Saturday, October 23, 2021

Piper PA-32R-300 Cherokee Lance, N1652H: Fatal accident occurred October 22, 2021 near Lowcountry Regional Airport (KRBW), Walterboro, Colleton 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 traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Columbia, South Carolina
Piper Aircraft Inc; Vero Beach, Florida
Lycoming Aircraft Engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Demelva Aviation LLC

Location: Walterboro, South Carolina
Accident Number: ERA22FA026
Date and  Time: October 22, 2021, 15:57 Local
Registration: N1652H
Aircraft: Piper PA-32R-300
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On October 22, 2021, about 1557 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32R-300, N1652H, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Walterboro, South Carolina. The pilot was seriously injured, and the passenger was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

The airplane departed Shannon Airport (EZF), Fredericksburg, Virginia, about 1256, destined for Miami Executive Airport (TMB), Miami, Florida. Prior to departure, the pilot topped-off the airplane’s fuel tanks (98 gallons total capacity) by adding 78.81 gallons of 100LL aviation gasoline.

The flight was uneventful, until about 2 hours and 53 minutes into the flight when the airplane was in cruise at 6,000 ft above mean sea level (msl) and the pilot advised air traffic control that he wanted to divert to Lowcountry Regional Airport (RBW), Walterboro, South Carolina for fuel, and then resume his instrument flight rules flight plan to TMB.

The air traffic controller cleared the pilot to fly direct to RBW. The pilot requested the visual approach to runway 23. The air traffic controller then instructed the pilot to maintain 1,600 ft msl, and subsequently instructed him to fly heading 190°. The airplane was approximately 9 miles north of RBW when it began to descend without a clearance. The pilot then declared an emergency due to a “lagging engine” to which the air traffic controller advised that RBW was at “one o’clock and seven miles,” and to “maintain present heading and altitude.” There was no further communication with the pilot. The airplane descended while in a left turn and was last observed by air traffic control at an altitude of 100 ft msl.

Witnesses reported an engine sound that they described as an all-terrain vehicle type engine. They observed a white airplane with green stripes in a left turn toward an open field next to their house. They then heard a loud “pop” from the airplane and the engine noise ceased.

Examination of the accident site revealed that the airplane initially contacted an approximately 70-ft-tall pine tree. A 100-yard-long debris path on a magnetic heading of about 070° was observed through a forested area descending on an approximate 20° flight path angle.

Examination of the airplane revealed that both wings and the right stabilator had separated from their mounting locations during the impact sequence with the trees. There was no evidence of pre-impact fire, and all damage was consistent with tree and terrain impact.

The fuselage was mostly consumed by a post-impact fire. The landing gear was in the down position, and the landing gear “dump” lever was stowed. The throttle, propeller, and mixture controls were in the full forward positions. The fuel selector valve was in the right fuel tank position. The wing flaps were up (0°). The left wing outboard and inboard fuel tanks were breached. The right wing outboard fuel tank was breached, but still contained residual fuel, and the right inboard fuel tank had separated from the wing. Both the left and right fuel filler caps remained attached.

Examination of the aluminum 3-bladed constant-speed propeller revealed that the propeller remained attached to the propeller flange, and no rotational deformation was present on the impact damaged spinner. Impact damage was noted to the propeller hub and all three blades. There was no leading-edge damage or chord-wise abrasions noted on the propeller blades.

Examination of the engine revealed that the engine remained attached to its mount which had partially separated from the fuselage. Both the engine and its mount exhibited impact and thermal damage. The exhaust system was impact damaged but remained attached to its respective cylinder attach points. No internal obstructions or deformations were noted in the exhaust system. The single drive, dual magneto, and the engine driven fuel pump were destroyed by fire. The engine crankshaft was rotated. Thumb compression and suction were attained, and crankshaft and camshaft continuity to the rear gears was observed. Oil was observed within the sump and the oil pump suction screen was clear of debris. One tooth was found to have fractured on the oil pump drive gear and its driving idler gear exhibited abrasions on several consecutive teeth. The fractured gear tooth was retrieved from the oil sump. The oil pump could not be rotated by hand.

