Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Piper PA-32-260 Cherokee Six, N5566J: Accident occurred November 24, 2020 near Donaldson Center Airport (KGYH) , Greenville County, South Carolina

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.

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; West Columbia, South Carolina

Location: Greenville, SC 
Accident Number: ERA21LA054
Date & Time: November 24, 2020, 15:30 Local
Registration: N5566J
Aircraft: Piper PA32 
Injuries: 2 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On November 24, 2020, about 1530 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA32-260, N5566J, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Greenville Donaldson Field (GYH), Greenville, South Carolina. The pilot sustained serious injuries. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

According to the pilot, he flew to GYH to “do some traffic pattern work.” The airplane was cleared for a left closed traffic pattern and landed on runway 05. After the second landing, he was instructed to fly a right traffic pattern due to incoming traffic from the west. The tower controller cleared the pilot to extend the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, to avoid the inbound traffic that was on the final approach leg of the traffic pattern. The pilot acknowledged the tower controller’s instructions and proceeded. During the extended downwind leg, the engine began to lose power. The pilot attempted to restore full power and turned directly to the airport while notifying the tower controller of his emergency. During that time, the pilot “verified fuel selector, turned fuel pump on, cycled mags, verified mixture full rich, pulled carb heat, and checked gauges.” According to the pilot the engine “never seemed to have quit running but would not make power no matter what I did.” The airplane subsequently collided with a building during a descending turn. The left wing separated, and the fuselage was substantially damaged.

The airplane was recovered for further examination. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper 
Registration: N5566J
Model/Series: PA32 260 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: GYH,955 ft msl
Observation Time: 15:17 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 12°C /-1°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: / ,
Lowest Ceiling: 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.31 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Pickens, SC (LQK)
Destination: Greenville, SC (GYH)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Serious 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Serious 
Latitude, Longitude: 34.742081,-82.383549 (est)

More than a week after an airplane crash left mangled metal on a smokestack above a battered fuselage that landed below, the chief of the Donaldson Center Fire Department said he is surprised that the people in the plane have survived.

Chief Mike Sadler's department helped care for the victims after the crash November 24th in Greenville at the Donaldson Center, also called the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center, home to a public airport about two miles south of Interstate 85 south of Greenville.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash.

An NTSB spokesperson said no report on the crash was available yet.

The pilot and a passenger suffered minor injuries, according to an FAA incident notice.

An incident report obtained by The Greenville News from the Greenville County Sheriff's Office through a Freedom of Information Act request showed that deputies arrived at the crash site when Greenville County Emergency Medical Services personnel were already on scene treating both victims.

The men involved in the crash were 61-year-old Ken Bickel of Travelers Rest and 65-year-old Steve James Fitch of Pickens, according to the Sheriff's Office report. They were both transported to Greenville Memorial Hospital.

The report did not state which man was flying. A review of FAA records shows Bickel was issued a pilot's license in January while there is no pilot record for Fitch.

Calls to phone numbers and emails sent to addresses associated in public records with Bickel and Fitch were not returned Wednesday. No new information on their conditions was immediately available.

The plane has a registered tail number of N5566J, according to the FAA. FAA records show that 1968 Piper PA-32 fixed-wing, single-engine plane is owned by Barton Kent Hershfield of Cape Coral, Florida, but Hershfield said in an email Wednesday that he no longer owns the plane.

"I sold it to someone else earlier this year, and they then sold it again in October. I don't know who the current owner is," Hershfield wrote in the email. "Probably due to COVID-19, I assume the FAA's records have not been updated yet to reflect the last two owners."

The incident report did not specify or speculate what may have caused the crash. A witness told deputies that he saw the plane flying toward the airport and heard the sound of the "engine shuttering" before "the engine went quiet."

The plane struck a smokestack and crashed behind a building, according to deputies. A portion of the plane remained stuck on the smokestack after the fuselage fell to the ground below.

Debris was cleared from the smokestack and around the scene on Nov. 25, according to Sadler.

An FAA spokesperson said the aircraft had departed from Donaldson Center and was flying in a traffic pattern for a runway at Donaldson when the crash happened. Earlier that day, the plane was flown from Davis Field in Liberty to Donaldson, according to FlightAware, an aviation software and data services company that tracks aircraft and flights.

Davis Field in Liberty is a privately owned turf runway about 850 feet long, according to, an aviation website that lists aeronautical charts and airport information. A deputy reported that the airplane had been stored at Davis Field.

An audio recording of the airport radio transmissions posted to from the time of the crash depicts a mid-air emergency near the airport. Just prior to the crash, the unidentified pilot reports a problem before the communication is interrupted.

Pilot: "We have a problem."

Tower: "You OK?"

Pilot: "Negative."

About a minute later, airport tower personnel instruct first-responders to get to the end of the runway.

The Donaldson Center is the site of a former Air Force base that was purchased by the city and county of Greenville before being developed into the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center. The city of Greenville and Greenville County now have joint, equal ownership of SCTAC, according to county spokesperson Bob Mihalic.

SCTAC is home to 2,600 acres and operations for more than 100 companies, and it is billed as the Southeast's only business park dedicated to serving the dynamic needs of automotive, aerospace and advanced manufacturing. An 8,000-foot runway at Donaldson Field Airport is overseen by a 91-foot air-traffic-control tower, according to the SCTAC website.


GREENVILLE COUNTY, South Carolina --  A plane crashed Tuesday afternoon near Donaldson Center in Greenville County, officials at the Donaldson Center Airport confirmed.

