Hugheston, WV, USA
The pilot and passenger departed on an instrument flight rules flight with a cruise altitude of 12,000 ft. About 1 hour after takeoff, the air traffic controller advised the pilot of an area of moderate to extreme precipitation along the airplane's route of flight, and the pilot replied that he observed the same on his "radar." (The airplane was not equipped with airborne weather radar, rather the pilot was likely referring to ground-based weather radar data that he was viewing on a tablet computer.) The controller cleared the pilot to deviate 30 degrees left of course. The pilot did not acknowledge the clearance and continued on a southeasterly course for about 10 minutes. He then initiated a 180-degree left turn during which the airplane climbed to about 12,600 ft and then descended to about 9,700 ft. Overlaying the airplane's flight track on weather radar data showed that, during the 180-degree turn, the airplane passed through an area of moderate to very heavy rain with the possibility of hail, severe turbulence, and lightning. Observing the airplane's change in heading and altitude, the controller asked the pilot if he was attempting to deviate around weather and if he required assistance. The pilot replied that he was "going a little bit to the left to the weather." The controller instructed the pilot to advise when he was established back on course, and the pilot acknowledged. Over the next 4 minutes, the airplane continued on a northwesterly heading and descended to about 9,000 ft as it exited the area of precipitation. During this time, the controller contacted the pilot four separate times, advising him that the airplane was below its assigned altitude and asking if he needed assistance. The pilot did not respond to the first inquiry. His responses to the second and third inquiries were slurred, and his speech rate was markedly decreased. He stated that he needed assistance and that he was trying to get back to the assigned altitude. The pilot did not respond to the fourth inquiry. The airplane then began a gradual 360-degree right turn, during which its altitude varied between 9,100 and 9,900 ft. The controller again asked the pilot his intentions, and the pilot stated that he was climbing back to 12,000 ft and heading direct to his destination airport. When queried as to the reason for the airplane's descent, the pilot replied "just a lot of weather here I'm working on it." The airplane continued turning right for about 2 minutes, then entered a steep right turn during which it descended about 2,500 ft in less than 30 seconds. During the following 5 minutes, the controller repeatedly asked the pilot if he required assistance, instructed him to climb, and assigned the airplane a heading of 270 degrees; however, the airplane climbed slowly on a heading of about 210 degrees. The controller advised the pilot that if he continued on that heading, the airplane would encounter moderate precipitation. The pilot's response was largely unintelligible. ATC again asked the pilot to verify the airplane's heading, and the pilot responded in a confused manner, but the airplane continued on its heading of about 210 degrees. No further transmissions were received from the accident airplane. About 1 minute later, the airplane turned south, continued to climb, and entered an area of light to moderate precipitation. The flight continued for about 8 minutes, conducting a series of turns to the right and left before it reached an altitude of about 12,100 ft, then entered a rapid descent. Radar contact was lost shortly thereafter. Postaccident examination of the airframe, engine, and flight instruments revealed no evidence of preimpact anomalies, and there was no evidence of an in-flight breakup. No medical issues were identified with the pilot that may have contributed to the accident, and toxicological testing was negative for impairing substances and did not suggest carbon monoxide poisoning. The airplane was traveling at 12,000 ft for a portion of the flight, an altitude at which the use of supplemental oxygen is not required. While this does not preclude the possibility of a pilot developing hypoxia at that altitude, the airplane spent about 20 minutes below 10,000 feet, and the pilot's performance did not appear to improve during that time. Therefore, it is unlikely that the pilot was experiencing hypoxia. It could not be determined why the pilot was unable to maintain control of the airplane or why he did not request assistance from the controller. The extent to which the pilot had familiarized himself with the weather conditions along the route of flight before takeoff could not be determined, as there was no record of a weather briefing from an official, access-controlled source. However, the pilot indicated to the controller that he had "radar" in the cockpit, and a portable ADS-B receiver and tablet computer were found in the wreckage, suggesting that the pilot was receiving weather information during the flight, to include Next Generation Radar (NEXRAD) and significant weather advisories. Due to latencies inherent in the process of detecting weather at a ground site, compiling a mosaic image, and subsequently delivering that data to the cockpit, NEXRAD is not an accurate depiction of actual weather conditions and should not be used for tactical weather avoidance. The pilot's comment to ATC that "[my weather display is] a little later than yours" likely indicated that the pilot was aware of these limitations. However, it is likely that, based on the pilot's use of the word "radar," the controller assumed that the airplane was equipped with airborne weather radar, which would have provided real-time information to the pilot that could be used in tactical weather avoidance. Although they discussed the weather conditions, the pilot did not explicitly state, nor did the controller ask, what kind of weather information he was receiving. This may have led the controller to believe that the pilot was able to "pick through" the weather with real-time data. The pilot's inability to maintain altitude and heading likely alerted the controller that the pilot was experiencing a problem, and the controller subsequently asked the pilot a total of eight times over a period of about 15 minutes if he required assistance. However, despite apparently recognizing that the pilot was having difficulties, the controller failed to notify his supervisor of the situation as required. The controller also failed to ask specific questions to fully understand the difficulties the pilot was experiencing, and finally, he did not declare an emergency on behalf of the pilot, which would have ensured that the airplane was given priority handling. Further, the controller's supervisor was not performing other duties during the time that the controller was providing services to the airplane and should have been engaged in the situation. Although she was sitting only a few feet from the controller, she did not become aware of what was happening until another supervisor from a different area called and asked her what was going on with the airplane. Even then, the supervisor only monitored the situation momentarily before returning to her desk. Despite the shortcomings of air traffic control services provided to the pilot, the extent to which those services may have contributed to the outcome of the flight could not be determined as it is unknown how the pilot would have responded to any actions taken by the controllers.
