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N9209J accident description

Michigan map... Michigan list
Crash location 42.183330°N, 86.100000°W
Nearest city Hartford, MI
42.206705°N, 86.166688°W
3.8 miles away
Tail number N9209J
Accident date 20 Aug 1996
Aircraft type Piper 28(AF) Piper PA-28-180(NTSB)
Additional details: Yellow/White

NTSB Factual Report


On August 20, 1996, at 0130 eastern daylight time (edt), a Piper PA-28-180, N9209J, operated by a private pilot sustained substantial damage when during cruise flight the airplane's engine lost power. The airplane subsequently impacted the terrain in a wooded area near Hartford, Michigan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was being conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. There was no flight plan on file. The pilot sustained serious injuries. The passenger was fatally injured. The airplane had been reported missing for five days before being found on August 24, 1996. The flight originated at Mackinac Island, Michigan at 2230 edt, and was en route to Rochester, Indiana.

On the day the flight originated, August 19, 1996, a witness, the manager of the Fulton County Airport, Rochester, Indiana, reported seeing the pilot and passenger arrive at the airport at approximately 1400 eastern standard time (est). The witness described their manner as "hurried." A short time after they arrived, the witness observed the pilot and passenger taxi the airplane north from the Mentone Flying Club hanger area onto the ramp and head toward the gasoline pumps. "I saw the airplane pause, which indicated to me that it was to be fueled. I got up from my desk to go to the pumps to fuel the airplane, but when I went outside I noticed the airplane taxied past the pumps and proceeded east on another taxiway toward the departure end of runway 29. A short time later, it [the airplane] departed on runway 29."

Another witness on the Fulton County Airport also observed the airplane taxi and stop in front of the pumps. "He [the pilot of the airplane] was close to the pumps but not close enough for the nozzle to reach the left wing. The aircraft proceeded to do a run-up, then taxied on."

A witness at Mason County Aviation, Incorporated, Ludington, Michigan, who spoke to the pilot after he landed at Ludington, Michigan, said that the pilot "was in a big hurry." The pilot "got 40.8 gallons of fuel, 100 low lead, and bought a Michigan State Aeronautical Chart." The pilot told the witness that he was going to Mackinac Island. The pilot checked the weather by observing the fixed base operator's weather repeater. The airplane took off from Ludington, Michigan, at approximately 1745 edt.

The pilot was interviewed by telephone on September 10, 1996, at 0930 edt. The pilot said that he and his friend [the passenger] had flown this route several times before and that he was pretty familiar with where he was going. He confirmed that he took off from Rochester, Indiana, refueled at Ludington, Michigan, and landed at Mackinac Island, Michigan. He said that he had planned the entire flight so that they would "get back to Rochester, Indiana, with 8/10th of an hour to spare." The pilot said that the airplane landed at Mackinac Island, Michigan, at 1830 edt. The pilot estimated that the trip from Ludington, Michigan, took 1 hour and 10 minutes. After having dinner and touring the island, the pilot and passenger departed Mackinac Island in the airplane at 2230 edt. The pilot did not refuel the airplane while at Mackinac Island. "The airport was closed. They don't provide any services up there anyway. It was pretty much a straight shot back, going VOR to VOR." On the flight back to Rochester, Indiana, and approaching the Hartford, Michigan, area, the pilot said that his VOR was malfunctioning. "They would point all over the place." The pilot was at 3,000 feet mean sea level (MSL), and certain that he was heading toward the Keeler VOR when his engine lost power.

He said that he switched from the left fuel tank to the right fuel tank, "since the left one was the empty tank." The pilot started looking for a place to land. He lowered the nose of the airplane 20 degrees and established a 70 mile per hour glide.

The passenger said that he saw something, perhaps a field, off of the right side of the airplane. The pilot turned the airplane toward the area the passenger pointed out. He could not make out anything. Then the landing lights illuminated the trees. The pilot "instinctively pulled back and tried to turn left. I hit the trees."


The pilot had 141.5 total flying hours in single-engine land airplanes, 53.4 hours of VFR night time, and 15.7 hours in the PA-28-180 airplane.

The pilot had a biennial flight review in a Cessna 172 airplane on July 25, 1996.


The airplane was owned and operated by Mentone Flying Club, Incorporated, Rochester, Indiana. It was used for flight primarily as a rental airplane for club members. The airplane had an annual inspection performed on April 16, 1996.

According to the owner's records, the airplane, prior to the day of the accident, was last refueled on August 10, 1996. Eleven gallons of fuel were pumped into the airplane's fuel tanks, filling the tanks to the full indication [50 gallons]. The elapsed time indicator on the airplane read 2520.3 hours at that time.

