Saturday, April 18, 2020

Aircraft Structural Failure: Piper PA-34-200T Seneca, N14GQ; fatal accident occurred February 19, 2018 near Minden–Tahoe Airport (KMEV), Douglas County, Nevada

Stephen Santo Filice
April 1, 1953 ~ February 19, 2018

Text Screen Shots

Accident Airplane N14GQ, a Piper PA-34-200T “Seneca II”

Accident Site, Main Wreckage

Appareo Stratus Unit

Vertical Stabilizer and Rudder

Nose Cone Section

Right Stabilator

Main Wreckage Site

Left Stabilator

Left Wing, Outboard Fuel Tank

Stabilator Trim Tab

Stabilator wreckage, viewed looking down at upper surface

Vertical stabilizer and rudder, viewed looking at left side

Left Wing, Lower Side View

Right outboard wing, lower surface

Lower Fuselage

Left outboard wing, upper surface

Forward Fuselage, Cabin Area 

Lower fuselage, viewed from right side

Right Wing, Lower Side View

Appareo Stratus Ground Track for the Flight

Left Wing

Last Five Minutes of Appareo Stratus Ground Track Near the Accident Site and Wreckage Location

Left Wing, Main Spar

Altitude and Ground Speed Based on Appareo Data

Altitude and Speed for Final Minutes Based on Appareo Data

Calculated Pitch, Bank, and Heading for Final Minutes Based on Flight Path and Selected Appareo Data

Calculated Angle-of-Attack and Load Factor for Final Minutes Based on Flight Path and Selected Appareo Data

Photo of damaged Appareo Stratus.

Google Earth overlay showing the aircraft’s departure from BFL.

Google Earth overlay showing the aircraft’s enroute portion of flight.

Google Earth overlay showing the aircraft’s final recorded tracklog points.

Plot of basic parameters from the Appareo Stratus for the entire flight.

Plot of basic parameters from the Appareo Stratus for the accident portion of the flight.

Airplane flight path with time and altitude annotated. 

Altitude, groundspeed, and rate of climb for whole flight. 

End of airplane flight path.

Altitude, groundspeed, and calibrated airspeed.

Airplane flight with airspeeds.

Altitude and vertical acceleration. 

Airplane flight path and debris field. 

Airplane flight path and fuselage, marked as N14GQ.

Airplane flight path and debris field.

Airplane flight path and ATC communications.

Airplane flight path and ATC communications.

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Reno, Nevada
Piper Aircraft; Wichita, Kansas

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Minden, NV
Accident Number: WPR18FA091
Date & Time: 02/19/2018, 1125 PST
Registration: N14GQ
Aircraft: PIPER PA34
Aircraft Damage:Destroyed 
Defining Event: Aircraft structural failure
Injuries:1 Fatal 
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On February 19, 2018, about 1125 Pacific standard time, a Piper PA-34-200T airplane, N14GQ, was destroyed when it impacted the ground about 4 miles northwest of Minden-Tahoe Airport (MEV), Minden, Nevada. The commercial pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated by the pilot as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan was not filed for the cross-country flight, which originated from Meadows Field Airport (BFL), Bakersfield, California, about 0900.

According to GPS data and a recording of communications between the pilot and air traffic control (ATC), the pilot was in contact with a controller at the Northern California Terminal Radar Approach Control.

At 1119:41, the pilot reported that the airplane was at an altitude of 14,500 ft mean sea level (msl) and about 10 miles southwest of and inbound to MEV.

At 1121:16, when the airplane was about 7 miles west of MEV, the controller asked, "how much further north are you going to go or is it for clouds?"

The controller then attempted to contact the pilot twice more, at 1122:33 and 1122:39; the pilot responded, at 1122:43, "ah, one four golf Quebec."

Three seconds later, the controller asked the pilot again, "how much further north you want to go?"

