Witnesses Said The Airplane Entered A 'Steep Nose-Low Attitude' Before Impacting Terrain
An accident which occurred November 17th, 2011, rocked Oklahoma State University when two members of its women's basketball coaching staff and a third member of the athletic department who were on a recruiting trip were fatally injured. The NTSB's recently-released factual report on the accident indicates that the pilot for the flight was an 82-year-old alumnus of the University. There were no weather hazards indicated on the airplane's route of flight.
One of the passengers also held a private pilot certificate, but she was seated behind the pilot in command. Neither the pilot or the pilot-rated passenger was current for landings at night.
HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On November 17, 2011, about 1610 central standard time, a Piper PA-28-180 airplane, N7746W, impacted the ground near Perryville, Arkansas. The commercial rated pilot and three passengers were fatally injured. The airplane was substantially damaged. The airplane was registered to and operated by a private individual under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated without a flight plan. The flight originated from Stillwater Regional Airport (SWO), Stillwater, Oklahoma, about 1415, and was destined for North Little Rock Municipal Airport (ORK), North Little Rock, Arkansas.
The purpose of the flight was to transport two Oklahoma State University (OSU) coaches to Little Rock, Arkansas, in order to support the Oklahoma State University (OSU) athletic recruitment program. The coaches are hereafter referred to as passengers for the report.
Employees at SWO’s fixed base operator (FBO) reported that the airplane landed approximately 1345, picked up two passengers, and departed for ORK. The airplane did not receive any services at SWO.
About 2 hours after departure, radar data showed the airplane level at 7,000 feet mean sea level on a southeasterly heading. At 1610:49, the airplane entered a right turn and descended. The airplane disappeared from radar shortly after. There were no air traffic control communications with the airplane.
Witnesses, who were near the accident site, reported seeing the airplane flying at a low altitude and making turns. They then observed the airplane enter a steep nose-low attitude prior to descending toward the terrain.
The pilot, age 82, held a commercial pilot certificate for airplane single engine land and instrument airplane. In addition, he held a certificated flight instructor certificate for airplane single engine airplanes. He was issued a third class medical certificate on April 1, 2010, with a restriction for corrective lenses for near and distant vision. A review of the pilot’s log book revealed that the pilot had accrued over 2,200 hours total time, with over 350 hours in the accident airplane. The pilot’s last flight review was flown on April 9, 2010, and his most recent night time was on April 25, 2011, at which time he had logged night landings. The last entry in the pilot’s log book was on October 20, 2011.
The pilot was a graduate of and contributor to OSU. He volunteered his flight services to assist with the athletic department’s recruiting efforts, was not compensated for his flight time, and was not contracted by the university.
The passenger seated behind the pilot, age 79, held a private pilot certificate for airplane single engine land and instrument airplane. She was issued a third class medical on Aug 26, 2011, without restrictions. A review of her log book revealed that she had accrued over 1,145 hours, a majority of which in the accident airplane. Of note, her most recent night time was logged on November 10, 2007. The last entry in the log book was on October 21, 2011.
On the previous flight, the pilot rated passenger had flown with the accident pilot from Ponca City, Oklahoma, to SWO. For the accident flight she was seated behind the accident pilot.
The single engine, low wing, fixed landing gear, four seat airplane, N7746W, serial number 28-1756, was manufactured in 1964. It was powered by a 180-horsepower Lycoming O-360-A3A, serial number L-7030-36. A review of maintenance records found that the last annual inspection was completed on November 8, 2011, at a total time of 5,800.8 hours. During the annual inspection, the mechanic noted that the muffler was inspected, removed, weld repaired, and reinstalled (similar aircraft pictured above).
An aircraft flight log was found in the wreckage. It contained flights on October 25, 2011, November 16, 2011, and a partial entry on November 17, 2011. Prior to the accident flight, the airplane had about 5,802 hours total time. It is unknown if the pilot flew another airplane between October 25 and November 16.
At 1553, an automated weather reporting station at the Russellville Regional Airport (KRUE), Russellville, Arkansas, located about 22 nautical miles north-northwest of the accident site, reported wind from 200 degrees at 3 knots, 10 miles visibility, a clear sky, temperature 52 degrees Fahrenheit (F), dew point 19 F, and a barometric pressure of 30.35 inches of mercury.
There were no associated hazards forecasted along the airplane’s route of flight.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located in a heavily wooded area of the Ouachita National Forest, about 8 miles southwest of Perryville, Arkansas. The initial ground impact scar was consistent with the airplane’s right wing leading edge contacting the ground. An impact crater, about 10 feet in diameter and about 3.5 feet deep contained most of the airplane. Ground scars and witness marks to trees surrounding the accident site were consistent with the airplane being approximately 50 to 60 degrees nose low at the time of impact. Wreckage debris was distributed in a “V” from the impact site between 280 degrees to 310 degrees with a field about 80 yards long. Numerous trees throughout the debris field exhibited signs of impact damage.
Examination of the wreckage revealed several of the flight control cables were fractured in multiple places. Each fracture was consistent with overload. Most of the cockpit instrumentation sustained impact damage, was unreadable or unreliable, or destroyed. The engine case and engine components were impact damaged. The blades of the fixed-pitch, two-bladed propeller displayed signs of leading edge polishing, chordwise scratches, and S-bending. The propeller hub was fractured in torsional overload. The airplane’s muffler was disassembled and displayed no sooting or preimpact anomalies. No preimpact anomalies with the airframe or engine were found which would have precluded normal operation.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, Little Rock, Arkansas, on November 18, 2011. The cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries. The manner of death was ruled an accident. The autopsy noted that the condition of the remains did not allow for identification of any medical conditions which may have contributed to the crash.
Forensic toxicology was performed on specimens from the pilot by the FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Specimens submitted were not suitable for the detection of carbon monoxide and cyanide. No ethanol or drugs were detected in the muscle.
Selection of seats for the flight
Personnel at the SWO fixed base operator’s office recalled the airplane’s arrival to fly the passengers to their destination. Due to a hearing condition, the pilot spoke loudly, so personnel could hear his conversation with the passengers. The pilot decided that the male passenger would ride in the right pilot seat for the flight to Little Rock. The female passenger and pilot rated passenger would sit in the rear seats. The pilot rated passenger sat behind the male pilot.
A review of the occupants’ seat belts at the accident site, found that the forward two occupants restraint buckles remained latched. The rear occupants’ seat belt restraint buckles were found unlatched. Neither latch plate showed any gouging or deformity. In addition, neither belt exhibited signatures of loading of the clasps. The rear left occupants belt containing the buckle and the rear right occupants belt containing latch plate remained secured to the fuselage. The left belt containing the latch plate and the right belt containing the buckle were fractured in overload at the belt to fuselage cable.
Night time flight requirements
Neither pilot had documentation in their logbook supporting that the currency requirements to land at night with passengers had been accomplished in accordance with 14 CFR Part 61.57. Although not relevant to the accident flight, the planned itinerary for the round trip flight would have included a night landing, about 2300.
Donor flight program
Prior to the accident, the Oklahoma State University had limited oversight of the donor flight program. Coaches and staff were allowed to arrange travel directly with the donors without notification to the university. There was no requirement to verify pilot qualifications and airplane inspections; in this case, the pilots did not have documentation supporting the completion of currency requirements for a night landing with passengers. Although the athletic department had an oversight program for student athletes, coaches and staff were exempt from the requirement. OSU's travel policy has since been modified to include coaches and staff into a program similar to the oversight provided to student athletes. The new policy would include a review of pilots and aircraft by an aviation consultant.