The airplane logged 2.5 hours on August 12, 1996 and 0.4 hours on August 16, 1996. The elapsed time indicator following the August 16, 1996 flight read 2523.2 hours. This was the total time when the pilot signed out the airplane at Rochester, Indiana, on August 19, 1996.

No elapsed time indicator reading was recorded when the airplane was refueled at Mason County Airport, Ludington, Michigan.

The elapsed time indicator read 2529.9 when examined at the accident site on August 25, 1996.


The NTSB on-site investigation began August 25, 1996 at 0900 eastern daylight time.

The accident site was located on the edge of an apple orchard, 100 feet into a densely wooded area approximately one-half mile west of Van Buren County Road 681, a north-south running paved road.

The main wreckage consisted of the fuselage, empennage, right wing and right main landing gear, engine, forward landing gear and propeller. The main wreckage was oriented on a 260-degree magnetic heading. The wreckage was resting on it's left side at a 75-degree bank angle. The left wing was located in the top of a 40 foot high oak tree, approximately 90 feet of the main wreckage on a 075-degree magnetic heading. Several small pieces of wreckage were found west and south of the main wreckage.

The fuselage was predominantly intact. The underside of the fuselage showed scrapes and dents from the cowling to the empennage. There was skin wrinkling along the entire right side of the fuselage near the bottom. The left side of the fuselage was bent inward approximately five inches. The left side of the fuselage forward of the cabin area displayed inward crushing along the longitudinal axis. The left fuselage forward of the windscreen was crushed inward approximately 37 degrees. The forward windscreen was broken out. The crew cabin was intact and bent to the right. The instrument panel was intact and bent slightly downward. The cowling was broken along the forward longitudinal rivet line. The bottom portion off the cowling was broken and separated. The top portion of the cowling was bent upward 10 degrees and to the left. The top forward edge of the cowling displayed a six-inch long cut, running 10 degrees in from the front from left to right.

The right wing was bent forward at the wing root approximately 33 degrees. The aft one-half of the inboard wing section from the trailing edge to the center main spar was separated from the fuselage at the wing root. The right flap was bent up 10 degrees at mid-span. A large bend and metal tear was observed forward of the main spar at the top of the forward leading edge of the right wing root. Tree branches and leaves were observed in the broken area. The right fuel tank was intact. There was no evidence of fuel in the right fuel tank. The right main landing gear was intact. The right main wheel pant was broken off. The outboard 6 inches of the right flap was bent upward approximately 45 degrees. The trailing edge of the right aileron was 5 degrees down. Flight control continuity to the right aileron was confirmed.

The tail cone was bent inward and right approximately 6 inches forward of the final vertical rivet line on the aft fuselage. The horizontal stabilator was intact and resting at the neutral position. The stabilator trim tab trailing edge was bent down approximately 30 degrees. The left tip of the stabilator was broken at the rivet line. The right side of the vertical stabilizer sowed some skin wrinkling. The left side of the vertical stabilizer was undamaged. The rudder was intact. Flight control continuity to the stabilator and rudder were confirmed.

The left wing was bent and twisted upward along the center chordwise rivet line. The left wing center main spar was broken at the wing root and at the mid point. The left inboard one- forth of the wing's leading edge was bent inward and aft to the main spar. The left fuel tank was intact. Approximately 20 ounces of fuel was recovered from the tank. The fuel was light blue in color and no sediment or water was observed. The left main landing gear was intact. The left main wheel pant was broken in half at the wheel hub. The left flap was bent and buckled in the middle. The left wing tip was separated from the wing at the rivet line and broken. The left aileron was bent down and folded underneath the bottom of the outboard wing section. Flight control continuity was confirmed.

The engine remained attached to the firewall at the engine mounts. Examination of the engine revealed no anomalies. The carburetor and several of the fuel lines were removed and examined. No evidence of fuel was found in the fuel lines or the carburetor.

The propeller remained attached to the engine at the flange. The propeller displayed some torsional bending and minor chordwise scratching. One propeller blade was bent slightly back and showed a 3-inch dent approximately 8 inches inboard from the tip.


An autopsy of the passenger was conducted by the Van Buren County, Michigan, Medical Examiner, on August 25, 1996, at Grand Rapids, Michigan. The autopsy stated the primary mechanism of death to be most likely respiratory failure secondary to rib fractures. The report also stated a contributing factor was focally severe coronary atherosclerosis. "Both of these above findings are in conjunction with the stress of the recent plane crash in the swamp."


The Search and Rescue Coordinator for the Michigan Wing of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) said that the pilot's wife expected the pilot to return to Rochester, Indiana, around midnight, the morning of August 20, 1996. When the pilot did not show up, she initiated the search.

