A pilot who died when his single-engine plane crashed near Brighton intentionally flew into the ground to commit suicide, a National Transportation Safety Board report released earlier this month says.
Investigators learned that 41-year-old Wade Howard Tefft's wife had told him she wanted a divorce and was buying another home.
"About five years earlier, (Tefft) had told her that if she ever left him he would fly his airplane into the ground and kill himself," the report said.
Tefft was killed in the Jan. 11 crash of a Piper PA-28RT-201T Turbo Arrow IV northeast of Denver International Airport and north of Front Range Airport. He was the only one aboard when the aircraft went down in a wheat field.
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NTSB Identification: CEN15FA101
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, January 11, 2015 in Brighton, CO
Probable Cause Approval Date: 04/06/2015
Aircraft: PIPER PA 28RT-201T, registration: N82828
Injuries: 1 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.
Witnesses reported observing the pilot taxi the airplane from inside his hangar and depart. For several minutes, the airplane maneuvered at a low altitude and high airspeed. Witnesses then observed the airplane make a steep bank turn, descend, and impact terrain about 5 miles east of the departure airport. The pilot’s wife had reported to local law enforcement that she believed he had committed suicide. The pilot’s wife reported that she had recently informed him that she wanted a divorce and was purchasing another home. She added that, about 5 years earlier, the pilot had told her that, if she ever left him, he would fly his airplane into the ground and kill himself. Although the wreckage was significantly fragmented, no evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures of the airframe or engine were noted that would have precluded normal operation. The medical examiner determined that the pilot’s manner of death was “suicide.”
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot’s intentional descent into the terrain.
HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On January 11, 2015, at 1246 mountain standard time, a Piper PA-28RT-201T single-engine airplane, N82828, impacted terrain while maneuvering near Brighton, Colorado. The airline transport pilot was fatally injured, and the airplane was destroyed. The airplane was registered to and operated by a private individual under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The flight departed from Van Aire Airport (CO12), Brighton, Colorado, about 1220.
According to witnesses who spoke with local authorities, the pilot taxied the airplane from inside his hangar and departed CO12. A witness described this as unusual because the pilot would typically tug the airplane out of the hangar and then start the engine for a flight. For several minutes, witnesses observed the airplane at a low altitude and maneuvering at high airspeeds. Witnesses last observed the airplane make a steep bank turn, descend, and impact terrain approximately 5 miles east of the Van Aire Airport.
Local law enforcement, who spoke with the pilot's wife, had been advised that she believed he committed suicide. Recently, the pilot's wife had informed him that she wanted a divorce and was purchasing a home nearby the pilot's residence. She stated that approximately five years ago, the pilot told her that if she ever left him, he would fly his airplane into the ground and kill himself.
The pilot, age 41, held an airline transport pilot certificate, a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. In addition, the pilot held a flight instructor certificate with airplane single-engine, multi-engine, and instrument ratings. The pilot's most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first-class medical certificate was issued on November 20, 2014, with no limitations or restrictions.
According to the pilot's most recent airman medical certificate application, the pilot had accumulated 10,600 total flight hours and 200 flight hours in the previous six months. The pilot's logbooks were not located during the investigation.
The four-seat, low-wing, retractable tricycle-gear airplane, serial number 28R-8131015, was manufactured in 1980. The airplane was powered by a Continental Motors TSIO-360-FB1B, 200-horsepower engine, equipped with a Hartzell constant-speed propeller. The airplane was registered to the pilot on September 2, 2008.
A review of the airplane logbooks revealed the most recent annual inspection was completed on September 6, 2014. At that time, the airframe and engine had accumulated 4,105.9 total hours. The engine had accumulated 88.3 hours since major overhaul.
At 1253, the Denver International Airport, Denver, Colorado, automated surface observing system, located approximately 11 miles southwest of the accident site, reported the wind from 360 degrees at 9 knots, 10 miles visibility, few clouds at 5,000 feet, ceiling overcast at 11,000 feet, temperature 4 degrees Celsius, dew point 1 degree Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 30.00 inches of Mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane wreckage came to rest in a dormant wheat field, and airplane debris was distributed for approximately 200 feet along a bearing of 308 degrees. The initial impact point, consistent with the left wing, was a continuous ground scar that extended 24 feet to a ground crater that measured 2.5 feet in depth. The propeller assembly, engine, and a portion of the forward fuselage were located within the ground crater. The wings, fuselage cabin, and empennage were fragmented and located within the debris field. All major components of the airplane were located at the accident site.
