Saturday, September 17, 2022

Piper PA-32-300 Cherokee Six, N2104J: Fatal accident occurred September 14, 2022 in Afton, Virginia

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.

Investigator In Charge (IIC): Gretz, Robert

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

Additional Participating Entities:
Peter Hantelman; Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Richmond, Virginia
Piper Aircraft; Vero Beach, Florida
Lycoming Engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania 

BRH Bilbo Holdings LLC

Location: Afton, Virginia
Accident Number: ERA22FA418
Date and Time: September 14, 2022, 23:00 Local 
Registration: N2104J
Aircraft: Piper PA32
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On September 14, 2022, about 2300 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32-300, N8262P, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Afton, Virginia. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

According to the airport manager at Blue Ridge Airport (MTV), Martinsville, Virginia, the pilot diverted to MTV uneventfully on September 10, 2022, due to weather. He purchased 72 gallons of fuel and return to Pennsylvania on a commercial flight. On the day of the accident, the pilot arrived at MTV to retrieve his airplane with the intention of flying back to his home airport, Smoketown Airport (S37), Smoketown, Pennsylvania.

According to preliminary information from the Federal Aviation Administration, the airplane was in cruise flight at 7,500 ft mean sea level when the pilot reported a rough running engine, followed by a total loss of engine power. The pilot attempted to glide the airplane to Charlottesville-Albermarle (CHO), Charlottesville, Virginia, but the airplane impacted wooded terrain about 15 miles southwest of CHO.

An approximate 100-ft debris path was observed, extending on a 60° magnetic course, consisting of severed trees at a downward angle of approximately 45°. The wreckage came to rest upright, oriented on a magnetic heading of 240°. The cockpit and cabin were consumed by fire. The fuel selector valve exhibited thermal damage and was positioned to the left main fuel tank. The fuel strainer bowl was
thermally damaged, and the fuel strainer screen was destroyed. Flight control cable continuity was continuous from the cockpit to each of the respective control surfaces except for a separation in each of the rudder cables consistent with impact forces. The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft propeller flange. Both propeller blades remained in the hub. One blade appeared straight and
undamaged. The other blade was bent aft about 90°. The spinner was crushed on one side.

The engine was subsequently examined at a recovery facility. The crankshaft could not be rotated by hand. Removal of the rear accessory case housing revealed fragments of connecting rod cap on top of the oil sump baffling. Removal of the oil sump revealed about 1 quart of oil remained in the sump with additional metal fragments. The Nos. 1 and 2 cylinders were removed and their respective connecting rods remained intact. The remaining four cylinders could not be removed from the engine case. An access hole was cut through the oil sump baffling to facilitate visual examination. The remaining four connecting rods were fractured. The visual examination revealed that the crankshaft remained intact.

The engine was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper
Registration: N2104J
Model/Series: PA32 300 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built:
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC 
Condition of Light: Night
Observation Facility, Elevation: CHO,641 ft msl 
Observation Time: 22:53 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 15 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 18°C /15°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 4 knots / , 270°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.15 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Martinsville, VA (MTV)
Destination: Smoketown, PA (S39)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: N/A 
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries: N/A 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 37.985075,-78.716803

Aircraft crashed under unknown circumstances in a field and became engulfed in flames.  

Date: 15-SEP-22
Time: 03:00:00Z
Regis#: N2104J
Aircraft Make: PIPER
Aircraft Model: PA32
Event Type: ACCIDENT
Highest Injury: FATAL
Total Fatal: 1
Flight Crew: 1 Fatal
Pax: 0 
Aircraft Missing: No
Activity: PERSONAL
Flight Phase: EN ROUTE (ENR)
Operation: 91

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.

Kevin James Esh
September 6, 1992 - September 14, 2022

Kevin James Esh, age 30 of New Holland, passed away on Wednesday, September 14, 2022 after a plane crash in Albemarle County, Virginia. Born in New Holland, he was the son of Sarah King Esh of New Holland and the late Amos R. Esh. Kevin was a member of Branch Community Church. He enjoyed working with his brothers at the company his father Amos founded, Keystone Custom Decks. In his free time, he loved hunting, flying, boating, and spending time with his nephews: Lincoln, Riley, Carter, Lewis, and Brady.