The wreckage was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper
Registration: N1652H
Model/Series: PA-32R-300 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built:
Operator: On file
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: KRBW,102 ft msl 
Observation Time: 15:55 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 8 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 27°C /17°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Scattered / 3900 ft AGL
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 8 knots / , 260°
Lowest Ceiling: 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.96 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Departure Point: Fredericksburg, VA (EZF)
Destination: Miami, FL (TMB)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious 
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious 
Latitude, Longitude: 33.0425,-80.598217

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email You can also call the NTSB Response Operations Center at 844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290.

Col. Deane E. Thomey

A U.S. Air Force pilot who is based in Horsham is reportedly fighting for his life after his plane went down in South Carolina last week, a crash that is said to have taken the life of his 24-year-old daughter.

Colonel Deane Thomey, commander of the 111th Attack Wing and Biddle Air National Guard Base in Horsham, had been flying a private plane from Virginia to Florida when his plane experienced engine problems, subsequently causing it to crash into the woods.

Thomey is currently being treated in the intensive care unit of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, according to the 111th Attack Wing, which said Thomey was piloting a privately-owned Piper PA-32R-300 Cherokee Lance at the time of the incident.

"Please keep the Thomey family in your thoughts and prayers," Col. Rebecca Gray, 111th Attack Wing Vice Commander, said in a statement. "Together we will support one another, Col. Thomey's wife and his daughters through this difficult time."

The crash claimed the life of Thomey's daughter, Madeline.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.

Thomey, an Arkansas native, took command at the 111th Attack Wing this past April after he spent time as the director of the Air National Guard Director's Action Group at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, according to the 111th.

He attended pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, graduating in November 1996.

WALTERBORO, South Carolina -  Investigators are working to piece together what led to a deadly plane crash in Colleton County Friday afternoon.

The National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies were at the scene Saturday as they work on the initial phase of the investigation. While a preliminary report will be posted on the NTSB’s website in seven to 10 days, the full investigation could take one to two years.

NTSB air safety investigator Todd Gunther said the Piper PA-32R-300 Cherokee Lance was flying from Fredericksburg, Virginia, to Tamiami, Florida, when it crashed about 250 yards from Round O Road near Walterboro.

At 6,000 feet, the pilot declared an emergency for an engine problem. The pilot tried to land at the Lowcountry Regional Airport in Walterboro and ended up hitting trees three miles northeast of the airport.

An initial examination of the accident site showed the airplane struck trees and then traveled for about 75 yards before coming to rest. It then caught on fire, Gunther said.

A passenger on board the aircraft was killed, while the pilot was seriously injured and taken to the hospital.

Colleton County Coroner Richard Harvey identified the victim Saturday night as 24-year-old Madeline Thomey of Alexandria, Virginia. The pilot’s name has not been released.

Gunther said all pieces of the aircraft are currently in that debris field. The NTSB is working with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office, the county coroner, the Federal Aviation Administration, the engine manufacturer and the aircraft manufacturer, as well as other state and local entities.

“What’s going to happen over the next few days is we’re going to be bringing in team members both for the structure of the airplane to take a look at it and the engine,” Gunther said. “Additionally, we’ll be looking at the meteorology, the weather conditions that surrounded the accident, as well as the physiology of the pilot.”

Investigators will be looking at other systems on the aircraft such as the electrical system and the fuel system to see if there was anything that may have contributed to or caused the accident.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims of this tragic accident,” Gunther said.


  1. Piper PA-32R-300 Cherokee Lance
    Demelva Aviation LLC
    Serial number: 32R-7780168

    My condolences and hope for a quick recovery of the pilot.

  2. If it is true that the trouble began at 6000', the ADS-B track shows that instead of risking coming up short of reaching Lowcountry Regional, Saint George Airport 6J2 was within easy reach, circling down from 5,000 MSL and two miles away.

    Not meant as criticism of the pilot, but it seems that engine trouble sometimes results in trying to nurse the plane to the nearest airport that has on-site maintenance service available instead of choosing the nearest airport.

    1. ref 6J2 St George Airport
      @ :50:07
      Speed: 134 kt
      Altitude: ▼ 5,825 ft
      Vert. Rate: -704 ft/min
      Track: 201.4°
      Pos.: 33.225°, -80.530°

      6J2 St George Airport @ 33.1955000,-80.5084722
      Runway 5/23 3201 x 60 ft. / 976 x 18 m

      Final Return @ :52:55
      Speed: 99 kt
      Altitude: ▼ 1,600 ft
      Vert. Rate: -2112 ft/min
      Track: 216.4°
      Pos.: 33.132, -80.590

      "Prudent flight planning includes researching alternate airports. A flight might not end as planned for many reasons: mechanical failure, sickness, bladder discomfort, turbulence, enroute or destination weather and destination abnormalities." @ ifr-magazine

    2. He was also very very close to KDYB shortly after he started the descent. ADS-B shows him at 5,400ft abeam the runway at kDYB. I'm very familiar with this area, was based at KDYB for years. It's a very well maintained 5,000ft runway with RNAV approaches on each end and all expected runway lighting. It's very sad that he didn't see the runway right there next to him that would have been incredibly easy to make.

