ASF Accident Details
NTSB Number: ERA12FA433
Aircraft and Flight Information
Make/Model PIPER / PA 32R
Tail Number N4386F
Airport N/A
Light Conditions Day
Basic WX Conditions VMC
Phase of Flight Not Reported
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Narrative Type: NTSB FINAL NARRATIVE (6120.4)
Before departing on the accident flight, the pilot filed three instrument flight rules flight plans but had not requested nor received a weather briefing. A witness near the accident site reported a thunderstorm in the vicinity and observed the airplane enter a cloud followed shortly by a "loud pop." The witness then observed pieces of the airplane coming out of the cloud. The left wing and vertical stabilizer were located about 1,500 feet away from the main wreckage. Examination of the fracture surfaces revealed signatures consistent with tensile overload failure. No preimpact mechanical malfunctions were noted that would have precluded normal operation of the airplane.
Review of radar and weather data indicated the presence of thunderstorms along the route of flight, as well as in the vicinity of the accident site, with the potential for some of them to be severe. The satellite datalink weather product in the airplane cockpit uploaded weather data every 5 minutes and likely would have shown a thunderstorm cell increasing in severity to the highest intensity level near the time of the in-flight breakup. According to Federal Aviation Administration publication “General Aviation Pilot’s Guide to Preflight Weather Planning, Weather Self-Briefings, and Weather Decision Making,” datalink weather products are not as accurate or current as onboard weather radar, which provide real-time weather radar images in the cockpit. It is likely that the pilot attempted to maneuver around the weather hazard and inadvertently encountered a thunderstorm cell, which resulted in an in-flight breakup of the airplane due to overstress of the structure.
Narrative Type: NTSB PRELIMINARY NARRATIVE (6120.19)
HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On July 8, 2012, about 1358 central daylight time, a Piper PA-32R-300, N4386F, was substantially damaged following an inflight break up, and impact with terrain in a heavily wooded area near New Site, Mississippi. The airplane had departed from the Western Carolina Regional Airport (RHP), Andrews, North Carolina, about 1218 and had an intended destination of University-Oxford Airport (OUX), Oxford, Mississippi. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan had been filed. The private pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to an eyewitness, the airplane was observed entering a cloud. He then heard the engine "revving," "a loud pop" that was not associated with any thunder, and then saw pieces of the airplane coming out of the cloud. He further reported that there was "a lot of wind" coming from a southerly or westerly direction and that he was watching a "really bad thunderstorm" approach.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and pilot records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane. The pilot had received his rating for instrument airplane on February 27, 2009. His most recent flight time logbook entry was dated July 6, 2012. At that time he had recorded 452.2 total hours of flight experience and 98.2 total hours of flight experience in the accident airplane make and model. He had also recorded 62.7 hours of actual instrument experience. On August 27, 2011, the pilot had received an endorsement for "PIC [pilot in command] – Complex airplane" and "PIC – High performance airplane." His most recent flight review was completed on February 25, 2011.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

According to FAA records, the airplane was issued an airworthiness certificate on August 19, 1976, and registered to FLT Away, LLC, which the pilot was the "owner/manager," on January 10, 2012. The most recent recorded annual inspection was on February 14, 2012, and at that time the airplane had 4,763.3 total flight hours and an indicated tachometer time of 1,643.8 hours. The most recent maintenance was recorded on July 6, 2012, and at that time the airplane had a recorded tachometer time of 1,681.9 flight hours, which correlated to 4,801.4 total flight hours. It was equipped with a Lycoming IO-540-K1G5D engine that, at the time of the most recent annual inspection, had 4,542.5 total time in service and 678.5 flight hours since major overhaul. The airplane was not equipped with on-board weather radar; however, it was equipped to receive XM WX Satellite Weather.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

The 1353 recorded weather observation at Tupelo Regional Airport (TUP), Tupelo, Mississippi, located approximately 20 miles to the south of the accident location, included wind from 260 degrees at 9 knots, visibility 8 miles with thunderstorms, clear skies, temperature 32 degrees C, dew point 22 degrees C; barometric altimeter 30.03 inches of mercury.

