ADS-B Information Revealed The Ground Speed Was About 200 Kts For The Entire Flight Until About 1210

Location: Mooresville, NC Accident Number: ERA24FA078
Date & Time: December 31, 2023, 12:13 Local Registration: N539MA
Aircraft: Piper Aircraft Inc PA46R-350T Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Personal

On December 31, 2023, at 1213 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-46R-350T, N539MA, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Mooresville, North Carolina. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

A family member reported that the pilot was taking the airplane for a short flight then refueling it in advance of a family trip planned for the following day. According to preliminary Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) data, the airplane departed from runway 32 at Lake Norman Airpark (14A), Mooresville, North Carolina, about 1152 and climbed to an altitude of about 3,000 ft mean sea level (msl) on a northwesterly ground track following the Catawba River for about 30 nautical miles (nm). At 1202 the pilot made a left turn and flew a direct course back toward 14A. ADS-B information revealed the ground speed was about 200 kts for the entire flight until about 1210, when there was a notable decrease in ground speed and the beginning of a descent. Another pilot in the traffic pattern at 14A reported that the accident pilot reported a two-mile final approach to runway 14 at 14A on the common traffic advisory frequency and did not mention any problems at that time. The airplane’s last ADS-B position was recorded at 1213. It showed that the airplane was at an altitude of 850 ft msl (or about 60 feet above ground level), and about 488 ft northwest of the accident site (about 3/4 nm from the threshold of runway 14).

According to a witness located near the accident site, no engine noise could be heard prior to the impact. This statement was consistent with the review of several residential surveillance video recordings of the airplane’s final descent, which all contained no engine noise. Review of the airplane’s maintenance logbooks revealed that the engine had accrued 47.6 hours of operation since overhaul by the manufacturer on July 14, 2023.

Examination of the accident site and wreckage revealed that the airplane came to rest upright about 58 ft southeast of a severed treetop that was broken about 40 ft above the ground. A ground scar about 18 ft in length and oriented to 159° true led up to the airplane. Several trees displayed impact damage and fallen branches were in the debris path. There was no evidence of fire, and all major components of the airplane were recovered in the immediate vicinity of the airplane.

The fuselage, right wing, and most of the empennage remained intact. A portion of the upper fuselage and windscreen of the cockpit was cut to facilitate recovery of the pilot. The left wing was fractured and resting inverted on top of the right wing. The left horizontal stabilizer (minus the elevator) was located in front of the cockpit, and the left elevator remained in a tree. The right wing remained attached by the aft wing attachment. Both main wing spars were fractured at the respective wing root, and both wings exhibited damage consistent with tree impact. The flaps and landing gear were retracted. Both the left and right wing fuel tanks contained a liquid consistent in smell and color with 100LL aviation fuel. The engine remained attached to the fuselage at the engine mount. Two of the three composite propeller blades were detached at the blade roots. The blade that remained attached to the propeller hub displayed chordwise tears. One of the detached blades was fractured. None of the blades displayed chordwise abrasion, twisting or bending, nor was any leading edge damage observed.

The throttle, propeller, and mixture levers were in their full forward positions. The fuel selector handle was positioned to the left tank. The emergency fuel pump switch was in the ON position. Flight control cable continuity was confirmed from the cockpit area to each of the respective control surfaces through separations consistent with accident forces. Examination of the engine revealed continuity of the crankshaft to the rear accessory gears and to the valve train. Thumb compression and suction were observed from all cylinders when the crankshaft was rotated. The left and right magnetos were removed, and sparks were observed on all towers when each magneto’s input driveshaft was rotated with an electric drill. 

Examination of the engine’s cylinders with a lighted borescope revealed no anomalies. The top sparkplugs were removed and showed signs of heavy carbon deposits. The engine driven fuel pump was removed and did not contain any fuel. Its input drive rotated freely by hand and flowed fuel when tested with an electric drill. The emergency fuel boost pump was removed and operated when electrical power was applied. Air was applied and flowed throughout the fuel lines. When the fuel flow divider was removed and disassembled, a small amount of fluid consistent with 100LL aviation fuel was found in the flow divider. No contamination was noted, and the diaphragm was in good condition. The fuel servo was intact and undamaged. Upon removal, fluid consistent with 100LL aviation fuel was observed coming from the inlet to the servo fitting and from the fuel pressure sensor fitting. The throttle plate moved appropriately when the throttle arm was actuated.

The fuel servo screen was removed and inspected, with no contamination noted. Examination of the airframe and engine revealed no preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation of the airplane. 

The wreckage was retained for further examination.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov