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N8820P accident description

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Crash location 37.940277°N, 78.548611°W
Reported location is a long distance from the NTSB's reported nearest city. This often means that the location has a typo, or is incorrect.
Nearest city Red Hill, VA
36.920955°N, 80.847576°W
144.5 miles away

Tail number N8820P
Accident date 24 Oct 2008
Aircraft type Piper PA-24
Additional details: None

NTSB description

The following is an INTERIM FACTUAL SUMMARY of this accident investigation. A final report that includes all pertinent facts, conditions, and circumstances of the accident will be issued upon completion, along with the Safety Board's analysis and probable cause of the accident ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------


On October 24, 2008, about 1901 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-24-260, N8820P, was substantially damaged when it departed controlled flight and impacted trees and terrain while being vectored for an instrument approach to Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (CHO), Charlottesville, Virginia. The certificated private pilot and the passenger were killed. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the destination airport, and the flight operated on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Lockheed Martin Services (LMS) information, about 1633 the pilot telephoned LMS, and filed an IFR flight plan from Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), Asheville, North Carolina to Orange County Airport (OMH), Orange, Virginia. The pilot filed CHO, which was 25 miles west-southwest of OMH, as the alternate airport. About 1726, the airplane departed AVL.

Air traffic control (ATC) radar tracking data indicated that the airplane's cruise altitude was 7,000 feet above mean sea level (msl). Approximately 9 minutes prior to the accident, the pilot requested the "GPS-8" instrument approach procedure (IAP) to OMH. Approximately 6 minutes prior to the accident, ATC cleared it to descend 4,000 feet. Approximately 2 minutes after the descent clearance was issued, the pilot radioed ATC that the "visibility" at OMH was "right at the minimums," and requested a diversion to CHO for the instrument landing system (ILS) approach to runway 3. ATC approved the request, and issued a corresponding heading change to "three six zero" degrees. Two minutes after the heading change instruction, ATC cleared the flight for the approach. Two minutes later, three "mayday" calls in rapid succession were broadcast on the frequency. No further transmissions were received from the accident airplane.

Radar data indicated that during the 6 minute period between the descent clearance and the accident, the flight generally descended at a constant rate of approximately 590 feet per minute (fpm). However, the data showed that approximately 3 minutes into the descent, there was a 40 second period which included a 2,600 fpm descent, followed by a 650 fpm climb.

The last four radar returns, covering a period of 16 seconds, indicated that the airplane entered a steep descent. The corrected barometric altitudes for the last four returns, each 4.6 seconds apart, were 3,700, 3,300, 2,600 and 0 feet MSL, respectively. Instantaneous descent rates derived from these altitude values ranged from approximately 5,200 to 33,200 fpm. The final several radar returns also depicted a rapid course reversal to the right.


According to FAA records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate, with airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane ratings. The pilot’s logbook indicated that as of October 12, 2008, he had accumulated approximately 1,070 total hours of flight experience, including 180 hours at night, 157 hours in complex airplanes, 82 hours of actual instrument time, and 75 hours of simulated instrument time. His logbook indicated that he had 71 hours in the accident airplane make and model. The pilot's most recent flight review was in January 2008, and his most recent instrument flight proficiency check was in April 2008. The pilot’s most recent third-class medical certificate was issued in August 2007.


According to FAA and Piper information, the accident airplane was manufactured in 1965. It was a four place, low wing airplane of all metal construction, with electrically actuated retractable, tricycle-configuration landing gear. Primary flight controls included left and right stabilators, which functioned as both the horizontal stabilizer and elevator. Secondary flight controls included electrically actuated flaps, and manual stabilator pitch trim. The airplane was equipped with an autopilot.

Maintenance records indicate that in 1992, several aftermarket speed modifications were installed on the airplane. The airplane was equipped with a Lycoming IO-540 piston engine, and a McCauley three blade, constant-speed propeller. The engine was overhauled by Teledyne Mattituck Services, and installed on the airplane in October 2000. The logbook entry for the installation of the overhauled engine indicated that the airplane had accumulated a total time in service of 9,270 hours, the tachometer registered 6,656 hours, and the engine had accumulated a total time in service of 3,965 hours, with 0.0 hours since major overhaul (SMOH).

The most recent annual inspection was accomplished in October 2007. At that time, the airplane had accumulated a total time in service of 9,460 hours, the tachometer registered 6,866 hours, and the engine had accumulated a total time in service of 4,165 hours, with 200 hours SMOH. The engine tachometer was rendered unreadable by the accident. According to the pilot's logbook, he had flown the airplane approximately 71 hours since the October 2007 annual inspection. The National Transportation Safety Board was unable to determine whether any additional persons had flown the airplane during the period between the 2007 annual inspection and the accident. The final maintenance entries were dated August 8, 2008, and each listed a tachometer time of 6,921.8 hours.


