Thursday, February 23, 2012

Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee B, N7746W: Accident occurred November 17, 2011 in Perryville

NTSB Identification: CEN12FA072 
 14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, November 17, 2011 in Perryville, AR
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/27/2013
Aircraft: PIPER PA-28-180, registration: N7746W
Injuries: 4 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

About 2 hours after departure, radar data tracked the airplane at 7,000 feet before the airplane then initiated a right, descending turn before disappearing from radar. Witnesses reported seeing the airplane flying low, descending, making several turns, before impacting terrain. Impact signatures were consistent with a steep, nose-low attitude. An examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal any preimpact anomalies. The reason for the pilot's loss of control could not be determined.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's loss of control in flight.

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On November 17, 2011, about 1610 central standard time, a Piper PA-28-180 airplane, N7746W, impacted the ground near Perryville, Arkansas. The commercial rated pilot and three passengers were 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 (CFR) Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated without a flight plan. The flight originated from Stillwater Regional Airport (SWO), Stillwater, Oklahoma, about 1415, and was destined for North Little Rock Municipal Airport (ORK), North Little Rock, Arkansas.

The purpose of the flight was to transport two Oklahoma State University (OSU) coaches to Little Rock, Arkansas, in order to support the Oklahoma State University (OSU) athletic recruitment program. The coaches are hereafter referred to as passengers for the report.

Employees at SWO’s fixed base operator (FBO) reported that the airplane landed approximately 1345, picked up two passengers, and departed for ORK. The airplane did not receive any services at SWO.

About 2 hours after departure, radar data showed the airplane level at 7,000 feet mean sea level on a southeasterly heading. At 1610:49, the airplane entered a right turn and descended. The airplane disappeared from radar shortly after. There were no air traffic control communications with the airplane.

Witnesses, who were near the accident site, reported seeing the airplane flying at a low altitude and making turns. They then observed the airplane enter a steep nose-low attitude prior to descending toward the terrain.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

Pilot

The pilot, age 82, held a commercial pilot certificate for airplane single engine land and instrument airplane. In addition, he held a certificated flight instructor certificate for airplane single engine airplanes. He was issued a third class medical certificate on April 1, 2010, with a restriction for corrective lenses for near and distant vision. A review of the pilot’s log book revealed that the pilot had accrued over 2,200 hours total time, with over 350 hours in the accident airplane. The pilot’s last flight review was flown on April 9, 2010, and his most recent night time was on April 25, 2011, at which time he had logged night landings. The last entry in the pilot’s log book was on October 20, 2011.

The pilot was a graduate of and contributor to OSU. He volunteered his flight services to assist with the athletic department’s recruiting efforts, was not compensated for his flight time, and was not contracted by the university.

Pilot rated passenger

The passenger seated behind the pilot, age 79, held a private pilot certificate for airplane single engine land and instrument airplane. She was issued a third class medical on Aug 26, 2011, without restrictions. A review of her log book revealed that she had accrued over 1,145 hours, a majority of which in the accident airplane. Of note, her most recent night time was logged on November 10, 2007. The last entry in the log book was on October 21, 2011.

On the previous flight, the pilot rated passenger had flown with the accident pilot from Ponca City, Oklahoma, to SWO. For the accident flight she was seated behind the accident pilot.

AIRPLANE INFORMATION

The single engine, low wing, fixed landing gear, four seat airplane, N7746W, serial number 28-1756, was manufactured in 1964. It was powered by a 180-horsepower Lycoming O-360-A3A, serial number L-7030-36. A review of maintenance records found that the last annual inspection was completed on November 8, 2011, at a total time of 5,800.8 hours. During the annual inspection, the mechanic noted that the muffler was inspected, removed, weld repaired, and reinstalled.

An aircraft flight log was found in the wreckage. It contained flights on October 25, 2011, November 16, 2011, and a partial entry on November 17, 2011. Prior to the accident flight, the airplane had about 5,802 hours total time. It is unknown if the pilot flew another airplane between October 25 and November 16.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

At 1553, an automated weather reporting station at the Russellville Regional Airport (KRUE), Russellville, Arkansas, located about 22 nautical miles north-northwest of the accident site, reported wind from 200 degrees at 3 knots, 10 miles visibility, a clear sky, temperature 52 degrees Fahrenheit (F), dew point 19 F, and a barometric pressure of 30.35 inches of mercury.