The cockpit and cockpit instrumentation were fragmented and destroyed. All four seats and seat assemblies were separated from their attach points. The left wing and fuel tank were fragmented. The left aileron and flap remained partially attached to the wing structure. The right wing and fuel tank were fragmented. The right aileron and flap remained partially attached to the wing structure. Both the left and right main landing gear assemblies were found in the retracted position.
Partial control cable continuity was established due to fragmentation of the wreckage. The aileron cables remained attached to the chain assembly, and the chain was separated in several sections. The fractured aileron cable ends were broomstrawed, consistent with an overload failure. Both the left and right aileron bellcranks were separated and pulled from their attach points in the wings. The aileron cables were attached to their bellcranks and separated at the wing root. The rudder cables were attached to their respective cockpit attach points. The cables were fractured and broomstrawed, consistent with an overload failure. The rudder cable assembly was detached from the rudder pulley. The horizontal stabilator cables were separated from the lower T-bar, and the cables were attached to the aft turnbuckle.
The engine sustained significant impact-related damage. The engine remained partially attached to the firewall. The spark plugs were impact damaged and exhibited normal color and wear signatures. Due to damage, the crankshaft was partially rotated by a hand tool, and mechanical continuity was noted throughout the engine. The engine crankshaft was fractured at the propeller flange; the fracture surface displayed 45 degree shear lips consistent with an overload failure.
The propeller assembly remained attached to the fractured crankshaft propeller flange. One propeller blade was bent aft, tip curled, and contained chordwise blade polishing. One propeller blade displayed s-type bending and contained chordwise blade polishing.
MEDICAL AND PATHEOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Office of the Coroner for Adams and Broomfield Counties, Colorado. The listed cause of death was "multiple blunt trauma injuries to the body due to airplane crash." The manner of death was determined to be suicide.
The FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing on the pilot. The tests were negative for all screened drugs and alcohol.
Full narrative: http://www.ntsb.gov
Wade Howard Tefft, 41, of Brighton, died Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. Wade was a beloved husband, brother and friend and passionate pilot who will be missed by all who knew him and experienced his love of life, family and flying.
Wade was born Nov. 11, 1973, in Jamestown, New York, to Thomas and Laura (Craw) Tefft. By the time he graduated Cassadaga Valley Central High School (Sinclairville, New York) in 1991, Wade already had earned his pilot’s license, having inherited a love of airplanes from his maternal grandfather.
After high school Wade would go on to log thousands of hours in many airplanes at a variety of jobs for cargo carriers, commuter airlines and private jet charters. In 2005 he moved to Denver and most recently served as Director of Operations for Mountain Aviation.
Wade married Nicole Muller in Garden City, Kan., in September 2001. They had two children, Tristan, 10, and Ashley, 7, who joined Benjamin, 18, from Wade’s previous marriage. Wade and Nicole most recently made their home in the Van Aire airpark in Brighton, where Wade recently served on the board of directors and the whole family enjoyed being a part of a close-knit community who shared their love of flying.
Wade enjoyed meeting people through his flying career and also enjoyed all the places it took him, he was proud to have seen all but just a few of the United States. He loved being able to fly his family on short day trips and vacations and also enjoyed being a flight instructor, recently he had been teaching his son Ben to fly. In his spare time Wade enjoyed restoring airplanes and rooting for the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies.
Wade was preceded in death by his father and mother. He is survived by his wife and children and a sister, Lynn (Robert) Hoff of Aurora, Illinois, nephews Max and Tom.
Mass of Christian Burial was held Jan. 19, at St. Augustine Catholic Church.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Wade Tefft Memorial Fund in care of Edward Jones 12995 Sheridan Blvd. Suite #100, Broomfield, CO 80020.