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N648FL accident description

Michigan map... Michigan list
Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Bad Axe, MI
43.801959°N, 83.000777°W
Tail number N648FL
Accident date 05 Oct 1998
Aircraft type Piper PA-28-140
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report

History of Flight

On October 5, 1998, at 1020 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-140, N648FL, was destroyed when it hit a powerline utility pole northeast of the Huron County Memorial Airport, Bad Axe, Michigan. The airplane burst into flames after it impacted the pole and was consumed by fire when it impacted the ground. The private pilot and passenger were fatally injured. The 14 CFR Part 91 flight had departed from Sebewaing Township Airport, Sebewaing, Michigan, with Huron County Memorial Airport, Bad Axe, Michigan, as the destination. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed.

Witnesses reported the airplane was based out of the Huron County Memorial Airport. A witness reported the pilot and passenger had flown to Sebewaing, about 20 nautical miles from Bad Axe, earlier in the day where the airplane had been fueled with 20 gallons of 80/87 aviation fuel.

Witnesses at the Huron County Memorial Airport reported seeing the airplane flying from the west to the east at what appeared to be pattern altitude for a normal traffic pattern entry for runway 21, although runway 17 was available. The winds were 140 degrees at 10 knots gusting to 15. The witnesses reported the airplane descended to what appeared to be a left downwind for runway 21, but the airplane's altitude was 75 to 100 feet above ground level (agl). The airplane crossed over Nugent Road that ran north and south. Witnesses reported that the left wing dropped to about a 30 degree bank. A witness reported he saw the airplane descend, and then saw a fireball "... about the size of a house."

The airplane impacted a powerline utility pole. According to the power company repair supervisor, the airplane hit the pole 19.5 feet above the ground and approximately 12 feet below the wires. The airplane impacted the ground 260 feet past the utility pole, and then cart-wheeled and skidded to a stop about 306 feet from the powerlines. The airplane was engulfed in flames and no rescue of the pilot and passenger was possible.

The emergency personnel who responded to the airplane accident determined that the pilot was sitting in the front right seat. The passenger was found in the left front seat.

Personnel Information

The pilot was a private pilot with an airplane single engine land rating. He held a third class medical certificate. He had a total of about 400 hours of flight time. The last entry in the pilot's logbook was dated June 18, 1998. The logbook indicated the pilot had flown 11 hours in the last 12 months. The pilot was not a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI).

The passenger was not a rated pilot.

Aircraft Information

The airplane was a singe engine Piper PA-28-140, serial number 28-7125557, and was owned by the pilot. The airplane seated four and had a maximum gross weight of 2150 pounds. The engine was a 150 horsepower Lycoming O-320-E2D engine. The airplane had flown about an estimated 25 hours since the last annual inspection and had a total time of approximately 3,775 hours.

Meteorological Conditions

At 0939, weather conditions reported at the Huron County Memorial Airport, Bad Axe, Michigan, were VMC. The sky was clear with 10 miles visibility. The temperature was 56 degrees Fahrenheit and the winds were 140 degrees at 10 knots gusting to 15.

Wreckage and Impact Information

The airplane wreckage was located approximately 0.2 miles to the northeast of the approach end of runway 21 at the Huron County Memorial Airport. The wreckage path was located in a tree farm at the corner of Nugent Road and the Thompson Road. The magnetic bearing from the accident site to the approach end of runway 21 was 272 degrees.

The airplane struck a power utility pole at about 19.5 feet agl with the leading edge of the mid-span of the right wing. Impact forces separated the outboard portion of the wing from the wing root, and separated the wing root from the fuselage at the main spar and wing attachment locations. Circular compression damage was exhibited at the point of pole contact.

The airplane struck the ground approximately 260 feet from the base of the utility pole. The main wreckage came to rest about 306 feet from the utility pole. The wreckage path from the pole to the final resting point of the main wreckage was about 334 degrees magnetic.