There were no associated hazards forecasted along the airplane’s route of flight.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The accident site was located in a heavily wooded area of the Ouachita National Forest, about 8 miles southwest of Perryville, Arkansas. The initial ground impact scar was consistent with the airplane’s right wing leading edge contacting the ground. An impact crater, about 10 feet in diameter and about 3.5 feet deep contained most of the airplane. Ground scars and witness marks to trees surrounding the accident site were consistent with the airplane being approximately 50 to 60 degrees nose low at the time of impact. Wreckage debris was distributed in a “V” from the impact site between 280 degrees to 310 degrees with a field about 80 yards long. Numerous trees throughout the debris field exhibited signs of impact damage.

Examination of the wreckage revealed several of the flight control cables were fractured in multiple places. Each fracture was consistent with overload. Most of the cockpit instrumentation sustained impact damage, was unreadable or unreliable, or destroyed. The engine case and engine components were impact damaged. The blades of the fixed-pitch, two-bladed propeller displayed signs of leading edge polishing, chordwise scratches, and S-bending. The propeller hub was fractured in torsional overload. The airplane’s muffler was disassembled and displayed no sooting or preimpact anomalies. No preimpact anomalies with the airframe or engine were found which would have precluded normal operation.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, Little Rock, Arkansas, on November 18, 2011. The cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries. The manner of death was ruled an accident. The autopsy noted that the condition of the remains did not allow for identification of any medical conditions which may have contributed to the crash.

Forensic toxicology was performed on specimens from the pilot by the FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Specimens submitted were not suitable for the detection of carbon monoxide and cyanide. No ethanol or drugs were detected in the muscle.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Selection of seats for the flight

Personnel at the SWO fixed base operator’s office recalled the airplane’s arrival to fly the passengers to their destination. Due to a hearing condition, the pilot spoke loudly, so personnel could hear his conversation with the passengers. The pilot decided that the male passenger would ride in the right pilot seat for the flight to Little Rock. The female passenger and pilot rated passenger would sit in the rear seats. The pilot rated passenger sat behind the male pilot.

Seat belts

A review of the occupants’ seat belts at the accident site, found that the forward two occupants restraint buckles remained latched. The rear occupants’ seat belt restraint buckles were found unlatched. Neither latch plate showed any gouging or deformity. In addition, neither belt exhibited signatures of loading of the clasps. The rear left occupants belt containing the buckle and the rear right occupants belt containing latch plate remained secured to the fuselage. The left belt containing the latch plate and the right belt containing the buckle were fractured in overload at the belt to fuselage cable.

Night time flight requirements

Neither pilot had documentation in their logbook supporting that the currency requirements to land at night with passengers had been accomplished in accordance with 14 CFR Part 61.57. Although not relevant to the accident flight, the planned itinerary for the roundtrip flight would have included a night landing, about 2300.

Donor flight program

Prior to the accident, the Oklahoma State University had limited oversight of the donor flight program. Coaches and staff were allowed to arrange travel directly with the donors without notification to the university. There was no requirement to verify pilot qualifications and airplane inspections; in this case, the pilots did not have documentation supporting the completion of currency requirements for a night landing with passengers. Although the athletic department had an oversight program for student athletes, coaches and staff were exempt from the requirement. OSU's travel policy has since been modified to include coaches and staff into a program similar to the oversight provided to student athletes. The new policy would include a review of pilots and aircraft by an aviation consultant.



NTSB Identification: CEN12FA072
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, November 17, 2011 in Perryville, AR
Aircraft: PIPER PA-28-180, registration: N7746W
Injuries: 4 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On November 17, 2011, about 1610 central standard time, a Piper PA-28-180, N7746W, impacted the ground near Perryville, Arkansas. The certificated flight instructor pilot and three passengers were fatally injured; the airplane was substantially damaged. The airplane was owned by a private individual and operated 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 Stillwater Regional Airport (SWO), Stillwater, Oklahoma, about 1415 and was destined for North Little Rock Municipal Airport (ORK), North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Employees at SWO reported that the airplane landed approximately 1345, picked up two passengers, and departed for ORK. The airplane did not receive any services at SWO.