The 1410 recorded weather observation at Roscoe Turner Airport (CRX), Corinth, Mississippi, located approximately 20 miles to the north of the accident location, included wind from 320 degrees at 12 knots with gusts of 18 knots, visibility 10 miles with thunderstorms, scattered clouds at 3,600 feet above ground level (agl) and overcast ceiling at 4,200 feet agl, temperature 28 degrees C, dew point 22 degrees C; barometric altimeter of 30.01 inches of mercury, and a remark that lightning was observed in all quadrants.

According to an NTSB Weather Study, a cold front stretched northeastward from Oklahoma across the Midwest. The low-level environment surrounding the accident site was warm and moist as was typical for summer time in the South, which helped to create moderately unstable conditions. The Storm Prediction Center issued a Convective Outlook at 1116 indicating thunderstorms were forecasted for the accident site with a slight chance of severe thunderstorms forecasted for north of the accident site. Surface observations obtained from airports surrounding the accident, around the time of the accident, indicated thunderstorms and lightning in the direction of the accident site. Satellite data indicated that the approximate cloud-top heights over the accident site, around the time of the accident, were 15,000 feet. Radar images indicated light to very strong echoes near the accident site, around the time of the accident. Base reflectivity and lightning data indicated that the airplane encounter little to no precipitation around the time of the accident; however, lightning occurred to the west, southwest, south, and southeast of the accident site. Convective Significant Meteorological Information (SIGMET) was valid for the accident site and surrounding areas, which advised of thunderstorms with tops to flight level 450 around the time of the accident. [For additional information regarding meteorological conditions, please see the NTSB Weather Study located in the docket for this accident.]

Weather radar data available to XM WX Satellite Weather subscribers surrounding the time of the accident was provided to NTSB personnel by the company that disseminated the information. The XM WX Satellite Weather radar product, time stamped as 1315, and continuing in 5 minute increments, depicted the airplane clear of precipitation; however, it revealed several cells around the airplane's route of flight. Another product was time stamped as 1350, depicted the airplane clear of precipitation with cells along the route of flight. A weather product, time stamped as 1355, depicted the area around the accident location as having a cell to the south and in the vicinity of the accident site; this may have uploaded to the cockpit within close proximity to the in-flight breakup. Other products were time stamped at 1400 and 1405 and indicated line of weather in close proximity to the accident site including depiction ranging in various intensities from light green (light) to magenta (heavy).

COMMUNICATION

At 1326:38, the pilot made his initial contact with a Memphis Air Route Traffic Control Center radar controller and reported the flight's altitude was 8,000 feet. Subsequent communications between the pilot and radar controller indicated "moderate to extreme precipitation." The pilot reported he had "weather on board" and that the weather was "building up" off the left side of the airplane. At 1354:06, the pilot informed the radar controller that he was "flying two ten to deviate then I'll get back on course." At 1354:34 the pilot stated "eight six foxtrot I'll let you know when I'm direct so you can give fovab," no further transmissions were recorded from the accident airplane.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The airplane was found in a wooded area. The debris path was about 3,450 feet in length and about 1,300 feet in width. The engine remained attached to the airplane and was co-located with the main wreckage. The engine was buried about 48 inches into the ground and the remainder of the cockpit was located immediately on top of it. The wreckage debris path was oriented on a 115 degree magnetic heading.

Examination of the wreckage indicated that the outboard portions of the stabilator, left wing, and vertical stabilator were separated. The parts were located about 1,470 feet to the northwest of the main wreckage. The main wreckage impact crater was approximately 14 feet in length. The main cabin area, cockpit and instrument panel, right wing, engine, and empennage with the lower portion of the rudder were all found inside the main impact location.

The instrument panel was separated from the forward fuselage area and was void of instrumentation. The instrumentation was located throughout the debris field, and did not yield any useful information. The rudder pedals and flight control "T"-bar were impact damaged. Control cable continuity was traced to all the cable breaks from the associated attach points. All breaks had the appearance of broomstrawing at the fracture point consistent with an overload separation. The aileron chain was also found impact separated from the "T" bar.