The outboard section of the right wing was found 45 feet along the wreckage path. The inboard half of the right wing was found 185 feet along the wreckage path. A red navigation light lens was found at 230 feet along the wreckage path. The first ground scar from the airplane striking the ground was approximately 260 feet along the wreckage path. The propeller separated from the mounting flange and was located near the ground scar.

The left wing separated from the fuselage and was found 300 feet from the utility pole and 25 feet to the left of the main wreckage. The leading edge of the left wing tip exhibited ground impact deformation that compressed the tip to about half the chord dimension of the wing.

The main cabin and empennage came to rest inverted. The main cabin and instrument panel and control column sustained post-impact fire damage. The flight instruments and flight controls were found destroyed and consumed by fire.

The aft fuselage and empennage aft of the front of the vertical fin fairing revealed no major fire damage on the exterior of the airplane. The empennage was found canted to the right approximately 30 degrees. The stabilator and stabilator trim surface remained attached to the aft fuselage. The stabilator trim actuator setting was found to be greater than half way between neutral and full nose up. The vertical stabilizer and rudder revealed minor impact damage.

The right wing fuel tank had been breached and destroyed during the impact. The left wing fuel tank was found intact with minor impact damage. Fuel was reportedly leaking from the left fuel tank at the time of the emergency response to the accident.

The engine inspection revealed that the crankshaft rotated. Crankshaft and camshaft continuity were verified to the aft accessory gears and all intake and exhaust valves. Compression to all four cylinders was verified using the thumb test method. Both magnetos produced spark from all towers when rotated by hand. The spark plugs electrodes appeared gray in color. The carburetor was found fractured, separated from the engine case and exposed to fire.

The propeller had separated from the crankshaft flange. One propeller blade had a "S" bend with twisting and a large nick in the leading edge near the tip. The other blade had polishing on the leading edge of the cambered surface. The propeller spinner was crushed in a spiral shape.

The inspection of the airplane wreckage revealed no pre-impact discrepancies of the airframe, flight controls, or engine.

Medical and Pathological Information

Autopsies were performed on the pilot and the passenger at the Huron Memorial Hospital, Bad Axe, Michigan.

Forensic Toxicology Fatal Accident Reports were prepared by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute. The results were negative.

Additional Information

A witness reported he had flown with the pilot approximately every 3 to 4 months to stay night current. He reported that on one flight the pilot was in the right seat and tried to do numerous landings but was unable to do so. The witness reported, "Aside from not being able to fly from the right seat, [the pilot] was a good pilot."

Another witness reported he had, "... flown with [the pilot] as an instructor many times for several years and found him a safe pilot." He reported, "Approximately a month ago, [the pilot] asked me to fly with him to get used to fly on the right side of his plane. We flew about 30 minutes and executed 6 takeoffs and landings. He wanted to get the feel of flying right seat. When he flew with other pilots sitting on the right side, it made him nervous. Getting checked out on the right side gave him confidence."

The witness, who was a CFI, reported the passenger, "... at one time asked me about learning to fly. I told him that it was not difficult to learn. It just took time and a good instructor which we have on the field." It is not known if the passenger was receiving flight instruction from the pilot during the accident flight.

A witness who was familiar with the pilot's flight characteristics reported that the pilot would normally make all the required and advisory radio calls when approaching the airport from 10 miles out all the way to touchdown and taxiing off the runway. The witness reported that on the accident flight she did not hear the airplane make any radio calls at all, which was uncharacteristic of the pilot.

The pilot had complained of a heart condition in the spring of 1998. He had his heart checked and was diagnosed with mild to moderate coronary disease. The medical therapy included taking aspirin.

A witness reported that the pilot had complained of tightness in the chest on several occasions, and that he would get short of breath whenever he did anything strenuous.

Parties to the investigation included the Federal Aviation Administration, the New Piper Aircraft, Inc., and Textron Lycoming.

The aircraft wreckage was released to AIG Aviation.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's failure to maintain adequate altitude/clearance from the wires.

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