HISTORY OF FLIGHTOn April 11, 2014, at 1653 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32RT-300T, N39965, was destroyed when it impacted trees and terrain near Hugheston, West Virginia. The commercial pilot and passenger were fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed along the route of flight, and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed. The personal flight departed Akron Fulton International Airport (AKR), Akron, Ohio, about 1513, and was destined for Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport (SPA), Spartanburg, South Carolina. The airplane was registered to C.W. Air, LLC, and operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Air traffic control (ATC) voice communication and radar data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) indicated that after departure, the pilot established radio contact with the Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center and climbed the airplane to its cruise altitude of 12,000 feet on a direct course to SPA. About 1604, the controller advised the pilot of an area of moderate-to-extreme precipitation located at the airplane's 1- to 2-o'clock position about 45 miles ahead, and instructed the pilot to advise which way he wanted to deviate once he neared the area. The pilot replied that he would advise, and stated, "I see it here on this radar too." About 1612, the pilot contacted ATC and stated that, based upon his onboard weather information, a 30-degree deviation left of course would be required to navigate around the area of precipitation. The pilot also asked the controller, "if you see different on the live radar let me know." The controller responded, saying his radar was a few minutes behind, and that the pilot's on-board weather may be more accurate. The pilot replied, "yeah mine's a little later than yours so…" The controller informed the pilot that he could turn left to deviate around the precipitation, or he could turn right and "get around the back side of it." The controller then cleared the airplane for a deviation left of course, and instructed the pilot to resume a direct course to SPA when able. There was no recorded response from the pilot to this transmission. Between 1624 and 1627, radar data showed the airplane begin a slight right turn, followed by a left turn of about 90 degrees, and the airplane's altitude varied between 11,700 feet and 12,400 feet. At 1627, the controller asked the pilot if he was attempting to deviate around weather and if he needed assistance. The pilot responded, "uh I'm just going a little bit to the left to the weather niner six five." The controller instructed the pilot to advise when he was reestablished on course to SPA, and the pilot acknowledged. From about 1627:26 to 1629:16, the airplane continued a descending left turn to a northwesterly heading. At 1628:22, the controller again asked the pilot if he needed assistance. The pilot did not reply, and the controller queried the airplane a second time, to which the pilot responded, "niner six five go ahead." The controller asked again if he needed assistance, saying that the airplane was below its assigned altitude, and the pilot responded, "Uh I do need a little assistance niner six five I'm trying to get back to twelve niner six five." During the next several exchanges, the controller asked the pilot if he was still descending, if he needed further assistance in avoiding the weather, and advised of traffic nearby. The pilot repeated that he was attempting to climb back to 12,000 feet, however, radar data showed that the airplane remained at an altitude about 9,500 feet. When queried about his reason for the descent, the pilot replied, "uh just a lot of weather here I'm working on it niner six five." About 1631, the airplane initiated a right turn and climbed to about 9,800 feet, before entering a steep, 540-degree right turn, during which the airplane descended to about 7,300 feet in about 23 seconds. About 1637, the airplane began to track west on a heading of about 270 degrees, before turning slightly left onto a heading of about 210 degrees. The airplane continued to descend to an altitude about 6,500 feet. The controller again asked the pilot if he required emergency assistance, and asked the pilot to verify that the airplane was climbing. No response was received from the pilot. About 30 seconds later, the controller asked if the pilot wanted to land at nearby Charleston airport (CRW), or if he intended to continue on a 270-degree heading. The controller also noted that the airplane was still descending. The pilot responded, "I'm working on the climb niner six five." About a minute later, the controller informed the pilot that he was still observing the airplane in a descent, and instructed him to climb and maintain a heading of 270 degrees. The pilot responded with the airplane's call sign, and the controller asked him to read back the instruction. The pilot then responded, "two seven zero niner six five." At 1640:53, the controller asked the pilot to verify the airplane's heading, and the pilot stated, "uh I'm flying a two seven zero and climbing nine six five." However, the airplane remained on an approximate 210-degree heading. About 3 minutes later, the controller called the airplane and stated, "November nine six five uh are you still turning to the right uh but now I am showing you to the uh northwest of some moderate to heavy precipitation (unintelligible) continue on your current heading