Surviving besides his mother are 6 siblings: Michael J., husband of Rebecca Lalhlimzing Esh of New Holland, Marv L., husband of Katelyn Weaver Esh of Gap, Carolyn J., wife of Nathan Lapp of Coatesville, Timothy D., husband of Ranessa Yoder Esh of East Earl, Rosalyn M., and Annalisa M. Esh, both at home.

Funeral service will take place at Bethel Christian Fellowship, 145 Boot Jack Road, Narvon, on Tuesday, September 20th at 10 a.m. There will be a time to greet the family at the church on Monday, September 19th from 2 to 4 p.m. and again from 6 to 8 p.m. Interment will be in the adjoining church cemetery. 

Kevin James Esh

Fifteen minutes before the  Piper PA-32-300 Cherokee Six he was flying crashed and burned in a wooded area in Virginia late Wednesday, 30-year-old Kevin James Esh of New Holland had calmly radioed air traffic controllers that he was heading toward Washington, D.C., at about 7,500 feet. 

He was losing altitude and seeing a problem with his engine oil pressure, radio transmissions show. The plane had taken off from Blue Ridge Regional Airport in Virginia less than an hour before, according to plane-tracking websites cited by The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Virginia. The destination, which was never reached, is unknown. 

“I’ve got a rough engine here, and I’m gonna need an airport to land at,” Esh reported at 10:53 p.m. The controller, at Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control, suggested three nearby airports for the 1978 piston-engine plane. Esh chose Eagle’s Nest in Waynesboro, 13 miles away. 

But just a few minutes later, he declared an emergency as the plane, whose fuel tank was about three-quarters full, was quickly losing altitude. By that time, according to The Daily Progress’ reporting, Esh had lost 2,000 feet. 

To reach Eagle’s Nest, the plane would need to fly over the Blue Ridge, with peaks more than 3,000 feet above sea level. With the Piper Cherokee losing altitude, the controller asked Esh just before 11 p.m. if he’d prefer to head to Charlottesville because of “easier terrain.” According to The Daily Progress’ reporting on he radio transmissions:

“I would be fine with going to Charlottesville,” Esh said.

“I see a descent indicating 3,300. Are you losing power?” the controller asked. 

“So far, I can hold it,” Esh replied.

After a few minutes of measured conversation with Esh, the controller noticed the plane’s altitude had dropped to 1,400. 

“Are you able to hold it?” the controller asked. 

“That’s a negative, sir,” Esh replied quietly.

“Try to make it to the road. It looks like you’ve got a road just to the north of you,” the controller guided.

“Can’t see anything where am I going” was the pilot’s final transmission, about 11:06 p.m. 

Esh, who worked at the family business, Keystone Custom Decks in East Earl Township, died in the crash. He was the only person in the plane. Radar contact was lost about 15 miles southwest of Charlottesville airport. The plane went down in an Albemarle County, Virginia, forest.

According to Esh’s obituary, he was the son of Sarah King Esh and the late Amos R. Esh, and was one of seven children. He worked with his brothers at the family business, founded by his father, and loved hunting, boating and flying. His funeral will be held on Tuesday at Bethel Christian Fellowship, 145 Boot Jack Road, Narvon. The obituary can be found here. 

Virginia State Police were coordinating with the National Transportation Board and Federal Aviation Administration in investigating the crash and removing the wreckage at the end of last week. While state police have not yet publicly identified the pilot, Esh’s obituary reports that he was killed in a plane crash in Albemarle County, Virginia, and online flight records show the plane had left Smoketown Airport in Lancaster County on September 9, arriving in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on September 10 before heading to Blue Ridge in Virginia. 

Bethel Christian Fellowship will be live-streaming Esh's funeral on its YouTube page.