Radar data showed the airplane level at 7,000 feet mean sea level on a southeasterly heading. At 1610:49, the airplane entered a right turn and began descending. The airplane disappeared from radar shortly after. There were no reported air traffic control communications with the airplane.

Witnesses who were in the vicinity of the accident site reported that the airplane was flying at a low altitude and making turns. They then observed the airplane enter a steep nose-low attitude prior to descending toward the terrain.

The accident site was located in a heavily wooded area of the Ouachita National Forest, about 8 miles southeast of Perryville. The initial ground impact scar was consistent with the airplane’s right wing leading edge contacting the ground first. An impact crater, about 10 feet in diameter and about 3.5 feet deep contained most of the airplane. Ground scars and witness marks to trees surrounding the accident site were consistent with the airplane being in a steep nose-low attitude at the time of impact.

The airplane wreckage was transported to a secure location for further examination.



LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A medical examiner who performed an autopsy on an 82-year-old pilot was not able to find any medical conditions that could have contributed to the crash that killed all four people aboard, including Oklahoma State University women's basketball coach Kurt Budke last year in central Arkansas.

Olin Branstetter's autopsy results, obtained by The Associated Press under a public records request, showed that his death was "essentially instantaneous," but a medical examiner couldn't determine much else because his remains were in bad shape after the crash.

Branstetter and his wife and fellow pilot, Paula, were ferrying Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna to Little Rock for a recruiting trip when their plane went down in a wooded area near Perryville in November. They all died from injuries caused by the crash, according to their autopsy reports.

The single-engine plane was flying at about 7,000 feet when it banked to the right, began descending and disappeared from radar, according to a preliminary federal report.

The Nov. 17 crash was the second in a decade involving members of OSU's basketball program. Ten people affiliated with the men's basketball team died in a 2001 plane crash in Colorado, prompting the school to enact its travel policy the following year.

The Oklahoman newspaper reported in its Thursday editions that Oklahoma State plans to review the university's travel policy because of last year's crash.

The school's current policy says student-athletes may not travel in single-engine airplanes while representing the university. Coaches traveling without students can opt to travel in small planes.

Using Oklahoma's Open Records Act, the Oklahoma City newspaper obtained documents showing university President Burns Hargis decided to order a new review after corresponding with former Phillips Petroleum Chairman Wayne Allen, an OSU alumnus.

"When I was chairman, the Board would not allow me to fly in single engine airplanes," Allen wrote by email to Hargis. "When they get the cause sorted out you might consider if it makes sense to have tighter rules. We have had more than our share of airplane accidents."

Hargis replied that the school will review the policy "although I already know the push back we will get ... from the coaches."

OSU football recruiting director Johnny Barr said there might be times when a coach on a recruiting trip may need to take a small, private aircraft.

A separate toxicology report obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act said no drugs were found when workers tested Branstetter's remains.

Charles P. Kokes, the chief medical examiner who performed Branstetter's autopsy, cautioned that even if the toxicology tests find the presence of some chemical that wouldn't usually be there, "it doesn't necessarily tell you that there was a problem with the operator. It just points to a potential problem.

"In the end, you're just putting together a lot of different puzzle pieces to just try to get the clearest possible picture," Kokes said. "And in an instance like this, unfortunately, you're going to have far fewer available pieces."

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jason Aguilera said officials have not found any evidence of carbon monoxide, which can seep into the cockpit from the engine and potentially contribute to loss of control by the pilot.

Toxicologists usually test for carbon monoxide, but Aguilera said they weren't able to in this case because of the condition of Branstetter's remains.

So, investigators turned to a heating system in the airplane, which could produce carbon monoxide if something went wrong, but didn't find any problems. Aguilera said that means it's "unlikely that exhaust fumes from the engine entered the cockpit."

None of the reports determine what caused the plane to fall out of the sky, but they do shed light on some of the pilot and passenger's last moments.

Budke and Serna were wearing orange Oklahoma State athletic gear. Budke, who kept his fingernails "neatly trimmed," had a ring on his left hand. Serna was wearing a silver cross — a reminder of her faith that her mother, Nettie Herrera, now has with her in New Mexico.

Branstetter — a practiced pilot who took to the skies about 10 times a month alongside Paula — was wearing suspenders. His wife had a pad of sticky notes and a pen in her coat.

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