of the accident.

According to the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3A, Chapter 10 Night Operations) regarding difficulties in perceiving altitude during night approaches:

"Distance may be deceptive at night due to limited lighting conditions. A lack of intervening references on the ground and the inability of the pilot to compare the size and location of different ground objects cause this. This also applies to the estimation of altitude and speed. Consequently, more dependence must be placed on flight instruments, particularly the altimeter and the airspeed indicator."

"Every effort should be made to maintain the recommended airspeeds and execute the approach and landing in the same manner as during the day. A low, shallow approach is definitely inappropriate during a night operation. The altimeter and VSI should be constantly cross-checked against the airplane's position along the base leg and final approach. A visual approach slope indicator (VASI) is an indispensable aid in establishing and maintaining a proper glidepath."

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's failure to maintain a proper glide path to the runway, and his failure to maintain obstacle clearance which resulted in an in-flight collision with an unlit utility pole. Factors related to the accident were the unlit utility pole, and the dark night conditions.

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