Local sunset occurred at 1823. The 1900 weather observation at OMH reported winds from 010 degrees at 4 knots, 10 miles visibility, broken ceiling at 1,900 feet, overcast ceiling at 2,600 feet, temperature 12 degrees Celsius (C), dew point 10 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.27 inches of mercury.

The 1853 weather observation at CHO reported zero wind, 10 miles visibility, broken ceiling at 1,900 feet, overcast ceiling at 2,600 feet, temperature 11 degrees C, dew point 8 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.24 inches of mercury.

AIRMETs for IFR and mountain obscuration conditions, and occasional moderate turbulence below 12,000 feet were current over the route of flight and the accident site. No Convective SIGMET, SIGMETs, or Weather Watches were current over Virginia during the period. Winds aloft information indicated southerly winds at velocities ranging from 30 to 45 knots for the flight altitudes and geographic region of the diversion and accident. Weather radar summary data indicated that a band of echoes associated with rain and rain showers extended near the route of flight and the accident site.


The straight-in minima for the GPS-8 IAP to OMH were 1,120 feet msl and 1 mile visibility, and the circling minima were 1,360 feet msl, and 1 1/4 miles visibility. The straight-in minima for the ILS IAP to CHO runway 3 were 856 feet msl, and 1/2 mile visibility.


The accident site was located in a wooded area, approximately 12 miles south of CHO. The debris field measured approximately 400 feet long and 100 feet wide. The debris path was oriented along a magnetic heading of approximately 195 degrees.

A segment of the right stabilator, consisting of approximately the outboard 3 feet of the unit, was the first component in the debris path. A corresponding segment from the left stabilator was the next item in the debris path; this component was located 15 feet southwest of the right stabilator segment. The third item in the debris path was the inboard 3 feet of the left stabilator. This was located approximately 70 feet south-southwest of the outboard segment of the left stabilator. No impact damage was observed on these components, and the trees in the vicinity of these components were undisturbed.

Witness marks indicated that the airplane first struck trees at a height of approximately 50 feet above ground level (agl), approximately 200 feet beyond the first stabilator segment. Wing, aileron and flap segments were distributed along the debris path subsequent to the tree strikes, and the components exhibited impact damage. All fuel tanks were fragmented. The initial ground impact point was a crater that measured approximately 15 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 2 feet deep. The crater was approximately 250 feet beyond the start of the debris field. The main wreckage, comprised primarily of cockpit, cabin and inboard wing fragments, and the main landing gear, was located 50 feet beyond the initial ground impact point. The engine was the final component in the debris path, and was located 100 feet beyond the main wreckage.

The cockpit/cabin area was essentially upright, with significant crush, disruption and fracture damage. The aft fuselage/tailcone and portions of the empennage also exhibited significant crush damage, and were located east of the initial ground impact point. The inboard section of the right stabilator, and most of the vertical fin, remained attached to the aft fuselage/tailcone.

One propeller blade was found separated from the propeller hub, approximately 60 feet west of the initial ground impact crater. The blade was bent approximately 110 degrees aft at the outboard end, and exhibited trailing edge S-bending, and slight chordwise scratching. The other two blades were found in the crater, with one attached to the hub. The blade attached to the hub was bent 20 degrees forward in a smooth arc starting at the two-thirds span point. The outboard 6 inches of the other blade was bent aft 15 degrees, and the blade had two 1/2 inch radius bends in the trailing edge near the two-thirds span point.

The engine was found inverted on terrain approximately 30 feet higher than, and 150 feet beyond, the impact crater. There was evidence of a small fire in the vegetation surrounding one of the mufflers. The engine was devoid of most accessories, intake and exhaust tubing, and mounting hardware. All cylinders were attached and relatively intact, including their valve covers. The oil sump was impact-separated, and the engine case was cracked in several locations. A hole in the forward bottom of the crankcase measured approximately 10 inches long and 6 inches wide; the crankshaft and piston rods visible through this hole were intact.