Charlottesville,  Virginia -  Potomac Approach,” radioed the pilot. “Level at seven thousand, five hundred.”

The man’s voice was calm as he notified air-traffic controllers at Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control that the Piper PA-32-300 Cherokee Six plane was heading toward Washington, D.C. airspace at an altitude of about 7,500 feet.

Fifteen minutes later, he was dead or dying in a southern Albemarle forest.

The Piper PA-32-300 Cherokee Six crashed and burned on a rural tract, killing the pilot, the plane’s sole occupant, around 11 p.m. Wednesday, according to Virginia State Police. His identify remained unknown as of Thursday night.

The plane, according to plane-tracking websites, took off from Blue Ridge Regional Airport, about nine miles southwest of Martinsville, less than an hour before the crash. Although it headed northeast, its intended destination is unknown. Efforts to reach the owner, Ronnie Bilbo, of Lubbock, Texas, have been unsuccessful.

What is likely is that the plane, built in 1978, was suffering from engine trouble, according to statements radioed by the pilot, who told a controller he saw a problem with the engine’s oil pressure.

“I’ve got a rough engine here, and I’m gonna need an airport to land at,” he radioed around 10:53 p.m.

By that point, the pilot of plane N-2104J may have already lost 1,000 feet of elevation over Nelson County in the vicinity of Nellysford. The controller quickly suggested three nearby airports, with Waynesboro’s Eagle’s Nest as the closest, just 13 miles away.

The pilot chose Waynesboro and got vectors for a left turn.

Within a minute, however, the plane lost another thousand feet.

“Are you declaring an emergency?” asked the controller.

“I am declaring emergency,” the pilot replied.

The pilot noted that he had about 70 gallons of fuel onboard, nearly three quarters of the plane’s tank capacity. It’s enough to reach airports in New England at the plane’s cruising speed of 160 miles per hour, but it could have devastating results on impact.

About a minute before 11 p.m., the controller asked the pilot if he’d like to consider flying to Charlottesville because of “easier terrain.” Even though it’s further away, about 20 miles versus 10 miles, both men likely realized at this point that reaching Eagle’s Nest required flying over the Blue Ridge. The tops of Wintergreen Resort, Humpback Rock, and other nearby peaks stand more than 3,000 feet above sea level.

“I would be fine with going to Charlottesville,” the pilot responded calmly.

“I see a descent indicating 3,300,” said the controller. “Are you losing power?”

“So far, I can hold it,” the pilot replied.

“So you would prefer Charlottesville? Like I said, Eagle’s Nest is the closest.”

“Keep to Charlottesville, please,” said the pilot, in measured words.

After a few minutes of discussing the elevation and weather at CHO, the controller voiced another concern.

“Altitude indicates 1,400,” says the controller. “Are you able to hold it?”

The pilot’s reply came quietly: “That’s a negative, sir.”

“Try to make it to the road,” implored the controller. “It looks like you’ve got a road just to the north of you.”

“Can’t see anything where am I going,” came the final reply.

The time was about six minutes after 11:00.

In desperation, the controller continued to voice ideas. There’s a grass airstrip at the Bundoran subdivison, but the controller ruefully noted that it’s likely invisible in the dark. Radar contact has been lost, he said, 15 miles southwest of the Charlottesville airport. The location was near the intersection of Plank and Stillhouse Creek Roads.

Eighty-year-old Holmes Brown and his wife were in their house when the plane fell into a forest on their land several hundred yards from their house.

“I thought it was the wind blowing a door closed,” said Brown. “It was that brief.”

Brown says that the Stillhouse Creek Road, which divides his tracts, is regularly plied by apple trucks serving nearby Crown Orchard. Even after his wife mentioned hearing two booms after the first sound, he said their thoughts went to “spot-lighters,” the unsportsman night-time deer hunters. He said they didn’t see the fire.

“So we didn’t think anything of it until the sirens and the flashing lights showed up,” said Brown.

