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N9253N accident description

Massachusetts map... Massachusetts list
Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Vineyard Haven, MA
41.454279°N, 70.603639°W
Tail number N9253N
Accident date 16 Jul 1999
Aircraft type Piper PA-32R-301
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On July 16, 1999, about 2141 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32R-301, Saratoga II, N9253N, was destroyed when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean approximately 7 1/2 miles southwest of Gay Head, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. The certificated private pilot and two passengers received fatal injuries. Night visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for the personal flight conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The flight originated from Essex County Airport (CDW), Caldwell, New Jersey, and was destined for Barnstable Municipal-Boardman/Polando Field (HYA), Hyannis, Massachusetts, with a scheduled stop at Martha's Vineyard Airport (MVY), Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts.

During interviews, witnesses stated that the purpose of the flight was to fly to Martha's Vineyard to drop off one passenger and then continue to HYA. An employee of a fixed-base operator (FBO) at CDW stated that he had called the pilot about 1300 on the day of the accident to verify that the pilot intended to fly the airplane, N9253N, over the weekend. The pilot informed the employee that he did plan to fly the airplane and that he would arrive at the airport between 1730 and 1800. The employee informed the pilot that he would have the airplane parked outside of the hangar.

Witnesses who were at CDW on the night of the accident stated that they saw the pilot and a female near the accident airplane. The witnesses also reported that they saw the pilot using crutches and loading luggage into the airplane. One witness stated that he watched the pilot perform an engine run-up and then take off about 2040. The witness further stated that "takeoff and right downwind departure seem[ed] normal."

According to air traffic control (ATC) transcripts from CDW's tower, about 2034, the pilot of N9253N contacted the ground controller and stated, "...saratoga niner two five three november ready to taxi with mike...right turnout northeast bound." The ground controller instructed the pilot to taxi to runway 22, which the pilot acknowledged. At 2038:32, the pilot of N9253N contacted the tower controller and advised that he was ready to take off from runway 22. At 2038:39, the tower controller cleared N9253N for takeoff; at 2038:43, the pilot acknowledged the clearance. A few seconds later, the tower controller asked the pilot if he was heading towards Teterboro, New Jersey. The pilot replied, "No sir, I'm uh actually I'm heading a little uh north of it, uh eastbound." The tower controller then instructed the pilot to "make it a right downwind departure then." At 2038:56, the pilot acknowledged the instruction stating, "right downwind departure two two." No records of any further communications between the pilot and ATC exist.

According to radar data, at 2040:59, a target transmitting a visual flight rules (VFR) code was observed about 1 mile southwest of CDW at an altitude of 1,300 feet. The target proceeded to the northeast, on a course of about 55 degrees, remaining below 2,000 feet. The target was at 1,400 feet when it reached the Hudson River. When the target was about 8 miles northwest of the Westchester County Airport (HPN), White Plains, New York, it turned north over the river and began to climb. After proceeding north about 6 miles, the target turned eastward to a course of about 100 degrees. The target continued to climb and reached 5,500 feet about 6 miles northeast of HPN. When the target's course was plotted on a New York VFR navigational map, the extended course line crossed the island of Martha's Vineyard.

The target continued eastward at 5,500 feet, passing just north of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and crossed the shoreline between Bridgeport and New Haven, Connecticut. The target ground track continued on the 100-degree course, just south and parallel to the Connecticut and Rhode Island coastlines. After passing Point Judith, Rhode Island, the target continued over the Rhode Island Sound.

A performance study of the radar data revealed that the target began a descent from 5,500 feet about 34 miles west of MVY. The speed during the descent was calculated to be about 160 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS), and the rate of descent was calculated to have varied between 400 and 800 feet per minute (fpm). About 2138, the target began a right turn in a southerly direction. About 30 seconds later, the target stopped its descent at 2,200 feet and began a climb that lasted another 30 seconds. During this period of time, the target stopped the turn, and the airspeed decreased to about 153 KIAS. About 2139, the target leveled off at 2,500 feet and flew in a southeasterly direction. About 50 seconds later, the target entered a left turn and climbed to 2,600 feet. As the target continued in the left turn, it began a descent that reached a rate of about 900 fpm. When the target reached an easterly direction, it stopped turning; its rate of descent remained about 900 fpm. At 2140:15, while still in the descent, the target entered a right turn. As the target's turn rate increased, its descent rate and airspeed also increased. The target's descent rate eventually exceeded 4,700 fpm. The target's last radar position was recorded at 2140:34 at an altitude of 1,100 feet. (For a more detailed description of the target's [accident airplane's] performance, see Section, "Tests and Research," Subsection, "Aircraft Performance Study.")