FAA spokesperson Kathleen Bergen said a single-engine Piper PA-32 collided with a smoke stack and building two miles southwest of Donaldson Center Airport at 3:15 p.m.

The pilot took off from the airport and was flying in the traffic pattern for Runway 5 when the accident occurred, according to Bergen.

Lt. Ryan Flood said the plane crashed at Cytec Carbon Fibers, located at 7139 Augusta Road, Flood said.

Preliminary reports indicate a small engine plane, occupied by two people, struck a smoke tower and came to a rest behind a building, Flood said.

Our Sky 4 crew identified what appears to be a piece of the wing wrapped up on the smokestack.

Both of the occupants inside of the plane were taken to the hospital for treatment, however their condition is unknown, Flood said.

Bergen said the FAA will release the tail number of the aircraft after investigators verify it at the accident site.

Both the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash.

The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation and will provide additional updates.

A single-engine plane with two people inside crashed Tuesday afternoon near the Donaldson Center Airport.

The plane's two occupants were transported to the hospital, according to an email from the Greenville County Sheriff's Office. Their conditions were not known early Tuesday night. 

The aircraft is a Piper PA-32, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Kathleen Bergen. The aircraft departed from Donaldson Center and was flying in a traffic pattern for one of the runways of Donaldson when the crash happened, Bergen said. 

The FAA will release the aircraft tail number once investigators verify it, Bergen said. 

The crash was reported around 3:20 p.m. near Cytec Carbon Fibers, at 7139 Augusta Road, deputies said. 

The plane struck a smokestack and crashed behind a building, deputies said.

A piece of the plane remained stuck on the smokestack after the rest of the plane crashed below. The debris remained on and scattered around the smokestack as night fell. 

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Emergency responders remained at the scene into Tuesday night.


  1. Location where fuselage came to rest is pinned on map at link below. Was just outside airport boundary.

  2. (KGYH) Donaldson Field
    Runway 5/23 8000 x 150 ft. / 2438 x 46 m
    RUNWAY 5: Obstructions: none
    Traffic Pattern Altitude: 800
    Traffic Pattern: Right
    multiple sources...

  3. 34.742675 -82.385132 accident site
    Flightaware Flight Log
    Time (EST) Latitude Longitude Course kts mph feet Rate
    Tue 14:54:22 Departure (4SC4) @ Tuesday 14:54:22 EST
    Tue 14:54:22 34.7661 -82.6647 → 91° 93 107 2,600 Level
    Tue 14:55:29 34.7656 -82.6264 → 91° 104 120 2,600 -90 Descending
    Tue 14:56:35 34.7686 -82.5911 → 84° 102 117 2,400 -347 Descending
    Tue 14:57:30 34.7694 -82.5608 → 88° 97 112 1,900 -310 Descending
    Tue 14:58:31 34.7700 -82.5303 → 89° 95 109 1,800 99 Climbing
    Tue 14:59:31 34.7708 -82.4975 → 88° 95 109 2,100 129 Climbing
    Tue 15:00:50 34.7644 -82.4508 → 99° 105 121 2,100 -90 Descending
    Tue 15:01:44 34.7589 -82.4169 → 101° 109 125 1,900 -261 Descending
    Tue 15:02:45 34.7411 -82.4069 ↘ 155° 97 112 1,600 -113 Descending
    Tue 15:05:17 34.7831 -82.3592 ↗ 43° 108 124 1,500 47 Climbing
    Tue 15:07:00 34.7583 -82.4017 ↙ 235° 99 114 1,800 37 Climbing
    Tue 15:08:00 34.7394 -82.4017 ↓ 180° 82 94 1,600 -66 Descending
    Tue 15:10:02 34.7725 -82.3603 ↗ 46° 98 113 1,600 123 Climbing
    Tue 15:10:26 34.7714 -82.3475 → 96° 99 114 1,900 141 Climbing
    Tue 15:11:27 34.7478 -82.3544 ↓ 194° 93 107 1,800 Level
    Tue 15:12:22 Arrival (KGYH) @ Tuesday 15:12:22 EST
    Tue 15:12:22 34.7317 -82.3703 ↙ 219° 90 104 1,900 109 Climbing

  4. That last Flightaware position is 1.1 miles before the crash site and almost 1000' AGL. (Field elevation is 956 feet.) Can't tell what happened during the last mile...

  5. Unbelievably fortunate to survive first the impact with smokestack, then the G-load from hitting the building, finally crashing into the ground and then not getting engulfed in flames.
    Minor miracle here ..

    1. Actually, three minor miracles equates to one Major miracle...any one of those events should have killed them both...
      Best wishes to all involved..a real Thanksgiving far

    2. Absolutely, thank God no one was seriously hurt or killed, any one of these collisions could have killed them. I have seen crashes that didn't look near as bad as this, and people died, a real Thanksgiving indeed.

    3. "The two people in the plane were conscious and speaking when help got to them, overall a good sign."

  6. 11/24
    2:47 PM 61 F E 6 mph 0 mph 29.12 in Partly Cloudy

  7. Everywhere that the plane hit was just enough to absorb each impact to make it survivable, not a small miracle but a once in a lifetime miracle.

  8. Amazing. "This was a non-survivable accident."

  9. There is a recording on Live ATC that adds some more insight. The aircraft had been in the pattern but then asked to depart to the west, perhaps to return to their origination airport. The tower cleared them to proceed, but they reported a problem. The tower asked if they were ok, but they said negative and it was unintelligible. Sounds like they were turning back to the airport. It is interesting that there does not appear to be a fuel spill and there was no fire.