At 1122:50, the pilot asked the controller to please speak up, indicating "I can't hear you." Five seconds later, the controller repeated the question with emphasis.

At 1123:07, the pilot responded, "I'm going to orbit here to the south…south over the airport I can see it, maneuvering through a hole," which was the last transmission from the pilot.

About that time, the pilot started a wide right turn toward MEV. The GPS data showed that the airplane was at an altitude of 14,210 ft msl and on a heading of about 50°. About 24 seconds later, the airplane was at an altitude of 14,462 ft msl and was on a heading of about 122°.

Shortly afterward, as the airplane continued south, it appeared to enter a descending spiraling pattern. Specifically, GPS data showed that, at 1124:20, the airplane began a spiral turn of about 360° and descended to 13,410 ft msl; 9 seconds later, the airplane's altitude was 12,493 ft msl. At 11:24:49, the airplane began a spiral turn of about 580° and descended to an altitude of 9,750 ft msl, which was the last reliable altitude recorded. Figure 1 shows the flight track above the accident site.

Figure 1. Aerial View of the Flight Track and Wreckage Debris Field

The pilot and his son were communicating throughout the flight, via text messaging, about the weather conditions near MEV. The pilot's son described a broken cloud layer and indicated that parts of the Sierra Mountain Range were either below or obscured by clouds. The pilot asked if the clouds were broken over Lake Tahoe, to which his son replied, "yes." The pilot then stated, "is clearing up over there, might stop in Stockton." The pilot's son replied, "there's many holes over Carson Valley," and "you should be able to stay above and drop in over the valley."

A witness, who was located outside her residence about 2 miles north of the accident site, reported that she heard a loud noise that sounded similar to a "sonic boom." She looked up and saw an airplane "nose-diving down" with trailing smoke. The witness stated she did not see any flames.


The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with a rating for airplane multiengine land, commercial privileges for airplane single-engine land and single-engine sea, and private privileges for glider. The pilot was also a flight instructor with airplane single- and multiengine ratings and held an airframe and powerplant certificate (A&P) with inspection authorization. His most recent second-class medical certificate was issued September 24, 2017. On his medical certificate application, the pilot reported that he had accumulated 6,000 hours of total flight experience, of which 50 hours were in the previous 6 months.

The pilot's logbooks indicated that he had accumulated 5,945 hours of total flight experience, of which 4.9 hours were in the Piper PA-34-200T airplane during the previous 6 months. The pilot successfully completed his most recent flight review on September 24, 2017.


The airplane was manufactured in 1978. It was powered by a Continental LTIO-360-EB-1B (right) and a TIO-360-EB-1B (left) engine, both of which were rated at 200 horsepower. The engines were equipped with Hartzell two-bladed, controllable-pitch propellers. According to maintenance logbooks, the airplane's last annual inspection was on August 1, 2017, with a total time of 3,948 hours, and both engines had a total time of 1,960 hours since new.

The airplane had a full-span flaps and spoiler system in accordance with the Robertson Aircraft Corporation supplemental type certificate (STC) SA154NW. This system incorporated the functions of both flaps and ailerons by removing the ailerons and changing the deployment route of the flaps. The spoilers were mounted above the flaps for roll control, and conical cambered wing tips were installed per the STC.

The airplane was equipped with a supplemental oxygen system. The maintenance logbooks indicated that the oxygen bottle was hydrostatic checked and certified on April 13, 2012, and that the bottles were filled to 1,800 psi with aviation breathing oxygen. The next hydrostatic check was due in March 2017. No evidence indicated that the check occurred at that time, and no other maintenance on the oxygen system was recorded in the maintenance logbooks.


The nearest weather reporting station was MEV, located about 4 miles south of the accident site. The recorded weather at 1115 indicated wind from 350°at 15 knots gusting to 29 knots, visibility 10 statute miles or greater, sky clear, temperature -2°C, dew point -13°C, and an altimeter setting of 29.82 inches of mercury.