A line of Virginia State Police troopers kept watch over the property Thursday. The wreckage — located near a creek called Whiteside Branch — was not visible from public roads, though the top trunk and upper limb of a nearby pine tree showed fresh damage.

Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said that the identification of the pilot would come no sooner than Friday after positive identification from the state medical examiner’s office and notification of the pilot’s relatives. Geller said that investigators with the National Transportation Board and Federal Aviation Administration visited the scene Thursday afternoon and will return Friday morning to coordinate the removal of the wreckage.


  1. Was there a compelling reason he had to conduct this flight at night? R.I.P.

    1. Planes fly at night all the time. That makes absolutely no sense.

    2. Planes fly at night all the time. That comment makes no sense.

    3. And it was not the first time the same pilot and plane had made a flight at those hours. Unforgiving terrain for single-engine aircraft at night, for sure.

    4. Short of an ejection seat or an additional engine, no, my bet is there was probably no COMPELLING reason to fly this single engine piston at night. Your options are severely limited, particularly over terrain as was this case in point. And yes, we’re all aware that airplanes fly at night all the time. The OP’s question specifically used the word “compelling.” The older you get, the less reasons there are to be compelled to do anything. It’s called wisdom.

    5. It comes down to risk tolerance. One might make the same case for flying IFR in single engine aircraft. The likelihood of mechanical failure at night or in instrument conditions (or both) is no less or greater than any other time. Those who fly under these conditions are aware of the risk and (hopefully) do all they can to manage and mitigate these risks.

    6. Flying single engine at night and IFR was what I had to do to build my hours for the trophy job and earning money to go to school. Many others did the same. I was lucky. RIP

    7. You forgot to add the most important part: "in mountainous terrain." It is bad enough to be VFR with such terrain. He could not see the road that the controller could see with his electronics, etc. What is sad is that he appeared to have good judgment otherwise:

      "According to the airport manager at Blue Ridge Airport (MTV), Martinsburg, Virginia, the pilot diverted to MTV uneventfully on September 10, 2022, due to weather. He purchased 72 gallons of fuel and return to Pennsylvania on a commercial flight."

      A complete waste of a life that in all probability could have been avoided.

    8. Wisdom… We should all stay at home , behind locked doors, wearing masks, like the boy in the bubble.

      You are pathetic.

    9. No one has suggested “living in a bubble”. What they’ve suggested is using some common sense. Leaving the following morning…and having those same engine issues…he would have had a host of better options at his disposal, to perhaps put the plane down in a manner that wouldn’t have cost him his life.

    10. Flying at night means you can't see very well if you need to make an emergency landing somewhere. IFR has nothing to do with anything. It's not going to help you avoid an obstacle at the surface if you're gliding in.

    11. As a A&P, IA ATP with type ratings in large radial engine airplanes for over 40 years flying a single engine airplane at night on a cross country is a form of insanity. And if you are doing it don't do it with passengers. They are trusting you to know better. All the towering stack of Garmins are not going to help you when the 15 cent cotter pin breaks. I know for a fact that airplanes are dangerous..I have seen to many 20,000 hour pilots killed in airplanes.

    12. My family owned a Cherokee Six when i was in college. Built up many Hours towards my Commercial/IFR. My CFII Dad would not let me fly it at night cross country. We did pattern work, but that was it. We later moved up to a turbo Aztec F, and i flew that all over the country at night. But he was against single engine night for his kids. Just my experience....

  2. BRS save lives... it can be outfitted on any Cessna or piper under an STC. I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

    1. BRS Aerospace shows C172 and C182 as models they support. No Pipers, no other Cessna Models. Chutes are a great idea, but unless you have a link to some other provider, not available to retrofit a PA-32.

  3. I think of the several external oil lines for the turbocharger, wastegate, and controller on this engine. (A tio540, says the faa.) Easy to overlook tightening one, often ignored until the rubber hose is as hard as rocks. Each hose can cause the loss of all of the oil.
    Pure speculation, many other possible causes, but you do see both loose and petrified external lines too often. Not a good place for a shop or an owner to save money.

