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N4072R accident description

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Crash location 42.210556°N, 73.262222°W
Nearest city Monterey, MA
42.183423°N, 73.232886°W
2.4 miles away
Tail number N4072R
Accident date 02 Mar 2003
Aircraft type Piper PA-32-300
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On March 2, 2003, about 2008 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-32-300, N4072R, was substantially damaged when it collided with terrain in Monterey, Massachusetts. The certificated private pilot and three passengers were fatally injured, and three passengers sustained serious injuries. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the flight destined for the Dillant-Hopkins Airport (EEN), Keene, New Hampshire. The personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

The airplane was owned by the pilot, and based at EEN. On February 21, 2003, the pilot, his wife, and five children, ages 11, 10, 8, 5, and 2, departed EEN for a trip to Florida. On the day of the accident, the pilot departed Lakeland, Florida, and flew to the Siler City Municipal Airport (5W8), Siler City, North Carolina. According to personnel at 5W8, the airplane was "topped off" with 48.71 gallons of aviation gasoline.

According to the pilot's brother-in-law, the pilot's wife called him from North Carolina, to inform him that they were "unsure" of the weather at Keene and would be flying to Utica or Hamilton, New York, to stay with him. The pilot's wife stated she would call back when they were about a half-hour from landing, so he could pick them up at the airport.

According to information obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), about 1420 the pilot contacted the Raleigh Durham automated flight service station (AFSS), and received a weather briefing for a flight from 5W8 to EEN. The pilot and his family departed 5W8 about 1510, under visual flight rules (VFR). At 1522, the pilot contacted Washington air traffic control (ATC). He requested VFR advisories and stated that he was en route to Utica, New York. At 1705, the pilot requested and received an in-flight weather briefing for a flight from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, over Utica, and direct to Keene. At 1715, the pilot contacted Harrisburg ATC, changed his destination to EEN, and obtained an IFR clearance.

The pilot's brother-in-law stated he received a call from his sister at approximately 1738, who informed him that they were flying over Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She further stated that the weather at Keene was clearer then they expected, and they were going to fly to Keene, and get the boys home in time for school the next day.

About 1816, the airplane was at 5,000 feet msl, and west of Stewart International Airport, Newburgh, New York, when the pilot contacted New York terminal radar approach control (TRACON).

About 1818, the pilot reported "picking up some ice", and requested a lower altitude. The airplane subsequently descended to 4,000 feet.

About 1834, the pilot requested a "direct" route to his destination.

About 1843, the pilot stated he did not like the weather at his destination, canceled his IFR clearance, and requested VFR advisories to Barnes Municipal Airport, Westfield, Massachusetts. He also indicated that he was currently in VFR conditions and was descending to 2,500 feet.

At 1849:24, the pilot was informed that at his current altitude, he was leaving the controller's area of radar coverage. The controller suggested that the pilot contact Bradley ATC in about 10 miles, and instructed the pilot to "squawk VFR."

At 1849:44, the pilot acknowledged the transmission. At that time, the airplane was in the vicinity of Falls Village, Connecticut, on a northeasterly heading. There were no further known communications by the pilot.

About 1852, the airplane's radar track was observed to turn about 90 degrees to the left, to north-northwesterly course. The airplane's last radar target was observed about 1854, at 1,900 feet, about 8 miles south of the Great Barrington Airport (GBR), Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

The airplane was located at approximately 42 degrees, 12.631 minutes north latitude, and 73 degrees, 15.732 minutes west longitude, in a wooded area by search and rescue personnel about 1230, on March 3, 2003. The airplane struck trees and terrain on the south-southeast side of Mt. Wilcox, elevation 2,155 feet msl, approximately 7.5 miles east-northeast of GBR. The airplane came to rest in a wooded area, at an elevation of about 1,920 feet msl.

A handheld Garmin 295 global positioning system (GPS) receiver was recovered from the accident site. The receiver was downloaded by representatives of Garmin International Inc., in Olathe, Kansas, under the supervision of an FAA inspector. The GPS contained additional data beyond the last FAA radar target. The GPS data revealed that after radar contact was lost, the airplane continued on a north-northwesterly heading, and landed at GBR, about 1900. The airplane taxied to, and departed on a heading consistent with runway 29, about 2003.

After takeoff, the GPS recorded the airplane make a climbing right turn onto a northeast heading at an altitude of about 1,900 feet. The airplane continued on east-northeast heading and climbed to a maximum altitude of 2,610 feet. The airplane's last GPS target was recorded at an altitude of 2,240 feet in the vicinity of the accident site at 2008:33.

During a follow-up interview, the pilot's brother-in-law stated that the 10 year old passenger remembered the airplane "landing somewhere dark" and the pilot not being able to locate a phone.