Satellite imagery taken 30 minutes before the accident revealed extensive cloud coverage over the region, as shown in figure 2, but also significant breaks in the cloud coverage, through which the ground could be seen. A pilot report about 30 minutes after the accident indicated clouds between 9,500 and 13,000 ft msl about 10 miles east of the accident site. Weather radar also showed snow showers moving through the area about the time of the accident with some light icing in the clouds.


Initial examination of the airplane revealed that the airplane impacted the ground in an inverted, wings-level, slightly nose-down attitude. No debris was located near the main wreckage. The nose cone assembly, empennage, right wing outboard full-span flap assembly, and left outboard wing section separated from the airplane. A debris field located about 0.5 mile south of the main wreckage contained the separated airplane parts. The debris field was about 800 ft wide and 3,200 ft long and was on a 167o magnetic heading from the main wreckage to stabilator trim tab, the last airplane part found in the debris field.

The airplane wreckage was relocated to a secure facility for further examination. The examination revealed that the stabilator separated in a downward and aft direction and that the wing sections separated in a downward direction. The lower fuselage showed areas of damage and black transfer marks consistent with wing contact. There was no evidence of any pre-existing corrosion or cracking on any of the fracture surfaces. The fracture surfaces exhibited a dull, grainy appearance consistent with overstress separation. The oxygen system was found loose in the cabin area at the accident site. Examination of the system could not determine whether the pilot was using supplemental oxygen during the flight.


The Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office, Reno, Nevada, performed an autopsy on the pilot. His cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries. The autopsy revealed that the pilot had moderate coronary artery disease with 50% to 75% stenosis of the proximal and mid-segments of the left anterior descending coronary artery and 10% to 20% stenosis of the right coronary artery.

Toxicology testing performed at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Forensic Sciences Laboratory identified diphenhydramine in the pilot's cavity blood (0.305 µg/mL) and liver specimens. In addition, amlodipine and atorvastatin were detected in the pilot's cavity blood and kidney specimens. No ethanol was detected.

Diphenhydramine is a sedating antihistamine used to treat allergy symptoms and aid sleep. It is available over the counter under the names Benadryl and Unisom. Diphenhydramine carries the following warning: may impair mental and/or physical ability required for the performance of potentially hazardous tasks (e.g., driving and operating heavy machinery). Compared with other antihistamines, diphenhydramine causes marked sedation; it is also classified as a central nervous system depressant. Altered mood and impaired cognitive and psychomotor performance may also be observed. For example, during a driving simulator study, a single dose of diphenhydramine impaired driving ability more than a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1%.

The range of blood levels expected to cause effects with routine use is between 0.025 and 0.112 ug/ml. Diphenhydramine undergoes postmortem redistribution; postmortem central blood levels may thus increase by about three times.

Amlodipine is a prescription blood pressure medication. Atorvastatin is a prescription cholesterol medication. Neither medication is considered impairing.


Airplane Performance Study

Data used in the performance study were from the airplane's Appareo Stratus PRX V2 device, which recorded GPS position and attitude and heading reference system information in its nonvolatile memory. For the accident flight, the GPS recorded data from 0926:40 to 1125:15. According to the recorded flight data, the accident flight proceeded without incident until the final minutes of the flight as the airplane approached its intended destination.

The airplane's maximum structural cruising speed (VNO) is listed in the Piper Aircraft Pilots Operating Manual as 190 mph or 165 knots calibrated airspeed. The never exceed speed (VNE) is 224 mph or 194 knots calibrated airspeed. At 11:24:37 the estimated airspeed peaks at 220 kt. The airplane exceeded VNO and VNE after completing about one revolution of the turn, at 1124:44 and 1124:49, respectively. The airplane's maximum positive flight load factor (flaps up) is listed as 3.8 G. The airplane's recorded flight vertical load increased steadily when the right turn began. The airplane's flight load reached a maximum of 3.95 G before the Appareo data became unreliable.