Both magnetos sparked at all towers when rotated by hand. All six bottom spark plugs, and two of the top spark plugs were removed from the engine, and all had electrodes of light gray coloration, with normal wear. The other four top spark plugs could not be removed due to impact damage. The fuel injector servo was fragmented, and the fuel screen was missing. The fuel flow divider contained clean fuel, and the diaphragm was intact and clean. Four of the fuel injector nozzles were intact, one was bent, and one was fractured. None passed the “sight test” due to the presence of mud and other debris. The dry-type vacuum pump was impact-separated and fragmented, and no vanes or vane fragments were found. The oil suction screen and oil filter were free of metallic debris. The aft section of the propeller hub remained attached to the crankshaft, and all hub-shaft attach hardware were in place and safetied. The crankshaft could not be rotated by hand due to the deformation of the engine case. Examination of the engine and engine accessories did not reveal evidence of any pre-impact anomalies.

All of the instruments and avionics were separated from the instrument panel, and from the cockpit area. Most exhibited significant crush damage and/or fragmenting. The ignition switch was found in the "Both" position, and the fuel selector valve was set to the "Right Main" tank. No other switch or control settings could be determined.

Flight control continuity was established for the ailerons, rudder, stabilator, and stabilator trim. The stabilator trim jackscrew extension indicated a trim setting of full airplane nose up. The flap jackscrew extension indicated a flap setting of approximately 23 degrees. Both main landing gear were found in their respective wheel wells, and the nose landing gear was found 20 feet south of the main wreckage.


The FAA Civil Aero Medical Institute (CAMI) toxicology results for the pilot were negative for drugs and ethanol. Tests for carbon monoxide and cyanide were not performed.


Airworthiness Directives, Service Bulletins, and Service Letters Beginning in 1972, empennage vibration concerns prompted the issuance of PA-24 Service Bulletins and Letters from Piper, and Airworthiness Directives from the FAA. In August 1972, Piper issued Service Bulletin (SB) No. 362. The SB stated that "Piper Aircraft Corporation is investigating the effects of improper maintenance and/or unauthorized repair procedures with respect to possible deterioration of the margin of safety when applied to flutter characteristics of the horizontal and vertical tail surfaces. In order to provide additional margin and in the interest of safety, Piper has reduced the never exceed speed" for the PA-24-260. The SB reduced the Vne (never exceed speed) from 227 mph calibrated air speed (CAS) to 203 mph for the PA-24-260.

In October 1972, Piper issued SB 362A, which supplemented but did not supersede SB 362. The subsequent SB (SB 362A prescribed the installation of Piper Rudder Balance Weight Installation Kit 760-705. According to SB 362A, the revised Vne would remain at 203 mph, but "installing rudder balance weights...will prevent possible adverse airplane vibration effects, thus providing a greater margin of safety at higher speeds."

According to Piper, "Piper Service Bulletins are of special importance and Piper considers compliance mandatory. These are sent to the latest U.S. registered owners and Piper Service Centers."

In late 1972, the FAA issued Airworthiness Directive (AD) 72-22-05, which restricted the PA-24-260 Vno (maximum structural cruise speed) to 167 mph CAS, and the Vne to 188 mph. The AD stated that installation of Piper Rudder Balance Weight Installation Kit 760-705 would allow the Vno and Vne to be increased to 180 and 203 mph CAS, respectively. Maintenance records indicated that the Rudder Balance Weight Kit 760-705 was installed on the accident airplane in December 1972, by Gillis Aviation in Montana.

In June 1974, Piper issued Service Letter 687, which modified the stabilator by installing stabilator tip weights, stabilator hinge reinforcements and stabilator tab hinge reinforcements, per Piper Service Kit 760-747. This modification, when installed in conjunction with or subsequent to the Rudder Balance Weight Kit 760-705, permitted PA-24-260 airplanes to be returned to the original Vne of 227 mph CAS.

According to Piper, "Service Letters deal with product improvements and service hints pertaining to the aircraft. They are sent to Piper Service Centers and sometimes directly to owners, so they can properly service the aircraft and keep it up to date with the latest changes. Owners should give careful attention to the service letter information." The accident airplane maintenance records did not indicate compliance with Piper Service Letter 687.

Accident Airplane Stabilator Maintenance

A maintenance records entry dated October 23, 2006 indicated that the airplane was inspected in accordance with an annual inspection, and found to be in an airworthy condition. This entry documented a tachometer time of 6,787.27 hours, and a total time in service of 9,381.27 hours. This entry also documented the removal of the left and right stabilators, and their replacement with two "serviceable units." The right stabilator was removed due to leading edge damage. The left stabilator was removed due to the fact that it was a stabilator for a PA-30, and was therefore not eligible for installation on the PA-24. The PA-30 stabilator was installed on the accident airplane on August 28, 1

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