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N178RA accident description

Michigan map... Michigan list
Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Muskegon, MI
43.260571°N, 86.183391°W
Tail number N178RA
Accident date 20 May 2000
Aircraft type Wsk Pzl Mielec M-18A
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On May 20, 2000, at 1048 eastern daylight time (edt), a WSK PZL Mielec M-18A, N178RA, operated by a commercial pilot, was destroyed when it impacted into a wooded area, 15 miles north of Muskegon, Michigan. A post-crash fire ensued. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The aerial application flight was being conducted under 14 CFR Part 137. No flight plan was on file. The pilot was fatally injured in the post-crash fire. The local flight originated at Nunica, Michigan, at approximately 1025 edt.

A witness, standing outside her house with her husband, approximately 250 feet from the accident site, saw the airplane cross the east-west running street in front of their house, heading southbound. The witness said the airplane made a "U-turn," and headed back to the north. The witness said she heard the engine. "There was no engine trouble. It sounded as if it were under full power. It was not sputtering. It sounded okay." The witness said that as the airplane crossed the street, "it got caught in the tree tops, and went into the woods."

The husband said that he saw the airplane "head south, then turn west, and then north (making a U-turn) over my residence ... The plane sounded normal, but appeared to be lower in the air than in previous passes in the area." Approximately 50 feet north of his house, the husband said, "the bottom of the plane began brushing the tree tops. I observed and heard the plane diving through the trees before it crashed to the ground. Approximately 30 seconds later, the plane burst into flames."

Other witnesses, who were in the area, claimed they saw flames and smoke coming from the engine area of the airplane, prior to the accident. One witness said he heard a loud backfire and a rough running engine prior to the accident. The witness also said the propeller was not turning.


The pilot was employed as a spray pilot for Hatfield Spraying Service, Incorporated, Nunica, Michigan. According to the operator, the pilot had been employed by the company for approximately 1 year.

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with single-engine land, instrument ratings.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aeromedical records, the pilot reported having 1,948 total flying hours at his last medical examination on February 7, 2000.

The pilot held a second class medical certificate dated February 7, 2000. The certificate stated in the limitations section, "Holder must wear corrective lenses."


The airplane was owned and operated by Hatfield Spraying Service, Incorporated, and was used for 14 CFR Part 137 aerial application. According to the owner, on the day of the accident, the accident airplane was one of five airplanes contracted by the State of Michigan, to spray for Gypsy moths in the Muskegon area.

The airplane had been flown two previous times that day by the pilot.

The airplane underwent an annual inspection on March 30, 2000. The airframe time at the time of the annual was 3,257.7 hours.


A Federal Aviation Administration inspector examined the wreckage at the accident site, on May 20. 2000. The airplane was found in a wooded area approximately 300 feet north of Hawthorne Street, an east-west running paved road. The airplane was upright and oriented on a 240 degree magnetic heading. Several oak and pine trees, preceding the main wreckage, were broken at the tops. Several fallen tree trunks and branches rested with the airplane at the accident site. The trees and brush surrounding the airplane were burned and charred.

Also preceding the airplane's main wreckage were the airplane's outboard wing sections, portions of the left and right ailerons, the main landing gear, and a propeller blade tip. The propeller blade tip was located 30 feet east of the main wreckage.

The airplane's main wreckage included the engine, propeller, hopper, cockpit, fuselage, inboard wings, and empennage. The airplane's cockpit and fuselage aft of the cockpit to the empennage were consumed by fire. A portion of the airplane's inboard left wing skin was melted and consumed by fire. The remaining left and right inboard wing sections remained attached at the carry-through spar. The wings were broken aft from the fuselage. Both wings were bent and broken aft. Both wings were charred and melted at the wing roots. The empennage was attached to the remains of the aft fuselage. The horizontal stabilizers and elevators were bent and broken aft. The vertical stabilizer was charred and melted. The rudder and tailwheel showed heat damage. The propeller blades showed torsional bending and chordwise scratches. Flight control continuity was established.

The airplane's engine, propeller, cockpit section, and empennage were retained for further inspection.


An autopsy of the pilot was conducted by the Michigan State Medical Examiner, at Sparrow Regional Laboratories, Lansing, Michigan, on May 22, 2000.

The results of FAA toxicology testing of specimens received from the pilot were negative for all tests conducted.


Several witnesses saw an explosion after the airplane disappeared into the trees. On arrival at the accident site, the airplane, and surrounding vegetation was on fire. The Dalton, Michigan, Fire Department arrived on the scene at 1050 edt and extinguished the fire.


The NTSB examined the airplane's engine, propeller, firewall, hopper and cockpit section, the empennage, left and right wing tips, left and right ailerons, cowling, and main landing gear, at Traverse City, Michigan, on September 5, 2000.

The airplane's 4-blade propeller showed two of the three blades intact, one blade broken at the tip, and one blade melted and consumed by fire. The two intact blades showed torsional bending and chordwise scratches along the leading edge and front facing blade surfaces. The propeller blade broken at the tip, also showed torsional bending and chordwise scratches. The propeller blade tip was broken longitudinally, 6 inches inboard. Small pieces of wood were found embedded in the fracture. The spinner cap showed counter-clockwise bends and buckles.

The airplane's engine was charred and melted. The aft engine case and engine accessories were melted and consumed by fire. The top six cylinders' push rod tubes were consumed by fire, revealing the push rods. All of the push rods were intact. Several of the valve covers were also melted and consumed by fire. The valves and rocker arms were intact and charred. The bottom three cylinders were covered with packed sand, clay, and oil. On removal of the soil, the cylinders showed small pieces of chopped oak leaves and pine needles embedded in the fins around the front and sides of the cylinders. Several pieces of wood were also recovered from the cylinder fins and from the areas between the cylinders. The wood pieces averaged 2-1/2 inches in length and 1/4 inch in diameter. Two wood pieces recovered were approximately 5 inches long and 1/4 inch in diameter. Some of the wood pieces were charred. All of the wood pieces recovered showed 45 degree angle cuts at both ends. The remaining engine examination revealed no pre-impact anomalies.

The airplane's horizontal stabilizers showed charring and paint blisters along the leading edges at the roots. The airplane's elevators were broken out at the hinges. The left elevator was broken longitudinally along the rivet line, at mid-span.

The right wing tip and outboard 18 inches of the right wing was broken longitudinally aft and outward and crushed inward along the leading edge. The right aileron was broken out at the hinges and showed charring and heat damage. The left wing tip was broken aft along the rivet line. The left aileron was broken out at the hinges and was broken aft longitudinally. The inboard section of the left aileron was charred, melted, and consumed by fire.

The airplane's firewall, hopper and cockpit were charred, melted and consumed. The instrument panel and cockpit interior were consumed by fire.

The airplane's right front fiberglass cowling was broken out at the screws running longitudinally along the bottom and top of the panel. The cowling section showed heat damage and soot on the interior side. Soot particles were observed on the exterior side of the panel.

The airplane's main landing gear were intact and broken aft at the struts.


All wreckage was returned and released to owner's insurance company.

NTSB Probable Cause

the pilot's failure to maintain clearance from the trees. Factors relating to this accident were the low altitude and the trees.

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