    3. It's not fair to the pilot to say he was "very very close" to KDYB when the aircraft was abeam of 6J2 at St. George. There is a 14 nmile distance between St. George and KDYB.

      To visualize, here is the chart:

    4. Not meant as a criticism of the controller, but if there were other suitable airports that were closer, maybe the controller should have mentioned them when the pilot declared an emergency instead of only calling out the airport the pilot was already heading to and saying “maintain present heading and altitude.”

      Yes, we all know the pilot has PIC authority to deviate from an IFR flight plan during an emergency, but it's very easy to get tunnel vision AND feel compelled to obey ATC instructions when under the stress of a life threatening situation. Sometimes a controller can be the voice of reason to help a pilot under stress consider better options.

    5. RE: ^^^ "Not meant as a criticism of the controller, but if there were other suitable airports that were closer..."

      There weren't any airports closer when emergency declared.

      Preliminary report stated that the air traffic controller advised that RBW was at “one o’clock and seven miles” when the emergency was declared.

      Pilot's position was 11 miles from St. George/5J2 and 13 miles from Summerville/DYB when that emergency declaration was made. Any other airport was even further away than those.

      Controller was correct to keep him on the 7 mile track to RBW.

  3. The Pilot is a great American. Spent 4 years of high school with him. Prayers that he recovers.

    He is an active Colonel in ANG leading an Air Wing

  4. Though we need to wait for the NTSB report for detailed insight, I do believe we can all learn from this today. It does appear to me that this accident might well have been a non-accident had the pilot chosen the nearest airport at the first sign of engine trouble. As the commenter above said, a circling down to land at St. George would have likely ended well. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those involved...

  5. Filed 6 hour 9 minute flight 930 miles in a Piper Lance? good luck!! something was amiss before even taking off

  6. The Lance holds almost 100 gallons of fuel. I had a friend put one in off the airport because of that single point magneto system. Solid airplane otherwise.

  7. An experimental 6 seat single engine with ballistic parachute is needed in the general aviation market. Something that compares with a bonanza or Saratoga with added safety of airframe parachute.

    1. Cirrus Vision Jet is a 6 seat single-engine aircraft with a ballistic parachute.

  8. Preliminary report says the aircraft had started the flight with full 98 gallons fuel but pilot wanted to divert to low country for fuel at the three hour point. Post-crash fire suggests fuel remained in at least one tank.

    Selector valve problem possible, but would not expect the pilot to fly on one tank to depletion without alternating tanks for weight balance.

  9. Preliminary report says that drive gear for the oil pump broke a tooth which was recovered in the oil sump. Also the oil pump could NOT be rotated by hand. Oil starvation would explain the "Lagging Engine" as reported by the pilot when he declared an emergency. I suspect the engine wasn't able to produce enough power to maintain altitude and eventually stopped running as evident from no rotational deformation present on the
    impact damaged spinner and there was no leading-edge damage or chord-wise abrasions noted on the propeller blades.

    1. Puzzling to see the report state:
      "The fractured gear tooth was retrieved from the oil sump."

      Oil pump gear teeth are large. If the engine has an oil filter after the pump and the oil pressure relief valve ball seat and passageway is too small to pass the tooth, what path can a tooth travel to get to the sump?

      Example pump photo:

      An example oil pump video, for location reference:

      See also:

    2. One of the oil pump drive teeth broke. Not the pump gears. The pump gears turn and mesh inside the housing causing the oil to to be pressurized. The drive teeth are located on the drive shaft which turns the oil pump gears. The oil pump drive shaft is turned by the crankshaft.

      Maybe this video will give you a better picture of how the oil pump is driven.

    3. Makes sense that a tooth found in the sump had to be from a geared input drive. Got misled looking at the Pitts IO360 video that shows a tab & slot coupled oil pump drive.