  4. Bummer that he started his descent so quickly. If I encountered engine issues at night, I’d be preserving altitude the best that I can, staying close to Vg. I think he could have made Charlottesville or another . Nighttime off field landings are basically a death sentence I suppose a GPS/satellite imagery overlay could help you identify an open field rather than woods, but a runway is much better. I would think single engine night flight planning should include altitude to make a diversion airport with engine out.

    1. I owned a PA32RT300T and frequently practiced engine out procedures. Glide ratio is about 1.5 miles per 1000 feet of altitude. 93 kts best glide speed. At 7500 feet, he had about 10 miles range with NO mountains to top. Doubt that he feathered the prop since it appeared that he had some engine power, but feathering really helps extend range if engine is inop. Had he been at 10,500, he might have had a chance to make it to Eagle's Nest. This always hits home when I think about flying accident free for 44 years including lots of single engine night flight. Could have been me.

  5. We all know the risks involved in flying single-engine airplanes at night - especially over wooded, rugged terrain. You try to eliminate or reduce those risks as much as you can (effective training, good maintenance, plenty of fuel, favorable weather, etc, etc...), but in the end you place your bets and roll the dice. Every once in a while they come up snake-eyes.

    1. You nailed it. He had a chance to better his odds (morning departure) but rolled them anyway.

  6. Single engine daytime over mountainous terrain makes me keep my sh!t wound tight. At night i wouldn't do it unless i absolutely had to. That's a big absolute too.

  7. I am very impressed with the calmness of the pilot in this worst-case scenario. I don't think anyone could have done any better. Many times I have thought that if my engine would would I..

    1. I think he was calm because he believed that he would find a solution to be able to land safely. But at the same time, believing that he could get himself out of any problem may be the reason why he was flying at night with no moon over mountainous terrain. I am glad to see seasoned pilots recognize that it is a BIG mistake to fly under those conditions before getting near the airplane. This is one reason why they got to be seasoned pilots.

    2. I'm 100% certain he was a Godly man and his faith gave him the calmness to accept what was about to happen.

    3. You think if he was a Godly man, he'd remain calm, accepting he was about to die in a horrible crash? No way. If he knew he was going to die, a Godly man would at least tell ATC to "tell my family I love them". He, like all humans, was hoping for survival.

  8. It's a calculated risk we all take in a single: when it quits, the game changes in an instant. When it works, we are lucky. Night over rough terrain is a bad combo. At least an F-16 has a 2nd engine...

    1. FYI the F16 is a single engine aircraft.

    2. I was referring to the rocket in the ejection seat. :)

    3. I think he was sarcastically nodding to the ACES2 ejection seat.

    4. "I think he was sarcastically nodding to the ACES2 ejection seat."

      Exactly. I stole that line from Amir Nachumi.

  9. You always must give yourself a fighting chance to survive . That's why when we fly single pilot IFR or VFR in the mountains , do it in the daytime with a broken cloud or scattered layer and not in solid IFR conditions. You have to be able to pick your way out of the mountains should a problem arise, otherwise you are just a glider hoping for the best.

  10. Happened close to where I live and have flown for 37 years. I know the terrain well and would have never chosen to fly night single engine unless there was a necessity (forget "compelling reason") Say all you want about twins being "more dangerous" but I felt far better traversing the Blue Ridge Mountains with a spare fan.

  11. Whether it’s two or three years or 20 years, they’re not going to be able to tell the difference. Alive and then burned up or dead and then burned up look the same.

  12. Local paper in Charlottesville says only 1 Qt. oil found in crankcase. Question is, how much did he have leaving Martinsburg? Should be able to trace the leak.

    1. We'll know at some point; it might all go back to the preflight, as many accidents do.

  13. "Blue Ridge Airport (MTV), Martinsburg, Virginia" that should be Martinsville, VA.
    Martinsburg is in West Virginia.