The Great Barrington Airport was equipped with an on field fixed-base-operator (FBO). According to the airport manager, during the winter months, the FBO normally closed about dusk.


(For specific injury and exposure information, please refer to the NTSB Survival Factor's Factual Report, located in the Public Docket.)


The pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single engine land rating, which was issued on September 15, 1997. He also held an instrument rating, which was issued on October 27, 1999. The pilot's logbook was not recovered. On his application for the instrument rating, the pilot indicated his total flight experience was 431.9 hours. He reported 303.2 hours in the PA32-300, which included 270 hours as pilot-in-command. In addition, he reported 68.4 hours of "instrument" flight experience.

The pilot reported 300 hours of total flight experience on an application for an FAA third class medical certificate, which was issued on May 9, 2000.


According to a bill of sale filed with the FAA, the pilot purchased the accident airplane on July 30, 1997.

The cabin was configured with a front row of two flight crew seats (connected to the floor via seat rails) and five forward-facing single-passenger seats (connected to the floor via floor attachment fittings). The passenger seats were arranged in two rows with three seats behind the flight crew and followed by a row of two seats. The airplane had three doors: a forward-hinged automotive-type door at the co-pilot's seat, a forward-hinged automotive-type passenger door on the aft, left side of the airplane, and an upper-hinged cargo door just aft of the left side passenger door.

According to a mechanic who maintained the airplane, the most recent annual inspection was performed on September 10, 2002. Additionally, the mechanic was not aware of any problems or "squawks" with the airplane.


The nearest available surface observations were from the automated surface observing systems (ASOS) at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport (PSF), Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and the Barnes Municipal Airport (BAF), Westfield\Springfield, Massachusetts. PSF was located about 15 miles north of the accident, at an elevation of 1,193 feet. BAF was located about 28 miles east of the accident site, at an elevation of 271 feet.

The reported weather at PSF was:

At 1854, wind from 320 degrees at 13 knots, gusting to 20 knots (wind varying between 270 and 340 degrees); visibility 10 statute miles; ceiling 1,100 feet overcast; temperature 2 degrees C, dew point 1 degree C; altimeter 29.42 in/hg.

At 1953, wind from 300 degrees at 16 knots, gusting to 22 knots (wind varying between 270 and 340 degrees); visibility 8 statute miles, few clouds at 900 feet, ceiling broken at 1,300 feet and overcast at 1,800 feet; temperature 1 degree C; dew point -2 degrees C; altimeter 29.44 in\hg.

The reported weather at BAF was:

At 1853, wind from 40 degrees at 5 knots; visibility 1/2 statute mile in mist; scattered clouds at 100 feet; ceiling 3,100 feet overcast; temperature 1 degree; dew point -1 degree C; altimeter 29.40 in\hg.

At 1953, winds from 330 degrees at 11 knots; visibility 10 statute miles; ceiling 2,900 feet overcast; temperature 3 degrees C; dew point -1 degree C; altimeter 29.43 in\hg.

Airman's Meteorological Information (AIRMET) advisories for IFR conditions, icing, and turbulence were issued and valid for the accident site area.

An AIRMET for IFR conditions was issued at 1645, and was valid until 2200. It stated:

Widespread ceilings below 1,000 feet and visibility below 3 statue miles with precipitation and mist. Conditions ending in southeastern New York/Long Island, Connecticut, and Rhode Island from southwest to northeast between 1800 and 2000. Conditions ending in northern and western Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire, southwestern Maine from southwest to northeast between 2000 and 2200. Conditions elsewhere continuing beyond 2300, ending 0100, on March 3.

AIRMETs for icing and turbulence were issued at 1545, and were valid until 2300. The icing AIRMET indicated the following:

Occasional moderate rime or mixed icing in cloud and precipitation between 4,000 and 15,000 feet. Conditions continuing beyond 2200, ending between 0000 and 0200, on March 3.

The AIRMET for turbulence indicated:

Occasional moderate turbulence below 8,000 feet. Conditions continuing beyond 2200 through 0400, on March 3.

The weather reported at the Dillant-Hopkins Airport (EEN), about 70 miles northeast of the accident site, with an elevation of about 488 feet, at 1855, included: calm winds; visibility 1/2 statute miles; overcast ceiling 100 feet; temperature 1 degree C; dew point -1 degree C; altimeter 29.39 in/hg.

The 1955 weather observation at EEN showed a visibility increase to 3/4 statute miles; however, the ceiling remained 100 feet overcast.

(For additional meteorological information, please refer to the NTSB Meteorology Factual Report located in the public docket.)