The vertical fin was impact separated from the fuselage and exhibited impact damage along the leading edge. The stabilator was separated outboard of the hinge points. Both tip sections were separated. Examination found both tip weights were attached and secure. The primary balance weight was co-located with the respective flight control. Control cable sections were attached and exhibited tensile overload separation. The pitch trim drum showed three threads of upper shaft extension consistent with a 1-2 degree nose down trim setting.

The left wing was separated. The flap was partially attached and segmented. The aileron was fragmented and partially attached to the wing. The aileron balance weight was not recovered. An aftermarket gap seal kit was installed on the flap and aileron. The primary balance cable was separated and exhibited tensile overload. Control continuity was established except for overload separations. All breaks and separations were found to be consistent with the occurrence and no indication of any pre-existing airframe anomaly was noted.

The right wing was impact separated and fragmented. The wing root section was co-located with the main impact area in the debris field. The outboard wing section was fractured from impact and the fuel tank was breached and devoid of fuel. The aileron was separated. The aileron control sector was located within the debris field. Segments of the primary and balance cables remained attached and both exhibited tensile overload separations.

The doors were all seperated. The front and rear cargo doors were located at the main crash site.

The engine remained attached to the engine mounts and firewall; however, was located approximately 48 inches below the ground surface. The 3-bladed, all metal, constant speed, propeller remained attached to the propeller hub, which was attached to the engine and two of the blades exhibited torsion twisting and S-bending. The pitch angle for the blades could not be determined due to the unrestricted movement of the blade pitch angle at the hub. Examination of the engine revealed no preimpact malfunction or anomalies that would have precluded normal engine operation.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

The Mississippi State Medical Examiner's Office performed an autopsy on the pilot on July 10, 2012. The autopsy findings included "blunt force injuries," and the report listed the specific injuries. The reported cause of death was "blunt force injuries."

Toxicological testing was performed post mortem at the FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The specimens received "…were severely putrefied. They were not suitable for analyses."

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

According to records provided by a fixed base operator at the departure airport and a written statement provide by the individual that refueled the airplane, it had been fueled with 33.7 gallons of fuel on July 7, 2012 and was fueled to within approximately 1 and 1.5 inches of the top.

According to information provided by Lockheed Martin Flight Service and direct user access terminal service (DUATS), three IFR flight plans had been filed for the accident airplane, two of the flight plans were for the accident flight. One of the DUATS flight plans indicated a departure time of 1625 universal time coordinate (UTC) (1125 CDT) and the other indicated a departure time of 1500 UTC (1000 CDT). The pilot did not request a weather briefing for any of the planned flights.

According to the FAA's Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, Chapter 10, "Weather Theory" states in part "…if an aircraft enters a thunderstorm, the aircraft could experience updraft and downdraft that exceed 3,000 feet per minute…a good rule of thumb is to circumnavigate thunderstorms by at least 5 nautical miles…if flying around a thunderstorm is not an option, stay on the ground until it passes."

According to FAA publication "General Aviation Pilot's Guide to Preflight Weather Planning, Weather Self-Briefings, and Weather Decision making" states in part "Datalink does not provide real-time information. Although weather and other navigation displays can give pilots an unprecedented quantity of high quality weather data, their use is safe and appropriate only for strategic decision making (attempting to avoid the hazard altogether). Datalink is not accurate enough or current enough to be safely used for tactical decision making (negotiating a path through a weather hazard area, such as a broken line of thunderstorms). Be aware that onboard weather equipment can inappropriately influence your decision to continue a flight. No matter how "thin" a line of storms appears to be, or how many "holes" you think you see on the display, it is not safe to fly through them."
Narrative Type: NTSB PROBABLE CAUSE NARRATIVE
The pilot's decision to operate into a known area of adverse weather, which resulted in the inadvertent penetration of a severe thunderstorm, a subsequent loss of control, and in-flight breakup of the airplane.