  14. Many single engine pilots who fly at night fly from
    Airport to airport at an altitude that always puts them
    Within gliding distance from with the airport they flew over or the next airport in front of plane . I flew lots of single engine flights at night over swamps and mountains to build flight time before I had enough hours to get a job flying a twin for companies and airlines . I would not fly single engine at night now . Wonder if pilot was using an iPad with ForeFlight . Wonder if pilot cousin have followed interstate highways .

  15. Night and/or IMC in a single engine airplane is a risky endeavor. I have PERSONALLY had 5 engine failures in my life of aviation. Thankfully, only one of those was in a single engine airplane. The other 4 were in multi engine turboprops or jets.

    1. Yeah, but you double your chance of experiencing an engine failure when you go from a single to a twin.

    2. What does that mean? You also double your chance of surviving IF you have two engines. Statistically, every engine out at the same time is rare (unless flying through volcanic ash), but even if it happens, there is hope if the principles of gliding are understood and nobody freaks out. But in a small plane at night without the moon, one cannot avoid or utilize what cannot be seen. The pilot who was calm flew right into the trees.

    3. The "Sky King Effect" led to a general belief that two engines provides redundancy, and it is sometimes true that a GA Twin can complete a descent after one engine fails during cruise and reach a runway.

      The off center thrust and VMC roll issues which manifest at the worst possible times and low AGL negate the benefit when compared to uneventful one engine out landings from cruise.

      Twice as much to go wrong is correct probability math that wouldn't have such a negative effect if it only ever happened during cruise at altitude. If you are old enough to remember Sky King, you know that he never lost an engine on takeoff. Made twins popular. "Safe and effective" was the impression gained.

    4. I had a “thing” for Penny….😜

    5. lifetime of ?? Hours !
      as to "4 were in multi engine turboprops or jets."
      "The good news for many T&T readers is the FAA says turbine engines have a failure rate of one per 375,000 flight hours compared to one every 3,200 flight hours for piston engines."

  16. Probably would not have made a difference but perhaps the smartglide feature in the GTN series would've helped. Does it factor in the terrain in the computation of altitude loss or just the field elevation of the airport that is selected?

    1. Not sure about the GTN, but the glide ring of ForeFlight factors in both terrain and predicted winds aloft. And there are apps like XAvion that autocalculates the glide path to the nearest airport continuously

  17. So sad.... As other posts here have mentioned, there is an elevated level of risk flying a single engine airplane at night, but there are millions of GA, single engine, night operations in the US every year without incident. The problem occurs when the one and only engine quits, particularly over rough terrain.

    Years ago, I worked with a prominent airshow performer who uses a Super Cub in his act and I was flying his airplane home over a relatively long distance. The airplane has a sponsored engine that runs like a watch, exterior lights, and a single VHF radio. Nothing else - no gyros, no panel mount navigation gear, no transponder (this was before ADS-B). I stopped 100-ish miles short of my destination and spent the night because it got dark and I know Mr. Airshow Performer was disappointed by that decision because he never considered flying his airplane at night to be a big deal. But the terrain across that last 100 miles was nothing but rolling hills and tall trees. Absolutely no place for a forced landing, absolutely no way to squawk 7700 so they could find me, absolutely no way I was going to fly that leg at night.

    You pays your money and takes your chances. Modern GA engines are extraordinarily robust and reliable, but when you only have one and it quits at night over rugged terrain, your odds of survival are not particularly good.

  18. You can't feather a single engine Piper. Lack of oil was probably because it was leaking out why he lost oil pressure. Having lost a few in single engine aircraft, as soon as you start having a propulsion issue start climbing and head for a airport. More time to troubleshoot. And minimum decent speed which is slower than Vg.
    The airplane also doesn't know it's dark outside so it's up to the decision maker to assess the risks inherent in any endeavor especially applied physics.

  19. With a constant speed prop, you can move the prop to rough pitch (partially feathered ) and it significantly reduces the drag (by approximately 35%). Technically, not full feathering as in a twin, but I will take 35% more glide any day.

    1. You're not going to be able to feather the prop in a PA-32 with 1qt of oil. It's oil driven. No oil, no feather.