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N22KC accident description

New Mexico map... New Mexico list
Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Magdalena, NM
34.116731°N, 107.243925°W
Tail number N22KC
Accident date 19 Jul 1999
Aircraft type Piper PA-32R-301T
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On July 19, 1999, at 1421 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA-32R-301T, N22KC, was destroyed when it broke up in-flight and impacted terrain near Magdalena, New Mexico. The instrument rated private pilot and his passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was owned by the pilot and operated by R.J. and R.K., Inc., of Panama City, Florida, under Title 14 CFR Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The cross-country personal flight originated from Lubbock, Texas, approximately 2 hours, 4 minutes before the accident. An IFR flight plan had been filed with Las Vegas, Nevada, as the destination.

On the day of the accident, the pilot flew from Panama City, Florida, to Lubbock, Texas; a distance of 847 nautical miles (nm) in 5.3 hours. He had his fuel tanks topped off with 90.6 gallons of 100 LL, and he departed Lubbock at 1217 on a VFR clearance. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records indicate that at 1259, N22KC was level at 14,500 feet mean sea level (msl), and at 1327 the pilot requested an IFR clearance for an altitude of 18,000 feet msl. At 1402, the pilot requested a turn to the south for weather avoidance. At 1409, the Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) controller asked the pilot how much further south he planned to deviate. The pilot advised the controller that it would be 5 to 10 miles further before he could turn to the northwest. This was the pilot's last transmission.

Radar data indicates that at 1418, N22KC was at 17,800 feet, and approximately 48 seconds later was at 15,500 feet. This calculated to a 2,875 ft/min rate of descent. The next two primary radar returns indicated that N22KC turned from a westbound heading to an eastbound heading. The last primary radar return was located at N33 degrees 58.43 minutes, W107 degrees 34.98 minutes.

A rancher, located at approximately N33 degrees 58.82', W107 degrees 34.68', reported hearing a "sharp report" at approximately the time of the accident. At 1433, a U.S. Forest Service employee, manning at forest fire watch tower, reported seeing smoke in the vicinity of the accident. Forest service personnel from the Magdalena office were sent to investigate, and N22KC was found.


According to FAA records, the pilot received his instrument rating on June 22, 1997. The pilot reported on his FAA medical application, dated January 19, 1998, that he had 500 hours of flight experience and that he had flown 100 hours in the last 6 months. The pilot's flight instructor, in Panama City, reported that the pilot completed his required FAA Part 61 flight review in March of 1999 (total flight time of 3 to 4 hours).

The pilot's first airplane was a Piper Archer. His second airplane was a new 1997 Piper Saratoga (PA-32R-301, N96KC), which he purchased in July of 1997; it was a normal aspirated airplane. On August 5, 1997, he had a B.F. Goodrich WX-950+ Storm Scope installed. In February of 1999, the pilot traded in N96KC for a new 1999 Saratoga (PA-32R-301T, N22KC), and on February 8, 1999, had a B.F. Goodrich WX-1000+ Storm Scope with Sky Watch installed.

The pilot's flight instructor in Panama City, Florida, said that he gave the pilot 20 hours of flight instruction in a Piper Saratoga before the pilot purchased N96KC in June, 1997. When the pilot purchased N96KC, The New Piper Aircraft, Inc., gave the pilot three free days of training [purchased from SimCom (then Attitudes International, Inc.)] in Vero Beach, Florida, in his new airplane. When the pilot purchased N22KC in February 1999, he was again offered free training in his new turbocharged aircraft. SimCom records indicate that the pilot signed up for the training on January 26, 1999, but then canceled it the next day. The only documented flight/training that the pilot had in his new airplane was the 3 to 4 hour flight that he had with his Panama City flight instructor in March of 1999.

The pilot's flight instructor said that he believed that this (N22KC) was the first turbocharged aircraft that the pilot had ever flown. The flight instructor said that when he flew with the pilot in March, he observed that the pilot was "very new with the equipment [panel displays, electronics operation, and airplane systems]." Additionally, no documentation was found which indicated that the pilot had ever been trained in high altitude flying (the required use of supplemental oxygen at 12,500 feet or greater [see FAR 91.211]) or in the use of his WX-1000+ storm scope.


The airplane was a single engine, propeller-driven, six seat airplane, which was manufactured by The New Piper Aircraft, Inc., in January, 1999. It was certificated for a maximum gross takeoff weight of 3,600 pounds. The airplane was powered by a Textron Lycoming TIO-540-AH1A, six cylinder, reciprocating, horizontally opposed, direct drive, fuel injected, turbocharged engine which had a maximum takeoff rating of 300 horsepower. The airplane had a service ceiling of 20,000 feet. At the time of the accident, maintenance records and the flight's duration suggest that the airframe had accumulated approximately 74 hours of flight time.

The airplane was equipped with a built in supplemental oxygen system for high altitude flying. No documentation was found which indicated that the system had been serviced with oxygen. The B.F. Goodrich WX-1000+ storm scope with Sky Watch had stabilized heading, a feature which continually aligned the electrical discharges displayed with heading changes. Detected electrical discharges would have remained displayed on the screen for approximately 5 minutes, unless the pilot manually terminated them. Sky Watch, a general aviation technology like TCAS (Traffic Collision And Avoidance System), would detect other aircraft equipped with a transponder and display them on the same screen (effective range, 6 nm).

The airplane's autopilot was a S-Tec System 55, which had been modified, with Service Letter No. 99-002, for smoother altitude capture during high rate of climb (see attached document). A technician with Southern Avionics and Com, Inc. (they did the Service Letter modification), in Mobile, Alabama, said that the pilot told him that "the autopilot was working fine, and he was pleased with it." The technician reported that the pilot told him that he "wanted the Service Letter modifications done as soon as possible, because he wanted the latest equipment."