you will go through some moderate precipitation I'm not sure if there's anything convective in that weather uh if you wanna turn now to the right to get away from that uh let me know but right now I do show you still going through some moderate to heavy precipitation I see that you're in the climb are you turning for Spartanburg or would you need more assistance around the weather that I'm showin." The pilot's response was largely unintelligible. The controller again asked the pilot to verify the airplane's heading, and the pilot stated, "two four er two seven zero niner six five." No further transmissions were received from the accident airplane. From about 1645 to about 1652, radar data showed the airplane climb to an altitude about 12,700 feet, then begin a series of erratic turns in a generally eastbound direction until entering a rapid descent before radar contact was lost. Two witnesses near the accident site observed the airplane as it overflew their home. They described the sound of the engine as "loud," but stated that it was fading in and out. They both stated that the airplane was in a nose-down, right bank attitude as it descended into trees. They subsequently heard the sound of impact, but did not see any smoke or fire in the vicinity of the crash site. The witnesses reported that the weather was overcast, and that it began raining about 10 minutes after the accident. Another witness stated that he observed the last several seconds of the flight prior to impact. He stated that his attention was drawn to the airplane when he heard the engine "sputter then rev up loud in 2 or 3 cycles." He went outside and saw the airplane as it passed near his home in a wings-level, nose-down attitude. He stated that the airplane's descent was "very steep." The airplane disappeared behind a ridge line, and he almost immediately heard a "thud," then called 911 to report the accident. PERSONNEL INFORMATIONThe pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land and sea, airplane multiengine land, and instrument airplane. He also held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single and multiengine and instrument airplane. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued in September 2013. In an insurance application dated October 2013, the pilot reported 200 hours in the previous 12 months, 50 hours in the previous 3 months, and a total of 205 hours in the accident airplane make and model. Review of the pilot's personal logbooks revealed that he had accumulated a total flight time of about 1,024 hours. In the 6 months prior to the accident, the pilot logged 10 hours in the accident airplane, 6.2 hours of actual instrument experience and 7 instrument approaches. AIRCRAFT INFORMATIONThe airplane was manufactured in 1978, and was equipped with a Lycoming TIO-540 series, 300 hp turbocharged reciprocating engine. The most recent annual inspection was completed on May 17, 2013, at a total aircraft time of 3,344.8 hours. METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATIONA series of SIGMETs were issued for the Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia area on the day of the accident, beginning about 1155. These SIGMETs warned of a line of weather about 40 miles wide that contained embedded thunderstorms and was moving from west to east with cloud tops to 34,000 feet. Additionally, several AIRMETs were valid for the area of the accident site about the time of the accident. The AIRMETs forecasted moderate icing between the freezing level and 20,000 feet, moderate turbulence below 8,000 feet and between 7,000-18,000 feet, forecasted instrument meteorological conditions with ceilings below 1,000 feet, and visibility below 3 miles with clouds, precipitation, and mist. The pilot was not provided any information regarding AIRMETs or SIGMETs by ATC. An Area Forecast issued at 1345 and valid for the accident time forecasted a broken ceiling at 6,000 feet with cloud layers through 25,000 feet. Scattered light rain showers and thunderstorms were forecast with tops to 38,000 feet. A National Weather Service (NWS) Surface Analysis Chart for 1700 depicted a cold front stretched from western Pennsylvania southwestward into western Kentucky. A trough stretched across the area of the accident site from southeastern Pennsylvania to eastern Kentucky. A surface low pressure center was located in western Pennsylvania, with a surface high pressure center located in central Illinois. The NWS Storm Prediction Center Constant Pressure Charts for the area surrounding the accident site depicted a low-level trough just east of the accident site at 2000 EDT. Areas near and ahead of troughs are typically associated with enhanced lift, clouds, and precipitation. The nearest upper air sounding to the accident site was located in Roanoke, Virginia (KRNK), about 77 miles southeast of the accident site. The 2000 EDT sounding data from RNK indicated a conditionally unstable environment in most layers from the surface through 24,000 feet. This environment would have been conducive to cloud formation and precipitation in areas where a frontal boundary or trough was nearby. Data also indicated that clouds were likely from 9,000 feet through about 14,000 feet, with areas of moderate rime icing. The freezing level was located about 9,900 feet. Sounding data also indicated a surface wind from 260 degrees at 11 knots. Wind direction remained out of the west through about 24,000 feet, with speeds over 50 knots about 15,000 