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N33315 accident description

Michigan map... Michigan list
Crash location 44.923334°N, 84.724723°W
Reported location is a long distance from the NTSB's reported nearest city. This often means that the location has a typo, or is incorrect.
Nearest city St. Ignace, MI
45.903170°N, 84.720568°W
67.7 miles away
Tail number N33315
Accident date 03 Dec 2011
Aircraft type Piper PA-32-260
Additional details: None
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NTSB Factual Report

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On December 3, 2011, about 2010 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-32-260, N33315, operated by Great Lakes Air (GLA) collided with trees and the terrain in St. Ignace, Michigan. The commercial rated pilot and a private-rated pilot passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was substantially damaged from impact forces. The non-scheduled domestic passenger flight was operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 135. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The airplane departed from the Mackinac County Airport (83D), St. Ignace, Michigan, at an estimated time of around 1950 with an intended destination of the Mackinac Island Airport (MCD), Mackinac Island, Michigan.

The passenger contacted another company pilot on the night prior to the accident stating that he was traveling to St. Ignace the following day and he was going to need air transportation to Mackinac Island. The passenger also stated that he needed to be in Gaylord, Michigan on December 4th for a morning meeting. This pilot instructed the passenger to call the airport to schedule the flight.

The other company pilot stated that around noon on the day of the accident, he looked at the flight schedule and noticed that there were no flights scheduled for the day. He stated that he knew they would not be flying that day because of the poor weather, and that the accident pilot seemed relieved that he was not going to have to fly to the island that evening. This pilot stated that he then called the passenger and left a voice message stating that the weather was not very good, but that it should improve later in the day so the passenger should take his time getting to St. Ignace. The passenger returned the call stating that he would take his time.

The accident pilot was the only person on duty at the airport on the night of the accident. The other company pilot spoke with the accident pilot around 1800 and the accident pilot stated that the weather was improving and that he could see the bluff on the island. This pilot stated he checked the Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) and it was reporting overcast clouds at 800 feet. He stated he told the accident pilot “don’t do anything dumb.” He then called the passenger and left a message stating that the weather now looked alright to get to the island.

The office manager for GLA, who lives near the airport, stated that she heard the airplane depart to the west around 2000 and that the airplane sounded “normal.”

The President of Great Lakes Air, who was also the Director of Operations, stated he arrived at the airport around 2030 and noticed that the door to the building was open, the airplane was gone, and the pilot’s car was in the parking lot. He stated he checked the reservation book and noticed a flight scheduled to the island at 2015. He stated his first thought was that the pilot had diverted to Pellston because of the weather.

When the pilot did not return his family became concerned and began making telephone calls to locate him. The President of Great Lakes Air stated that while he was at the airport, he received a call from the pilot's wife regarding the pilot’s whereabouts.

A search was initiated which involved local pilots, private citizens, the Coast Guard, sheriff’s department, Michigan State Police, Boarder Patrol, and the Sault Tribe Police. An airplane that was involved in the search picked up an emergency locator transmitter signal. A Coast Guard helicopter then hovered over the area and personnel on the ground located the wreckage using a hand held radio to pick up the signal. The wreckage was located approximately 1210 on December 4, 2011.

An witness who lived near the accident site stated that he heard the airplane engine around 1945 and it sounded like “a plane engine getting lower and lower”, followed by a crash. He stated it sounded like a typical “movie” airplane crash sound. The witness went outside to look in the woods around his house, but did not see anything.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land, airplane multi-engine land, and instrument ratings issued on July 2, 2007. The pilot also held a flight instructor certificate with airplane single-engine land, airplane multi-engine land, and instrument ratings issued on September 19, 2011. The pilot was issued a first-class airman medical certificate, with no restrictions, on February 5, 2011.

A pilot’s logbook was provided by his family for review during the investigation. The first entry in the logbook was dated July 21, 2006, and the last entry was dated October 31, 2011. The logbook contained a total of approximately 2,197 hours of flight time, of which 317 were in PA-32-260 airplanes. The pilot had logged about 95 hours of actual instrument flight time, 99 hours of simulated instrument flight time, and 200 hours of night flight time. The pilot’s time and duty logs indicated that he flew an additional 13 hours in the month of November.

The pilot’s received a Part 135 proficiency check on February 19, 2011. In accordance with 14 CFR Part 61.56 (d) the proficiency check met the requirement for a flight review. The remarks on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Form 8410-3 Airman Competency Proficiency Check which was completed for the pilot’s proficiency check stated “Initial Check This Operator ASEL Type VFR Only.”

