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N32401 accident description

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Crash location 33.250556°N, 107.293611°W
Nearest city Truth Or Consequences, NM
33.128405°N, 107.252807°W
8.8 miles away
Tail number N32401
Accident date 24 Jul 2015
Aircraft type Piper PA-28-151
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On July 24, 2015, at 0122 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA-28-151 airplane, N32401, impacted terrain near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The student pilot and passenger were both fatally injured. The airplane was substantially damaged. The airplane was registered to and operated by a private individual under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight which operated without a flight plan. The flight originated from the Truth or Consequences Municipal Airport (TCS), Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, at an undetermined time.

The fixed base operator manager spoke with the accident pilot on the afternoon of July 23 and he observed the pilot drive away from the airport about 1600. Around 1700, the manager left the airfield and returned the following morning at 0700. When he arrived at the airport, he noticed that the accident airplane was gone. On July 29, the airplane's wreckage was spotted by a New Mexico Department of Game and Fish observation airplane. The wreckage was located about one mile northwest of the approach end of runway 13 at TCS.


The pilot, age 46, held a combined student pilot certificate and second class pilot's certificate issued on July 9, 2012, with the following limitation: the medical certificate expired for all classes on July 31, 2014. The pilot had previously been issued combined student pilot and airman medical certificates in 1991, 1993, 1997, 2001, and 2004. His 2012 medical certificate had three instructor endorsements for solo flight privileges, the most recent of which was dated May 4, 2014.

The pilot's log book was found in the wreckage. The last entry in the pilot's log book was dated April 16, 2014, however no flight time was entered for that flight. As of that date, the pilot had documented 65.1 hours total time. The last recorded instructional flight was a 2 hour flight on March 9, 2014. In addition, there were no endorsements for solo night flights. The amount of night flying performed by the pilot is not known and his experience in that area could not be determined. In addition, as a student pilot, he was not authorized to perform a flight with passengers.


The airplane was a low-wing, single engine, four seat, Piper PA-28-151, serial number 28-7515147, and was manufactured in 1974. It was powered by a Lycoming O-320-E3D engine, serial number L-44691-27-A, which drove a metal fixed-pitch, two-bladed Sensenich propeller.

According to FAA records the pilot purchased the airplane in March 2012.


At 1353, an automated weather reporting facility located at TCS reported a wind from 310° at 11 knots gusting to 18 knots, visibility 10 miles, a clear sky, temperature 77°F, dew point 54° F, and a barometric pressure of 30.12 inches of mercury.

The moon rose at 1307 on July 23 and set at 0039 on July 24. At the time of the accident, the moon disc illumination would not have been present and only celestial and cultural lighting would be available for navigation.


The Truth or Consequences Municipal Airport was located about 6 miles north of the city of Truth or Consequences in a sparsely inhabited area. It has four runways: runway 13/31 which is a 7,202 ft long by 75 ft wide asphalt runway. Runway 11/29 is a 6,981 ft long by 190 ft wide gravel runway. Runway 1/19 is a 3,302 ft long by 130 ft wide gravel runway which contains "large rocks." Runway 15/33 is a 3,001 ft long by 140 ft wide gravel runway which has "scattered brush." Runway 7/25 is a 2,933 ft long by 130 ft wide gravel runway with brush on the runway and "scattered rough areas." Weather reports can be obtained by the collocated Automated Surface Observing System. The airport is non-towered and pilots use a common traffic advisory frequency, which also allows a pilot to activate medium intensity runway lightning on runway 13/31. It is unknown if the pilot activated the pilot controlled lighting.

The airport manager reported a previous incidence where the pilot reported not being able to turn on the pilot controlled lighting. That pilot told the airport manager that he proceeded towards the airport by referencing a light at a nearby waste yard and the airport's rotating beacon until he could find the runway. The airport manager tested the lighting on the field and reported no anomalies. That pilot reportedly had discovered that the installed airplane radio was not functional. The pilot then had purchased a hand-held aviation radio. No further incidents were reported to the airport manager. Testing of the airport lighting on July 30 found no anomalies.


The wreckage was located in flat desert terrain with sparse vegetation. The initial impact point consisted of a crater with a diameter of about 3 ft with two faint outlines in the nearby soil consistent with the leading edge of the wings. The airplane's nose gear was broken from the nose gear strut and was imbedded in the soil on the outside of the crater. Impact signatures were consistent with a vertical impact along a 070° magnetic heading. Three feet northeast of the impact crate was the propeller which had impact separated from the engine's propeller flange. The airplane's wreckage came to rest about 70 feet northeast of the initial impact site aligned with a general heading of 105°. It consisted of the engine, fuselage, both wings, and empennage. The engine was folded beneath the fuselage with the cockpit area resting on top. The empennage was folded towards the cabin just forward of the vertical fin. The leading edges of both wings displayed rearward accordion-style crushing. Flight control continuity was established from the ailerons, rudder, and elevator surfaces to a distorted area just beneath the cabin floor. Flap position appeared to be in the retracted (zero flap) position. The ignition switch was found in the both position. The left main fuel gauge read 10 gallons. The tachometer read about 2,800 RPM. The Hobbs meter read 5,666.4 hours. The airplane's 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitter (ELT) remained secured in its housing and was found in an activated condition. It was attached to the airplane's antenna, but no ELT beacon was received by the airplane that spotted the wreckage or at the airport's radio frequency. The wire connecting the ELT to the antenna did not appear to be kinked and the location of the wire's break could not be found. Both forward occupants' restraints were latched. A 24-hour analog watch belonging to one of the occupants was found stopped at 0122 hours.

The engine was removed from the airplane and examined. The top spark plugs were removed and displayed normal wear signatures. Engine continuity and thumb compression was confirmed to all cylinders. Both magnetos were impact damaged and could not be tested. The propeller blades displayed signatures of polishing, chordwise, and diagonal scratches. One blade had S-bending along its entire span. The other blade was missing several inches of the blade tip and was curled about ¼ span from the tip. No anomalies were detected with the airframe and engine which would have preclude normal operation.


An autopsy was conducted on the pilot by the State of New Mexico, Office of the Medical Investigator. The cause of death was from multiple injuries and the manner of death was ruled an accident.

The FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological tests on specimens that were collected during the autopsy. The specimens were marked as putrefied. The tests were negative for tested drugs and was positive for the following substances:

5 (mg/dL, mg/hg) Acetone detected in Brain

3 (mg/dL, mg/hg) Acetone detected in Muscle

145 (mg/dL, mg/hg) Ethanol detected in Muscle

54 (mg/dL, mg/hg) Ethanol detected in Brain

N-Propanol detected in Muscle

NTSB Probable Cause

The student pilot's improper decision to conduct a flight in dark night conditions without a solo night flight endorsement and his subsequent loss of airplane control.

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