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N81X accident description

New Jersey map... New Jersey list
Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Vernon, NJ
41.216762°N, 74.466268°W
Tail number N81X
Accident date 16 Sep 1994
Aircraft type Piper PA-28-236
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On September 16, 1994, at 1002 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-236, N81X, owned and piloted by Robert Dolan, struck the water in Canistear Reservoir, in Vernon Township, New Jersey. The airplane was destroyed, and the pilot and passenger were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and the flight was operated on an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plan under 14 CFR Part 91.

The pilot received two preflight weather briefings from the Millville Flight Service Station, Millville, New Jersey, and filed an IFR flight plan prior to departure. The flight departed Greenwood Lake Airport, West Milford, New Jersey, at approximately 0956 and made contact with the New York TRACON. The flight was initially assigned a heading of 310 degrees and an altitude of 3,000 feet. At 1000:16, the flight was cleared to climb to 6,000 feet, turn right to 130 degrees, and intercept V39 on course. This was acknowledged by the pilot.

At 1001:51, the controller asked the pilot of N81X, "Cherokee eight one xray, ah, say altitude leaving." This was not acknowledged by the pilot and further radio calls to the airplane were not answered.

Two witnesses, fishing in a boat near the accident site, observed the airplane heading in a north to north-easterly direction, just above the trees. One witness reported the airplane rolled left and impacted the water with the left wing. Two additional witnesses, fishing from a dam at the south end of the reservoir, saw a large splash. All the witnesses agreed the airplane engine sounded smooth.

The accident occurred during the hours of daylight about 41 degrees, 7 minutes North and 74 degrees, 29 minutes West.


The pilot held a Commercial Pilot Certificate, with airplane single engine land and instrument ratings. He held an FAA Second Class Airman Medical Certificate, with a limitation to wear corrective lenses, issued on May 1, 1993.

According to the pilot's log book, which was current through September 6, 1994, he had a total time of 1,543 hours. Between July 2, 1994 and August 8, 1994, the pilot logged 7.2 hours of simulated instrument time, 1.5 hours of actual instrument time, and 18 instrument approaches.


There were no recorded weather observations at the departure airport. At 0945, Caldwell Airport, 17 miles south east of the accident site, reported a ceiling of 1200 feet broken, 2500 feet overcast, visibility of 2 3/4 miles, light rain and fog.

Stewart Airport, Newburgh, New York, 40 miles northeast of the accident site, at 0950, reported a ceiling of 1500 feet overcast and a visibility of 6 miles.


The airplane wreakage was examined at the accident site, on September 16 - 19, 1994. The airplane had impacted in a reservoir and came to rest in approximately 25 feet of water. Several of the larger pieces recovered were held together by control cables and/or electrical wiring. Divers reported fuel on the water in the vicinity of the wreckage.

Both wings were in multiple pieces. The landing gear had separated from the wings. The seats had separated from the fuselage floor.

The left wing was bent approximately 90 degrees aft, outboard of the left main landing gear attach point. The left wing, outboard of the wing splice, was not identified. At the wing splice, there were tears on the forward portion of the wing skin and wrinkles on the aft portion.

Both sides of the stabilator were bent rearward, with more damage on the left side.

Flight control continuity was established, between the control yoke and the rudder and elevator, and between the control yoke and the aileron cables leading to the wings, which had frayed ends with irregular patterns.

The right wing had separated at the wing splice and was in two pieces. The inboard portion was bent forward 30 degrees, mid-way between the fuselage attach point and the wing spice. The outboard portion was crushed rearward.

The engine had separated from the engine mounts, which were bent to the right. Both blades of the propeller were bent rearward. The engine was rotated and compression was found in all cylinders. The carburetor contained water and mud in the float chamber, and there was a smell of aviation gasoline. The venturi was intact. The vacuum pump was recovered and the shear shaft was intact. The muffler was attached to the firewall.

Both the baggage and main cabin doors were wrinkled. The forward seatbelts were latched with the shoulder harness attached. Both inboard seatbelt attach points were secured; however, the outboard seatbelt attach points had pulled loose from the fuselage.

The following items were either not recovered or had fragmented into pieces that were not recognizable: engine cowling upper and lower, leading edge of right wing in front of wing spar, left wing, outboard of the wing slice, left wing fuel tank, and portions of the fuselage sidewall in the area of the cabin seats.


An autopsy was conducted by Michael Dunn, M.D. Medical Examiner for Sussex County, New Jersey, on September 17, 1994.

Toxicological testing conducted by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was negative for drugs and alcohol.


The attitude indicator (vacuum driven gyro) and remote directional gyro (electrically driven gyro) were forwarded to the NTSB Laboratory in Washington, DC, for examination. According to the Physical Science Technician's Factual Report, 95-32, dated December 27, 1994:

...Pressurized air was pumped into the Air Inlet port from a portable air compressor. This caused the internal components within the gyroscope to rotate freely....

The examination [of the remote directional gyroscope] revealed no evidence of physical damage that impeded rotation of the gyroscope.


Radar data was obtained from the New York TRACON. The data revealed the airplane climbed to and maintained 3000 feet. After the clearance was received to climb to 6000 feet and turn right to intercept V39, the airplane started a climb, reached 3300 feet, and then descended to 3200 feet. A heading of 035 degrees was held for about 20 seconds, followed by a turn to 75 degrees and then to 110 degrees. During this time the airplane descended from 3200 feet to 2800 feet. The airplane made one more turn to the right to an approximate heading of 210 degrees. The final three radar returns indicated the airplane was maintaining the 210 degree heading and was descending. The last radar return, at 1001:27.6, showed an altitude of 2600 feet and was .37 nautical miles southeast of the accident site.

The aircraft wreckage was released to Mr. Scott Anglen, of Dawn Aeronautics, New Castle, Delaware, on September 19, 1994.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's failure to maintain aircraft control which resulted a loss of control and inflight collision with the terrain.

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