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N54839 accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Marion, VA
36.834838°N, 81.514837°W

Tail number N54839
Accident date 18 Mar 1996
Aircraft type Piper PA-23-250
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On March 18, 1996, at 0100 eastern standard time (EST), a Piper PA-23-250, N54839, collided with trees while on a localizer approach to runway 26 at Mountain Empire Airport, in Marion, Virginia. The certificated commercial pilot, the sole occupant, was fatally injured. The airplane was destroyed. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed. The positioning flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated from Lonesome Pine Airport, Wise, Virginia, at about 0001 EST. The intended destination was Marion, Virginia.

According to one of the employees at Empire Aviation, the pilot reported for duty about 1000 EST on March 17, 1996. The pilot departed Marion about 2108 EST to pick up some passengers in Charlotte, North Carolina. He picked up the passengers in North Carolina, dropped them off in Wise, Virginia, then returned to the home base airport in Marion.

According to air traffic control (ATC) records, at 0022 EST, air traffic control (ATC) cleared the pilot for the localizer approach to runway 26. At 0041 EST, the pilot advised ATC that he was executing the missed approach. At 0042 EST, the pilot reported that he saw the runway, "...but could not get slowed down enough..." to make the landing.

According to the Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) records, the pilot was cleared for a second localizer approach at 0048 EST. The pilot acknowledged. There is no record of any other radio transmissions from the pilot. Excerpts from ATC transcripts are appended.

A witness reported that she "...caught a glimpse of a light in the sky coming from the right side of the road down onto the interstate. Then I saw something hit the pavement and burst into flames... ." The aircraft impacted trees that were about 100 feet tall, located near the approach end of the runway, and collided with terrain coming to rest on a highway and was destroyed by fire.

The accident occurred during the hours of darkness at 36 degrees, 54 minutes north latitude and 81 degrees, 19 minutes, 1 second west longitude.


The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with single and multi-engine land ratings. He also held certificated flight instructor (CFI) and instrument airplane ratings. The last entry date in the CFI's logbook was December 5, 1995, at which time he had recorded approximately 1923 hours of flight time. In his log book, he had logged over 318 hours in the accident make and model airplane, more than 230 hours of actual instrument time, and 427 hours of night flight time. The last recorded actual instrument time and night time in the CFI's log book occurred October 31, 1995. According to FAA records, the pilot's most recent second class medical certificate was issued on February 28, 1996, and included the restriction that the pilot must wear corrective lenses.


The Piper PA-23-250 airplane, serial number 27-7554140, was equipped with two Lycoming IO-540-C4B5 engines. According to the airplane logbook, the airplane had accumulated approximately 6030 hours of flight time. The left engine had about 451 hours since major overhaul and right engine had about 462 hours of flight time since major overhaul. The left engine had approximately 3425 hours of flight time since new, and the right engine had approximately 3199 hours of flight time since new. The most recent annual inspection was completed on December 14, 1995.


At 0100 EST, Mountain Empire Airport, Marion, Virginia, located about 1mile west of the accident site, issued the following observation:

Sky condition, partially obscured, measured ceiling, 200 feet overcast; visibility, 1/4 mile in fog; temperature, 43 degrees Fahrenheit (F); dew point, 41 degrees F; winds out of 040 degrees at 4 knots; and altimeter, 29.91 inches Hg.


The airplane impacted trees and collided with terrain, then came to rest on a highway during the second approach to the destination airport. Examination of the accident site revealed that the airplane was on a magnetic heading of 260 degrees, slightly left of the runway center line. Investigation revealed impact damage to a line of 100 foot tall trees, located 1.75 miles east of the runway. The airplane's right wing tip separated from the main wreckage, and was located left of the tree line. The aircraft impacted the ground inverted, slid down an embankment onto interstate I-81 and was destroyed by fire.

The left propeller assembly separated from the propeller mounting flange and was located on the embankment. One of the propeller blades on the left propeller assembly exhibited bending, and chordwise scratches. The main landing gear and the nosewheel were located in the down and locked position. The right flap separated and the left flap was destroyed by fire. The fuselage, left wing, right wing, ailerons and the flight instruments were damaged by post-impact fire. Details of the wreckage distribution are in the wreckage diagram, appended.

The airplane was moved to a hangar at Mountain Empire Airport, Marion, Virginia, where it was examined on March 18, 1996, under the supervision of the NTSB. The flight control cables were connected to their respective bellcranks. Flight control continuity could not be established due to fire damage. The tail section remained intact, and had come to rest at the crash site, inverted. The rudder trim measured 5 1/2 threads, and there were no threads revealed for the elevator trim. According to Piper, this represents a neutral rudder position and a full nose down position for the elevator.

The engines were examined in the hangar at the Mountain Empire Airport on March 19 and March 20, 1996. Both left and right engines were subjected to impact and fire damage.

The left engine accessories and accessory housing were removed. The accessory gear area contained deposits of previously melted metal. Some of the previously melted metal deposits were removed and the engine rotated manually which resulted in the operation of the cylinder valves. Compression in all cylinders was confirmed, using the thumb method. The left and right magnetos were destroyed by post-impact fire. Engine continuity was confirmed throughout the engine including the propeller governor drive.

The top spark plugs from the right engine were removed. The engine was rotated manually which resulted in the operation of the cylinder valves, and compression in all cylinders was confirmed, using the thumb method. The left magneto sustained fire damage and would not rotate when turned manually. The right magneto was fire damaged but it rotated when turned manually and it's spark-producing capability was confirmed. Engine continuity was confirmed throughout the engine including the accessory drive train.

Examination of the engines did not reveal any evidence of preimpact anomaly


A Medical Examination was done by Dr. Oxley, Medical Examiner of the State of Virginia, in Roanoke, Virginia, on March 19, 1996. Toxicological examination was conducted by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on July 19, 1996. The pilot's toxicological report indicated that 5.000 mg/dl of acetaldehyde was detected in the blood. All other toxicological results were negative for tested substances. According to medical personnel from CAMI, the positive results could be indicative of the pilot taking over-the-counter pain killer medication (tylenol).


According to the Instument Approach Procedure Charts, the published missed approach for the Localizer runway 26 approach is as follows:

"Climb to 4400 feet 259 degree bearing from MK NDB then climbing right turn to 6000 feet direct to MK NDB and hold." The elevation for Mountain Empire Airport is 2559 feet, minimum descent altitude was 3020 feet Mean Sea Level, and visibility 1 statute mile.

According to the FAA Instrument Flying Handbook, it states in Part:

"No person may operate an aircraft below the prescribed minimum descent altitude or continue an approach below the decision height unless-

(a) The aircraft is in a position from which a normal approach can be made to the runway of intended landing; and

(b) The approach threshold of the runway, or aproach lights or other markings identifiable with the approach end of that runway, is clearly visible to the pilot.

(c) If, upon arrival at the missed approach point, or at any time thereafter, any of the above requirements are not met, the pilot shall immediately execute the appropriate missed approach procedure."

A flight test of the localizer at Mountain Empire Airport (MKJ) was conducted on March 19, 1996, by the FAA. According to the FAA, the test was satisfactory. Details of the flight check are appended.

The aircraft wreckage was released to Jamie Mc Arthur, insurance representative for Crittenden Adjustment Company, on March 20, 1996.

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