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N500MJ accident description

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Crash location 45.902500°N, 84.706944°W
Nearest city St Ignace, MI
45.964000°N, 84.709000°W
4.3 miles away
Tail number N500MJ
Accident date 31 Aug 2018
Aircraft type Piper PA32RT
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report

On August 31, 2018, about 2145 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA32RT-300T, N500MJ, registered to the pilot, was destroyed when it impacted the water (Lake Huron) shortly after takeoff from the Mackinac County Municipal Airport (83D), St Ignace, Michigan. The private pilot, who was the sole occupant, has not been found during search activities and is presumed fatal. Dark night visual meteorological conditions prevailed in the area and a flight plan was not filed. The personal flight was being conducted under the provisions of Federal Code of Regulations Part 91. The flight was originating from 83D and its planned destination was Mackinac Island (MCD).

According to the airport manager, the pilot had landed at Mackinac Island (MCD) about 1900 to drop off 4 passengers. Statements from those passengers indicated that the flight was normal did not indicate that anything was wrong with the airplane. The pilot then flew (about a 7-minute flight) from MCD to 83D to refuel and go out to eat dinner. The pilot fueled the airplane with 35 gallons of 100LL before he departed for dinner. The pilot returned to 83D after dinner about 2130. The airport manager heard the pilot call for takeoff on the local UNICOM frequency and witnessed the airplane take off from runway 7. The manager stated that the airplane looked and sounded normal. The manager did not witness the accident but did receive a 911 call about 5 minutes after the airplane departed. He confirmed that the airplane had not landed at its intended destination (MCD), and search and recue operations started. The airport manager stated that it was a very dark night, there were no stars or moonlight, and that the horizon was not distinguishable. Several witnesses (who were located near the departure end of runway 7) reported that they saw the lights of the airplane when it took off and that the airplane appeared to be about 200-300 feet and turning. They stated that the they heard the airplane crash into the water.

There were no distress radio calls from the pilot. First responders to the accident site (about 15-20 minutes after the accident) reported that it was a very dark night and that there was no visible horizon.

The airplane wreckage was located in 44-feet of water about 1-mile from the departure end of runway 7. Divers from the Michigan State Police (MSP) recovered the wreckage and it was transported to a secure facility at 83D for examination by the NTSB. The airframe, engine, and propeller were examined on August 5-6. Preliminary observations did not reveal any mechanical anomalies. The airframe was severely damaged, and deformations were consistent with a slightly right wing down, nose low, high speed impact with the water. Bending signatures on the propeller blades and impact marks on the pitch change stops were consistent with the propeller rotating at the time of impact. As of the date of this preliminary report, the pilot's body has not been recovered from Lake Huron and MSP divers are continuing the search.

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