FAA airman records indicate the pilot’s certification history as follows:

October 24, 2006

Private pilot certificate issued with airplane single-engine land rating.

February 13, 2007

Instrument rating was added to the private pilot certificate.

June 3, 2007

Commercial pilot certificate issued with airplane multi-engine landing rating. Private pilot privileges for airplane single-engine land.

July 2, 2007

Commercial pilot certificate issued with airplane single-engine land, airplane multi-engine land and instrument ratings.

October 12, 2007

Flight instructor certificate issued with airplane single-engine land rating.

January 19, 2008

Failed practical test for an instrument rating add-on to his flight instructor certificate. Area to be re-examined stated “Entire practical test.”

February 4, 2008

Failed practical test for an instrument rating add-on to his flight instructor certificate. Area to be re-examined stated “Non-precision instrument approach” and “Loss of gyro attitude and heading indicators.”

February 17, 2008

Flight instructor certificate issued with airplane single-engine land and instrument ratings.

September 3, 2009

Flight instructor certificate issued with airplane single-engine land, airplane multi-engine land, and instrument ratings.

September 19, 2011

Flight instructor certificate was renewed.

The pilot was employed by Great Lakes Air in February 2011, and he began his ground training on February 12, 2011. Time and duty records showed the pilot had flown a total of 506.9 hours as an employee of Great Lakes Air. His last flight prior to the accident flight was on November 30, 2011. The pilot had accepted a job flying DC-9’s for a charter company and was scheduled to begin training with his new employer on December 12, 2011.

The passenger held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating issued on September 22, 2010. The passenger was issued a second-class airman medical certificate, issued May 26, 2011, with the limitation “Must wear corrective lenses, possess glasses for near/intermediate vision.” At the time of the medical examination, the pilot reported having 160 hours of flight time, 50 hours of which were accumulated within the preceding 6 months.

One of the pilots who flew for Great Lakes Air stated that he had provided instruction for the passenger in the past and that the passenger was currently working on obtaining his instrument rating. He stated that the passenger typically flew an airplane that belonged to a flying club at MCD.

The passenger was known by some of the employees at Great Lakes Air. They stated he was in an out of the area frequently in the summer and they had frequently provided air transportation for him to the island.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The accident airplane was a Piper model PA-32-260, serial number 32-7500017. It was a six-place, low-wing, single engine airplane, with a tricycle landing gear configuration. The airplane was purchased by GLA in February 1997. The airplane was issued an FAA standard category standard airworthiness certificate on February 10, 1975.

The tachometer time at the time of the accident was 2,686.0. According to the airframe logbook, the last annual inspection was conducted on October 21, 2011, at a tachometer time of 2,665.2. The aircraft total time was calculated to be 11,327 hours.

There was no engine data plate observed attached to the engine. Two data plates were located in the engine logbook folder. One data plate was marked O-540-B1A5 serial number L-5769-40. The other data plate was marked O-540-E4B5, serial number L-5796-40 and contained letter Penn Yan Aero R.S. Y2GR396Y. The engine logbook contained an entry dated February 22, 2010, stating that the engine had been altered from an O-540-B1A5 to an O-540-E4B5. According to the engine logbook, the last annual inspection was conducted on October 21, 2011, at an engine total time of 4,551.9 hours and a tachometer time of 2,665.2 hours. The total time since overhaul listed at the last annual inspection was 749.8 hours.

The airplane was flown about 1 hour after having been fueled with 37.8 gallons of fuel on December 1, 2011.

The airplane was equipped with two navigation (NAV)/communication (COM) radios, an automatic directional finder (ADF), distance measuring equipment, and global positing system (GPS). The Navs were found set on 111.xx and 111.80. The frequency for the Pellston very high frequency omnidirectional range (VOR) is 111.80. The COMs were set at 118.27 and 112.62. The common traffic advisory frequency for both 83D and MCD was 122.7. The automated weather observing system (AWOS) at MCD was 118.275. The GPS was selected on.

METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS

Weather conditions recorded by the MCD AWOS, located about 6 miles southeast of the accident site were:

At 2033: wind 170 degrees at 4 knots, visibility 5 miles with mist, scattered clouds at 300 feet, broken clouds at 1,100 feet, overcast clouds at 2,400 feet, temperature 5 degrees Celsius, dew point 4 degrees Celsius, and altimeter 30.02 inches of mercury.

At 2013: wind 170 degrees at 3 knots, visibility 7 miles, scattered clouds at 300 feet, overcast clouds at 900 feet, temperature 5 degrees Celsius, dew point 5 degrees Celsius, and altimeter 30.02 inches of mercury.