The unreliability of the data after the airplane exceeded the maximum load indicated that the airplane broke up at 1124:49 at an altitude of about 9,500 ft msl, (4,900 ft above ground level).


Supplemental Oxygen Requirements

The flight data indicated that the airplane was operating above 12,500 ft msl for about 37 minutes, including about 15 minutes between 14,000 and 14,462 ft. According to regulations, the pilot should have been using supplemental oxygen after reaching 14,000 ft msl.

Spatial Disorientation

The FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute's publication, "Introduction to Aviation Physiology," defines spatial disorientation as a loss of proper bearings or a state of mental confusion as to position, location, or movement relative to the position of the earth. Factors contributing to spatial disorientation include changes in acceleration, flight in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), frequent transfer between VMC and IMC, and unperceived changes in aircraft attitude.

The FAA Airplane Flying Handbook describes some hazards associated with flying when the ground or horizon are obscured. The handbook states, in part: "The vestibular sense (motion sensing by the inner ear) in particular tends to confuse the pilot. Because of inertia, the sensory areas of the inner ear cannot detect slight changes in the attitude of the airplane, nor can they accurately sense attitude changes that occur at a uniform rate over a period of time. On the other hand, false sensations are often generated; leading the pilot to believe the attitude of the airplane has changed when in fact, it has not. These false sensations result in the pilot experiencing spatial disorientation."

These illusions include the graveyard spiral, about which, "Medical Facts for Pilots" (AM-400-03/1)," describes, in part, as the following:

The Graveyard Spiral…is associated with a return to level flight following an intentional or unintentional prolonged bank turn. For example, a pilot who enters a banking turn to the left will initially have a sensation of a turn in the same direction. If the left turn continues (~20 seconds or more), the pilot will experience the sensation that the airplane is no longer turning to the left. At this point, if the pilot attempts to level the wings this action will produce a sensation that the airplane is turning and banking in the opposite direction (to the right). If the pilot believes the illusion of a right turn (which can be very compelling), he/she will reenter the original left turn in an attempt to counteract the sensation of a right turn. Unfortunately, while this is happening, the airplane is still turning to the left and losing altitude. Pulling the control yoke/stick and applying power while turning would not be a good idea–because it would only make the left turn tighter. If the pilot fails to recognize the illusion and does not level the wings, the airplane will continue turning left and losing altitude until it impacts the ground. 

Pilot Information

Certificate: Airline Transport; Flight Instructor
Age:64, Male 
Airplane Rating(s): Multi-engine Land; Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used:
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane
Second Pilot Present:No 
Instructor Rating(s): Airplane Multi-engine; Airplane Single-engine
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 2 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam:09/24/2017 
Occupational Pilot:Yes 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time: 6000 hours (Total, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: PIPER
Model/Series: PA34 200T
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1978
Amateur Built:No 
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 34-7870455
Landing Gear Type: Retractable - Tricycle
Seats: 6
Date/Type of Last Inspection:
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 4570 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines:2 Reciprocating 
Airframe Total Time:
Engine Manufacturer: CONT MOTOR
Engine Model/Series: TSIO-360-EB
Registered Owner: STUNAD LLC
Rated Power:200 hp 
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: MEV, 4729 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 4 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 1915 UTC
Direction from Accident Site: 147°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility:  10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 15 knots / 29 knots
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: / Unknown
Wind Direction: 350°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:
Altimeter Setting: 29.82 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: -2°C / -13°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: BAKERSFIELD, CA (BFL)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: MINDEN, NV (MEV)
Type of Clearance: Unknown
Departure Time: 0935 PST
Type of Airspace: 

Airport Information

Runway Surface Type:
Airport Elevation: 4723 ft
Runway Surface Condition: Unknown
Runway Used: N/A
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width:
VFR Approach/Landing: Unknown

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire:None 
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 39.049722, -119.794167 (est)

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