The pilot had signed the airplane out on the Mentone Flying Club board on August 19, 1996, as going to "MAC," and returning around midnight. After initial thoughts that the pilot and passenger were going to Macon, Georgia, it was determined that they were probably going to Mackinac, Michigan.

The Michigan CAP received the initial call that the airplane was missing on August 21, 1996 at 0629 edt. Standby alert was activated at 0914 cdt, when an ELT Search and Rescue Satellite (SARSAT) picked up a signal on its first pass over Michigan, 12 miles north of Keeler VOR. An airplane was launched. No signal was picked up on SARSATs second pass. The airplane never received a signal and found nothing in the search area. Later that day, another SARSAT picked up an elt signal near Kalkasha, Michigan. An airplane was dispatched to the area and found nothing. Six airplanes were committed to the search effort on August 21, 1996.

At 1733 edt, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, relayed NTAP data and a single-track plot to the Michigan CAP, showing a 10 mile long track beginning near Boyne City, Michigan, and running north-northeast toward Bay View, Michigan, paralleling V-193.

The Michigan CAP ground team was alerted the evening of August 20, 1996 and deployed the following day. One team concentrated their ground search near Mackinac, Michigan. Another team was sent to search the area near Ludington, Michigan.

Due to deteriorating weather conditions, only two airplanes were committed to the air search effort on August 22, 1996.

On August 24, 1996, a private airplane en route to South Bend Regional Airport, South Bend, Indiana, sighted the airplane from the air. On landing at South Bend, Indiana, the pilot called it in to the Van Buren County Sheriff's Department, at 2040 edt. Sheriff and rescue units were dispatched to the site. They arrived at the airplane at 2142 edt.

At 2143, a Michigan CAP ground team member heard the audio modulation of an emergency locator beacon. The Van Buren County undersheriff stated that the elt was heard when a fire fighter attempting to get to one of the victims, jumped up on the side of the airplane.

The pilot stated that when he lost power, he tried to get off a "mayday" call and switch his transponder code to 7700. The first selector knob on the transponder broke off as he tried to change the code on the transponder. The pilot said that the passenger fell over on him during the crash, and that he [the pilot] was "pretty banged up on his left side." The passenger told the pilot that he was going to go for help. The pilot said that the passenger climbed out of the airplane and went about 20 to 25 feet before becoming bogged down in the mud. The passenger told the pilot that he was going to sit down and wait until morning to try and get help. "He [the passenger] was okay until late that night, about 21 hours later." The pilot said that he tried to get help. He said that he crawled around on his back for a day, but wound up being right by the airplane. The pilot said that the events of the five days before he was found were blurry. "I was dehydrated when they found me. I don't know how I survived."

The pilot said that he was aware that he had an elt on board the airplane and knew where it was located. He attempted to activate it by beating the bulkhead behind the rear seat with a tow bar. He was not sure if he was successful. He said that he didn't know that he could remove the elt from the airplane, extend its antennae and use it.


The emergency locator transmitter (elt) was examined and tested at the National Transportation Safety Board's North Central Regional Office on August 29, 1996. No external damage was observed. The transmitter was reset, the switch was moved to the ARM position, and the elt was subjected to an instantaneous "G" force induced by releasing the elt in its longitudinal axis from a height of 8 inches, on to a floor. The beacon was immediately heard over an AM-receiver. After three sweeps of transmitter audio modulation, the elt switch was moved to the OFF position.

The Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) sets the operational performance standards for all emergency locator transmitters. In accordance with RTCA Document Number DO-183, two criteria govern the performance of the crash activation sensor; a threshold force level below which the crash activation sensor on the elt will not respond, which is 2.0 plus or minus 0.3 Gs, and a minimum velocity change which is 3.5 plus or minus 0.5 feet per second.

Fuel consumption information for the PA-28-180 was requested and received from The New Piper Aircraft Company, Vero Beach, Florida, on September 20, 1996. The charts received indicate that at 75 percent power, 180 horsepower, at sea level; the fuel consumption is 10 gallons per hour providing a total flight duration of 5 hours and a range of approximately 670 miles. Fuel consumption decreases with decreased power.

Examination and electrical continuity testing of selected airplane wires, gages and instruments was conducted at Valparaiso Airport, Valparaiso, Indiana, on October 8, 1996. Wires to the fuel tank sensors were removed, tested and showed continuity. The left and right fuel gages were removed and examined. The needles o

NTSB Probable Cause

inaccurate fuel consumption calculations by the pilot before takeoff, and his improper decision not to land before his airplane ran out of fuel.

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