On July 20, 1999, about 2240, the airplane's wreckage was located in 120 feet of water, about 1/4 mile north of the target's last recorded radar position.

The accident occurred during the hours of darkness. In the area of and on the night of the accident, sunset occurred about 2014. Civil twilight ended about 2047, and nautical twilight ended about 2128. About 2140, the moon was about 11.5 degrees above the horizon at a bearing of 270.5 degrees and provided about 19 percent illumination. The location of the accident wreckage was about 41 degrees, 17 minutes, 37.2 seconds north latitude; 70 degrees, 58 minutes, 39.2 seconds west longitude.


The pilot obtained his private pilot certificate for "airplane single-engine land" in April 1998. He did not possess an instrument rating. He received a "high performance airplane" sign-off in his Cessna 182 in June 1998 and a "complex airplane" sign-off in the accident airplane in May 1999. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) second-class medical certificate was issued on December 27, 1997, with no limitations.

A copy of the pilot's logbook that covered from October 4, 1982, to November 11, 1998, was provided to the Safety Board. The pilot's most recent logbook was not located. The Board used the copied logbook, records from training facilities, copies of flight instructors' logbooks, and statements from instructors and pilots to estimate the pilot's total flight experience. The pilot's estimated total flight experience, excluding simulator training, was about 310 hours, of which 55 hours were at night. The pilot's estimated experience flying without a certified flight instructor (CFI) on board was about 72 hours. The pilot's estimated flight time in the accident airplane was about 36 hours, of which 9.4 hours were at night. Approximately 3 hours of that flight time was without a CFI on board, and about 0.8 hour of that time was flown at night, which included a night landing. In the 15 months before the accident, the pilot had flown about 35 flight legs either to or from the Essex County/Teterboro, New Jersey, area and the Martha's Vineyard/Hyannis, Massachusetts, area. The pilot flew over 17 of these legs without a CFI on board, including at least 5 at night. The pilot's last known flight in the accident airplane without a CFI on board was on May 28, 1999.

Pilot Training

On October 4, 1982, the pilot started receiving flight instruction. Over the next 6 years, he flew with six different CFIs. During this period, the pilot logged 47 hours, consisting of 46 hours of dual instruction and 1 hour without a CFI on board. The pilot made no entries in his logbook from September 1988 to December 1997.

In December 1997, the pilot enrolled in a training program at Flight Safety International (FSI), Vero Beach, Florida, to obtain his private pilot certificate. Between December 1997 and April 1998, the pilot flew about 53 hours, of which 43 were flown with a CFI on board. The CFI who prepared the pilot for his private pilot checkride stated that the pilot had "very good" flying skills for his level of experience.

On April 22, 1998, the pilot passed his private pilot flight test. The designated pilot examiner who administered the checkride stated that as part of the flight test, the pilot conducted two unusual attitude recoveries. The pilot examiner stated that in both cases, the pilot recovered the airplane while wearing a hood and referencing the airplane's flight instruments. After receiving his private pilot certificate, the pilot flew solo in his Cessna 182 and received instruction in it by CFIs local to New Jersey. He also received instruction at Million Air, a flight school in New Jersey, and flew their airplanes. During calendar year 1998, the pilot flew approximately 179 hours, including about 65 hours without a CFI on board. On March 12, 1999, the pilot completed the FAA's written airplane instrument examination and received a score of 78 percent.

On April 5, 1999, the pilot returned to FSI to begin an airplane instrument rating course. During the instrument training, the pilot satisfactorily completed the first 12 of 25 lesson plans. The pilot's primary CFI during the instrument training stated that the pilot's progression was normal and that he grasped all of the basic skills needed to complete the course; however, the CFI did recall the pilot having difficulty completing lesson 11, which was designed to develop a student's knowledge of very high frequency omnidirectional radio range (VOR) and nondirectional beacon operations while working with ATC. It took the pilot four attempts to complete lesson 11 satisfactorily. After two of the attempts, the pilot took a 1-week break. After this break, the pilot repeated lesson 11 two more times. The CFI stated that the pilot's basic instrument flying skills and simulator work were excellent. However, the CFI stated that the pilot had trouble managing multiple tasks while flying, which he felt was normal for the pilot's level of experience.

The pilot attended this training primarily on weekends. During this training, the pilot accumulated 13.3 hours of flight time with a CFI on board. In addition, the pilot logged 16.9 hours of simulator time. The pilot departed from FSI for the last time on April 24, 1999.