The accident site was located in Beartown State Forest. The terrain sloped upward, and the majority of trees surrounding the accident site were between about 30 to 50 feet in height. Additionally, the ground was covered with snow, which extended to a depth of about 3 feet.

All major components of the airplane were accounted for at the accident site. The airplane came to rest on it's left side. Both wings separated during the impact sequence and were located along a debris path that was oriented about a 325 degree heading, and extended about 100 feet. Additionally, several freshly broken tree branches were observed along the debris path, which included pieces of 2-inch diameter wood, with cut ends at 45-degree angles, and black paint transfer present on the cut surfaces.

The engine remained attached to the airframe. Examination of the right side of the engine, which included a borescope examination of cylinders 1, 3, and 5, did not reveal any evidence of a catastrophic engine failure. Additionally, the 1, 3, and 5 spark plugs were removed. Their electrodes were intact, gray in color, and exhibited combustion deposits.

The airplane and engine were recovered from the accident site on March 7, 2003, and examined in Biddeford, Maine, on March 13, 2003.

Flight control continuity was confirmed from the stabilator and rudder, to the forward cockpit area. Aileron control continuity was confirmed to the point of both wing separations. The separated aileron control cables displayed "broom-strawing" at the separated ends.

The engine was rotated by hand. Thumb compression and valve train continuity was confirmed on all cylinders, except the number 2 cylinder, which was impact damaged. Both magnetos produced spark from all respective distributor towers, when rotated by hand. The oil filter element and oil suction screen did not contain any metallic debris. The engine driven fuel pump drive coupling remained intact and fuel was present in the pump housing. The fuel servo inlet screen did not contain any contamination. All spark plugs were removed, except for the number 2 top spark plug, which was impact damaged. All spark plug electrodes were intact, and gray in color, except the number 4, 5, and 6 cylinder bottom spark plugs, which were oil soaked.

The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft flange. Both propeller blades contained chord wise scratches, consistent with rotation.

Disassembly of the vacuum pump did not reveal any discrepancies.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot, on March 4, 2003, by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Boston, Massachusetts.

The toxicological testing report from the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was negative for drugs and alcohol for the pilot.


Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) and Search and Rescue

The airplane was equipped with Narco Avionics model 10 emergency locater transmitter (ELT). The battery replacement date was September 2004. At 2139, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) received an ELT signal from the COSPAS-SARSAT international satellite system for search and rescue. The location of the ELT signal was approximately 11.25 miles southwest of the accident site, near the town of Sheffield, Massachusetts.

At 2200, the Burlington (BTV) AFSS received a telephone call from a relative of those on board the airplane. The individual reported speaking with the pilot via cell phone at 1738 when the airplane was near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. At the time he was told that the family was heading home to Keene, New Hampshire. He had not been able to reach the pilot again despite repeated telephone calls to his cellular and home phones. Responding to this information, BTV began contacting other FAA facilities requesting information about N4072R and that ramp checks be conducted at airports along the intended route of flight. About 2222, the Boston air traffic control (ZBW) received a phone call from AFRCC opening an incident for the ELT signal near Sheffield. As requested by AFRCC, ZBW controllers began to solicit airborne ELT reports from aircraft flying in the vicinity of the satellite ELT signal. At the same time, other ZBW controllers began making telephone calls to FAA facilities and EEN, inquiring whether anyone had been in contact with N4072R.

At 2231, BTV received a telephone call from AFRCC to open ELT incident #0953 and to "verify if there was any overdue or missing aircraft." The BTV specialist responded "just a second, there is a missing or overdue air...well, we don't know that yet." This conversation represented the first indication of FAA personnel linking the ELT incident with N4072R. At 2240, a ZBW controller relayed four negative airborne ELT reports to the AFRCC from the vicinity of the ELT satellite signal. At 2304, ZBW learned from New York TRACON (N90) that N90 had "worked" N4072R and that the pilot had cancelled his IFR flight plan and changed his destination to BAF, after his request to descend to 4,000 feet due to icing, was denied. Also about 2304, specialists at BTV notified both the Massachusetts State Police (MA SP) and Great Barrington Police Department of the reported ELT signal.

While ZBW controllers were attempting to locate N4072R on the ground at BAF they received a notification from Bradley TRACON (BDL) that an airplane had received a strong airborne ELT signal in the vicinity of the "MOBBS" intersection. ZBW reported this finding to AFRCC at approximately 2316 and also relayed that N4072R was overdue, but may have landed at BAF. At 2323, ZBW completed a National Track Analysis Program (NTAP) and report

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's improper decision to attempt a visual flight rules (VFR) flight in marginal VFR weather conditions over mountainous terrain, which resulted in an in-flight collision with trees. Factors in this accident were clouds and night light conditions.

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