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N55221 accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Airville, PA
39.832324°N, 76.406351°W

Tail number N55221
Accident date 22 Sep 1997
Aircraft type Cessna 172P
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On September 22, 1997, at 1130 eastern daylight time, N55221, a Cessna 172P, was destroyed when it descended into a corn field and collided with terrain near Airville, Pennsylvania. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a visual flight rules flight plan was filed. The student pilot was fatally injured. The instructional flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated at Leesburg, Virginia, about 1030, destined for Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The pilot was on his first solo cross country flight, and this was the first leg. The flight proceeded uneventful for the first hour.

He radioed Lancaster tower and reported that he was 10 miles southwest of the airport, and requested a vector to the airport. He said, " elevator controls are a little bit mushy, I don't think it's any big deal but I'd kinda like to get the plane on the ground". The air traffic controller told him to enter a right base for runway 8 or straight in. The pilot said he would make a straight in to runway 8.

The controller said he asked the pilot to ident, and he saw three targets in the vicinity of ten miles, southwest of the airport. The controller said that when he did not see the ident on the radar screen, he provided a visual flight rules code, but there were no further radio transmissions from the pilot.

A witness, walking up the hill near a corn field, said she heard an airplane, and when she looked up, she saw the airplane descending. She said it looked like a stunt plane, and she thought it would pull up, but it kept descending to the ground.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board's radar specialist report, National Track Analysis Program (NTAP) radar data was obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). NTAP radar data provided secondary radar returns (time, latitude, longitude and altitude).

According to the report, the final 28 minutes 11 seconds of radar data displayed a target in a northeast direction, that climbed from an altitude of approximately 4,200 feet to 5,500 feet, at a ground speed of approximately 90 to 100 knots. The target then began a series of turns at an altitude of approximately 5,500 feet.

During the turning sequence, the target climbed to an altitude of approximately 5,700 feet, and then began a descent that comprised the majority of the turning sequence. The recorded radar data indicated a descent to 4,400 feet in a northeast direction. During the final recorded data, the target made many turns and significant direction changes.

The airplane impacted in a corn field, about 22 miles south of the Lancaster Airport, during the hours of daylight about 39 degrees, 40 minutes north latitude, and 76 degrees, 25 minutes west longitude.


The student pilot's log book revealed that he had accumulated over 27 hours of total flight experience, which included 22 hours in make and model, and 1 hour of solo flight experience. The last entry in his log book was August 23, 1997, when he logged 3/10 hours of dual, and his last solo flight time of 6/10 hours was recorded on July 22, 1998. His most recent FAA Third Class medical certificate was dated April 24, 1997.


At 1150, Harrisburg International Airport, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, located 35 miles northwest of the accident site, reported the following observation:

Sky condition, 18,000 feet scattered; visibility, 12 miles; temperature, 66 degrees Fahrenheit (F); dew point, 50 degrees F; winds from 160 degrees at 5 knots; and altimeter, 30.34 Inches Hg.


The airplane wreckage was examined at the accident site on September 22 and 23, 1997. The examination revealed that all major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene. Initial impact scars were observed at the tops of the corn stalks. The wreckage was distributed over an area of approximately 150 feet long, oriented on a magnetic heading of 308 degrees.

Examination of the accident site revealed, a piece of the left hand wing tip at the initial impact point (IIP). There was a crater about 1 foot deep, and the propeller was located about 20 feet forward of the crater. About 55 feet from the IIP was the right wing, and about 60 feet from the IIP was the right main gear.

The main wreckage which consisted of the fuselage, left wing, tail section and engine, came to rest 150 feet from the IIP. The left wing exhibited forward to rear compression.

The engine remained attached to the wreckage. The left magneto, carburetor, starter, alternator and muffler separated. The spinner was crushed. One of the propeller blades was curled rearward, and twisted midspan, while the other blade was bent 90 degrees and exhibited chordwise scratches.

The engine was removed and examined in a hangar at Hagerstown Aircraft Services Inc. of Hagerstown, Maryland, on October 9, 1997. The top spark plugs were removed, the crankshaft was rotated by hand at the flange, and valve train continuity was observed on all cylinders. Thumb compression was obtained on all cylinders; however, compression was less on the number two cylinder. The cylinder was then removed, and debris was found in the combustion chamber, and under the valve seats.

The left magneto was detached from the engine at the mounting pad, and could not be tested. The right magneto was found securely attached at the mounting pad, and its spark producing capability was confirmed when rotated by hand.

The carburetor was detached from the engine and its mounting pad. No evidence of mechanical malfunction was revealed.

Flight control cable continuity was confirmed from the rudder, and elevator to the aft bulkhead. The elevator trim actuator measured 1.4 inches. According to the Cessna representative this corresponded to 10 degrees up elevator trim tab.

Examination of the wreckage revealed no pre-impact failure of the airplane or engine.


An autopsy and toxicological testing of the pilot was conducted by Dr. M. L. Cowen, Medical Examiner of Allentown, Pennsylvania, on September 23, 1997.

Toxicological testing was conducted by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on December 9, 1997.


The aircraft wreckage was released to the owner's representative on October 9, 1997.

(c) 2009-2018 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.