The pilot continued to receive flight instruction from CFIs in New Jersey in his newly purchased Piper Saratoga, the accident airplane. One CFI flew with the pilot on three occasions. One of the flights was on June 25, 1999, from CDW to MVY. The CFI stated that the departure, en route, and descent portions of the flight were executed in VMC, but an instrument approach was required into MVY because of a 300-foot overcast ceiling. The CFI requested an instrument flight rules (IFR) clearance and demonstrated a coupled instrument landing system (ILS) approach to runway 24. The CFI stated that the pilot performed the landing, but he had to assist with the rudders because of the pilot's injured ankle. (For additional information about the pilot's ankle injury, see Section, "Medical and Pathological Information.") The CFI stated that the pilot's aeronautical abilities and his ability to handle multiple tasks while flying were average for his level of experience.

A second CFI flew with the pilot between May 1998 and July 1999. This CFI accumulated 39 hours of flight time with the pilot, including 21 hours of night flight and 0.9 hour flown in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). The pilot used this CFI for instruction on cross-country flights and as a safety pilot. On July 1, 1999, the CFI flew with the pilot in the accident airplane to MVY. The flight was conducted at night, and IMC prevailed at the airport. The CFI stated that, during the flight, the pilot used and seemed competent with the autopilot. The instructor added that during the flight the pilot was wearing a nonplaster cast on his leg, which required the CFI to taxi the airplane and assist the pilot with the landing.

The CFI stated that the pilot had the ability to fly the airplane without a visible horizon but may have had difficulty performing additional tasks under such conditions. He also stated that the pilot was not ready for an instrument evaluation as of July 1, 1999, and needed additional training. The CFI was not aware of the pilot conducting any flight in the accident airplane without an instructor on board. He also stated that he would not have felt comfortable with the accident pilot conducting night flight operations on a route similar to the one flown on, and in weather conditions similar to those that existed on, the night of the accident. The CFI further stated that he had talked to the pilot on the day of the accident and offered to fly with him on the accident flight. He stated that the accident pilot replied that "he wanted to do it alone."

A third CFI flew with the pilot between May 1998 and July 1999. This CFI accumulated 57 hours of flight time with the pilot, including 17 hours of night flight and 8 hours flown in IMC. The pilot also used this instructor for instruction on cross-country flights and as a safety pilot. This CFI had conducted a "complex airplane" evaluation on the pilot and signed him off in the accident airplane in May 1999. According to the CFI, on one or two occasions, the airplane's autopilot turned to a heading other than the one selected, which required the autopilot to be disengaged and then reengaged. He stated that it seemed as if the autopilot had independently changed from one navigation mode to another. He also stated that he did not feel that the problem was significant because it only happened once or twice.

The CFI had made six or seven flights to MVY with the pilot in the accident airplane. The CFI stated that most of the flights were conducted at night and that, during the flights, the pilot did not have any trouble flying the airplane. The instructor stated that the pilot was methodical about his flight planning and that he was very cautious about his aviation decision-making. The CFI stated that the pilot had the capability to conduct a night flight to MVY as long as a visible horizon existed.


The accident airplane, N9253N, was a Piper PA-32R-301, Saratoga II, single-engine, low-wing airplane with retractable landing gear. The airplane was originally certificated by Piper Aircraft Corporation on June 9, 1995. The airplane was sold to Skytech, Inc., Baltimore, Maryland, on June 16, 1995, and then resold to Poinciana LLC, Wilmington, North Carolina, on January 5, 1996.

A review of records from an engine overhaul facility revealed that during a 100-hour and annual inspection of the airplane in May 1998, corrosion was observed on the interior surfaces of the engine cylinder walls. Additionally, pitting was observed on the surfaces of several valve tappets. At that time, the engine had a total time since new of 387.1 hours. The documents also revealed that the engine was shipped to the overhaul facility in June 1998, where the engine was disassembled, inspected, and reassembled (parts were replaced as necessary) in June and July 1998. The engine was also run in a test cell before it was shipped and was reinstalled in the airplane in July 1998.

On August 25, 1998, the airplane was purchased by Raytheon Aircraft Company, Wichita, Kansas, and then resold the same day to Air Bound Aviation, Inc., Fairfield, New Jersey. The airplane was sold on August 27, 1998, to a pilot in New Jersey. On April 28, 1999, the airplane was sold to Columbia Aircraft Sales, Inc., Groton, Connecticut. On the same day, the airplane was sold back to Air Bound Aviation and then to the

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation. Factors in the accident were haze, and the dark night.

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