At 1959: wind calm, visibility 7 miles, broken clouds at 300 feet, overcast clouds at 700 feet, temperature 5 degrees Celsius, dew point 5 degrees Celsius, and altimeter 30.02 inches of mercury.

At 1953: wind 140 degrees at 3 knots, visibility 5 miles with mist, broken clouds at 300 feet, overcast clouds at 700 feet, temperature 5 degrees Celsius, dew point 4 degrees Celsius, and altimeter 30.02 inches of mercury.

14 CFR Part 135.205(a) states that “No person may operate an airplane under VFR in uncontrolled airspace when the ceiling is less than 1,000 feet unless flight visibility is at least 2 miles.”

One of the pilot’s from Great Lakes Air stated that as a general guideline they look to have a ceiling of at least 1,500 feet to make a night flight to the island. He stated that two days prior to the accident they had a group discussion with one of their new pilots regarding personal minimums, comfort levels, and not doing anything “stupid.” This discussion included the accident pilot.

One of the GLA pilots stated that the weather at St. Ignace was foggy and rainy on the day of the accident. The President of Great Lakes Air stated he arrived at MCD around 2030 on the night of the accident and he was able to see the island, but the ceilings were about 300 feet and fog was rolling in. He stated that the pilots were constantly checking the AWOS at MCD, but the best indicator of the weather was for them to look out the window because they could see the island from their location. He stated that the accident airplane was strictly a VFR airplane.

AIRPORT INFORMATION

The approach end of runway 25 at 83D is approximately 0.2 of a mile from the shore of Lake Huron. The distance between 83D and MCD is about 5 miles over the water of Lake Huron. The approach end of runway 08 at MDC is less than 0.4 of a mile from the shore of Lake Huron.

Both 83D and MCD were equipped with pilot controlled lighting. Both airports are equipped with medium intensity runway lights, precision approach path indicator lights, and runway end identifier lights. One of the GLA pilots stated that you need to be close to the airport to be able to activate the light at 83D.

MCD was equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) approach to runway 26 and a circling VOR/distance measuring equipment (DME) approach.

83D was equipped with an area navigation (RNAV)/GPS approaches to runways 7 and 25.

The accident site was about 1.2 miles south of a well-light casino/hotel complex. One of the GLA pilots stated that the casino is easier to see at night than the airport. He stated that the pilot may have seen the casino lights and was trying to follow the lakeshore back to the airport.

COMMUNICATIONS AND RADAR

There were no known communications between the airplane and any air traffic control facilities.

National Track Analysis Program (NTAP) data provided by the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center showed four unidentified radar targets near MCD between 1958:35 (hhmm:ss) and 1959:11. The first target was north of MCD. The second target is north of the first one and the third target was to the east. The fourth target which was over the water, indicated the airplane had turned back to the north.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The wreckage was located about 1.6 miles north of 83D. The wreckage path was approximately 250 feet long and on a magnetic heading of 208 degrees. The area consisted of a clearing surrounded by a heavily wooded area. The clearing as about 25 feet wide at the widest point. The wooded area consisted of trees which varied in size, the largest being about 60 feet tall and 10 inches in diameter. The clearing consisted primarily of bog and knee deep water.

The first visible impact was with a tree that was about 8 feet in height. Approximately 25 feet from this tree, a ground impact was visible. The earth was pushed back and the impact hole had filed with water. About 50 feet from this impact area freshly broken tree branches and trunks were visible. The height of these tree breaks varied from close to the ground up to about 20 feet above the ground. Two pieces of the right wing were located approximately 175 feet from the initial tree impact and on the east side of the clearing. The right wing tip was located about 30 feet beyond the other sections of the right wing. Sections of the left wing were located about 230 feet from the initial tree impact and along the west side of the clearing. The main wreckage (fuselage, empennage, and cockpit) was located on the western edge of the clearing with the cockpit area embedded up against a group of trees. The propeller and engine were attached to the firewall and embedded up against the same group of trees. An odor of fuel was present in the area.

The wreckage was removed from the accident site for further examination. The fuselage sustained substantial impact damage. Most of the roof and right side of the fuselage were separated from the remaining wreckage and unrecognizable. The floor of the cockpit area was crushed. The left side of the fuselage was separated into several sections which were separated from the floor structure.

The aft fuselage sustained impact damage and was separated from both the forward fuselage and empennage. The right side of the aft fuselage was destroyed. The left side of the aft fuselage was separated into several pieces. The empen

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot’s decision to initiate visual flight in instrument meteorological conditions and subsequent failure to maintain adequate altitude.

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