feet. Several areas of possible clear-air turbulence were identified from the surface through 15,000 feet. Satellite imagery from 1645 and 1715 EDT indicated abundant cloud cover over the area of the accident site, with clouds moving from southwest to northeast. Several overshooting tops, a strong indicator of updraft activity, were observed in the area of the accident site and throughout central West Virginia about the time of the accident. Infrared analysis of the satellite data indicated that the cloud tops in the area of the accident site about the time of the accident were approximately 29,000 feet. The closest NWS weather surveillance radar Doppler (WSR-88D) was located in Charleston, West Virginia (KRLX), about 16 miles west-northwest of the accident site. The strength of the radar return, also referred to as echoes or reflectivity, is measured in decibels of Z (dBZ) on a scale from -30 to greater than 75. These values are categorized by the NWS into video integrator and processor, (VIP) levels. VIP Levels 1 and 2 (15-19 dBZ and 30-39 dBZ, respectively) are "very light" to "light to moderate," with possible light to moderate turbulence and lightning with rainfall from .01-.21 inches per hour; VIP Levels 3 and 4 (40-44 dBZ and 45-49 dBZ, respectively) are "strong" and "very strong," and associated with severe turbulence and lightning with rainfall around .48 inches to 1.1 inches per hour; VIP Level 5 (45-49 dBZ), "intense," is associated with severe turbulence, lightning, hail likely, and organized surface wind gusts, with rainfall around 2.5 inches per hour; VIP Level 6 (55-75 dBZ), "extreme," is associated with severe turbulence, lightning, large hail, and extensive surface wind gusts with rainfall of over 5.6 inches per hour. Base reflectivity radar imagery correlated with the accident airplane's flight track indicated that between 1620 and 1630, the airplane passed through an area of precipitation with echoes between 30-50 dBZ. About 1645, the airplane again entered an area of precipitation, with echo values between 15 and 40 dBZ. The airplane continued in these echoes for the remainder of the flight. Data also indicated several lightning flashes in the vicinity of the airplane around the time of the accident. There were several PIREPs for the area around the accident site around the time of the accident. At 1722, a deHavilland DHC-8-100 located about 99 miles northeast of the accident site reported light rime icing at 15,000 feet. At 1739, a Mooney M20 located about 72 miles north of the accident site reported moderate rime icing at 10,500 feet, and stated that between 10,500 and 11,000 feet, the ice was "rapidly forming." At 1743, a Piper PA-34 located about 15 miles southwest of the accident site reported light turbulence and moderate rime icing at 13,000 feet, and remarked that the icing became light at 11,500 feet. At 1804, a Cessna 550 located about 32 miles south of the accident site reported light rime icing between 12,000 feet and 16,500 feet. Yeager Airport (CRW), Charleston, West Virginia, was located about 13 nautical miles northwest of the accident site at an elevation of 981 feet. The 1654 automated weather observation included calm winds, 8 miles visibility, light rain, a broken cloud layer at 7,000 feet, an overcast cloud layer at 9,500 feet, temperature 15 degrees C, dew point 14 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.02 inches of mercury. Remarks included that rain began at 1601 and ended at 1631, began at 1648 and ended at 1652, and thunderstorm ended at 1623, moving east. Remarks also advised of the presence of valley fog. There was no record of the pilot receiving a weather briefing from a Flight Service Station or through the DUAT or DUATS systems. AIRPORT INFORMATIONThe airplane was manufactured in 1978, and was equipped with a Lycoming TIO-540 series, 300 hp turbocharged reciprocating engine. The most recent annual inspection was completed on May 17, 2013, at a total aircraft time of 3,344.8 hours. WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATIONThe wreckage was located on a densely-wooded hillside at an elevation of about 1,400 feet. The initial impact point was identified by broken tree branches and the right wingtip fairing. The wreckage path continued from the initial impact point on an approximate 360-degree heading, and measured about 300 feet in length. Several 3-inch diameter tree branches displaying 45-degree cuts were identified along the wreckage path, and pieces associated with both wings, the vertical stabilizer and rudder, and left and right horizontal stabilizers were located. Terrain at the accident site and disposition of the wreckage precluded thorough examination. The wreckage was recovered, and examination of the airframe and engine was scheduled for a later date. A wreckage layout and examination was conducted on May 14, 2014, at a secure storage facility. Both left and right wings were destroyed and separated from the fuselage at their roots. The left aileron and its balance weight remained attached. Control continuity was established from the aileron bellcrank, which was separated at its attach points, to the wing root, where the control cables exhibited signatures consistent with overload failure. The left wing flap was separated and broken into two sect
The pilot's loss of airplane control while operating in instrument flight rules conditions.
Source: NTSB Aviation Accident Database
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