The pilot's flight instructor from Panama City, Florida, last flew N22KC on July 9, 1999, and he said that "everything worked well" during that flight.


At 1353, the weather conditions at the Truth Or Consequences Municipal Airport (elevation 4,850 feet), 150 degrees 45 nautical miles (nm) from the accident site, were as follows: wind 200 degrees (variable from 170 to 230 degrees) at 8 knots; visibility 10 statute miles; cloud condition clear; temperature 82 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 57 degrees Fahrenheit; altimeter 30.17 inches of mercury.

The National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) meteorology group chairman stated that the pilot was likely in visual contact with the convective buildups which extended northeast to southwest over central New Mexico as he was attempting to navigate through the band of thunderstorms (see attached meteorological report). He said that two thunderstorm cells which were near the accident site at the time of the accident were "very strong and developing rapidly." He said that the closest cell to the accident site, grew from approximately 35,000 feet tops to 46,000 feet tops from approximately 1420 to 1430. He said that severe to extreme turbulence was likely in the vicinity of these cells. He said that weather data suggested that N22KC entered instrument meteorological conditions at approximately 1418.

The National Weather Service had issued a series of Convective SIGMETs and Center Weather Advisories for New Mexico.


Portions of the airplane were found in two locations. The main fuselage and right wing were found on a earth covered rocky hillside (elevation 7,611 feet, N33 degree 58.48 minutes, W107 degrees 34.42 minutes) approximately 220 degrees for 44 nm from the Socorro VOR and was heavily fire damaged. The hillside was covered with scrub cedar trees which were 8 to 15 feet tall. A 4 foot long ground scar, oriented 120 degrees, terminated at the engine. The left wing and empennage flight control surfaces were found approximately 4,000 feet away from the main impact site on a 258 degree heading (elevation 7,720 feet, N33 degrees 58.47 minutes, W107 degrees 35.20 minutes). This second debris field extended approximately 358 degrees, starting at the left wing, for approximately 920 feet (see attached debris field sketch).

All major components of the airplane were accounted for at the two impact locations. The flight control surfaces were all identified, but control cable continuity could not be established due to the in-flight break up, impact damage, and postimpact fire.

The engine was impact and heavily fire damaged. The left and right magnetos, ignition harness, fuel injector, and fuel pump were destroyed by fire. The crankcase was cracked from between the intake and exhaust push rod tube bosses on the #2 cylinder, around the engine to between the #1 and #3 cylinders. Because the crankshaft could not be rotated, the engine was sent to the factory for disassembly to confirm internal continuity. On September 1, 1999, the engine was cut open, and it was visually determined that the connecting rods, crankshaft counterweights, valve train and accessory drive gears were all intact. The propeller remained attached to the engine. One propeller blade was twisted 180 degrees and had 'S' type bending, the second blade was broken off near the hub and the blade was found in the impact crater, the third blade was broken loose in the hub and bent back.

The left wing displayed upward bending at a location 65 inches inboard from the tip. The left flap separated from the wing at the hinges and displayed an upward bend of approximately 90 degrees at a point 26 inches from the inboard end. The main spar fractured at the wing root, and displayed down bending at the upper and lower spar juncture. The fracture surfaces appeared coarse and grainy. The main spar web also displayed some aft bending near the upper spar cap. The aft edge of the wing root displayed compression damage with aft rotation of the wing after the main spar fractured.

The right wing was found in a position parallel to the main fuselage, and still attached to the fuselage by control cables. The top surface of the right wing displayed compression buckling at approximately 65 inches inboard of the wing tip. The right outboard end of the carry-through spar displayed upward bending on the top spar cap.

The stabilator main spar box revealed downward bending on both ends. The leading edges of both outboard ends of the stabilator revealed downward bending. The left side of the stabilator fractured and separated from the airplane at a position 64 inches from the tip. The right side fractured in two locations. The locations were 24 inches and 66 inches from the tip respectively. All separated portions of the stabilator revealed compression buckling on the lower surfaces and tension tearing on the top surfaces. The vertical stabilizer was found along with the stabilator pieces in the debris field located downwind from the left wing.

The main carry-through spar was found in the main cabin area, and the spar web had been consumed by postimpact fire. The upper spar cap revealed a downward bend of approximately 25 degrees 17 inches inboard of the left edge (see photographs). The lower spar cap exhibited several axis of deformation, and exhibited server thermal damage.

No preimpact engine or airframe anomalies were identified. There was no evidence of preimpact fire. Wire of a burned out oxygen mask was found next to the pilot.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot by Dr. Johan Duflou and Dr. Patricia J. McFeeley, both forensic pathologists with the University of New Mexico's School of Medicine's Office of the Medical Investigator, Albuquerque, New Mexico, on July 21, 1999.

Toxicology tests were performed on the pilot by the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. According to CAMI's report (#9900190001), the pilot's carbon monoxide and cyanide tests were not performed, and the volatiles that were identified were attributed to postmortem production. No drugs were detected in the kidney.


According to the airplane manufacturer's Pilot's Operating Handbook, the airplane's maneuvering speed (Va) was 119 knots at maximum gross weight. The radar plot which was generated from FAA radar data, N22KC entered the IMC flight conditions at approximately 170 knots ground speed.


The airplane, including all components and logbooks, was released to a representative of the owner's insurance company on November 8, 1999.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's inadvertent flight into adverse weather and the subsequent in-flight breakup. Factors were the pilot's lack of experience in high altitude flying and the thunderstorm.

© 2009-2020 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.