A Series Of Tight Turns Were Entered Before The Airplane Subsequently Entered A Rapidly Descending Spiral Turn
Location: Dawsonville, GA Accident Number: ERA23FA109
Date & Time: January 12, 2023, 20:17 Local Registration: N4254T
Aircraft: Piper PA-28-180 Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Personal
On January 12, 2023, about 2017 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-180, N4254T, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Dawsonville, Georgia. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.
According to the pilot’s family and flight track records, on January 6, 2023, the pilot departed his home airport of Stafford Regional Airport (RMN), Stafford, Virginia, and arrived at the Concord-Padgett Regional Airport (JQF), Concord, North Carolina. On January 8, 2023, he departed JQF and arrived at the Cherokee County Regional Airport (CNI), Canton, Georgia. The purpose of the trip was work related meetings.
According to Fixed Base-Operator (FBO) personnel at CNI, on the day of the accident about 1600, the pilot arrived at the airport via rental car and requested that his airplane be fueled. The line staff was unable to do so at that time due to heavy rain and lightning nearby. FBO personnel reported that they had a discussion with the pilot on his plan to takeoff in poor weather and fly at night. The pilot stated that “after the rain passes it should be fine right?” The pilot further stated that he had an international flight scheduled the following day from the Washington, DC area and wanted to leave as soon as possible. The staff reported that after further discussion, the pilot agreed for them to book a hotel in the local area. The staff also provided the code to the airport gate should he want to arrive in the morning before the FBO opened and the pilot subsequently left the airport in a rental car.
Fuel records showed that, later in the evening at 1954, the pilot returned to the airport after the FBO had closed and, via self-service, added 27 gallons of 100-low lead aviation gasoline to his airplane.
According to preliminary Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) flight track information from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), at 2005 the airplane departed runway 23 at CNI. The airplane flew on varying headings towards the east-northeast and continued to climb for about 10 minutes reaching a peak altitude of about 7,200 ft mean sea level (msl). In the final 2 minutes of the flight, the airplane’s altitude began to descend, and a series of tight turns were entered before the airplane subsequently entered a rapidly descending spiral turn. The airplane’s final position was recorded at 2017:32, about .15-mile south of the accident site at an altitude of about 2,000 ft msl.
On January 13, 2023, about 0900, an FAA Alert Notice (ALNOT) for a missing aircraft was issued after family notified the FAA of a missing airplane. The wreckage was located a few hours later. The airplane impacted wooded terrain near the top of rising terrain at an elevation of 1,250 ft msl about 14 miles northeast of CNI. The wreckage was highly fragmented and was located largely in one compact area. All major portions of the airframe were located. Flight control continuity was established from all primary flight control surfaces to the cockpit except for separations that were consistent with tensile overload.
The cockpit, switches, levers, and flight instruments were all severely damaged by impact damage. The directional gyro was disassembled, and its gyro and housing exhibited rotational scoring.
The engine was co-located with the cockpit and fuselage debris. It sustained significant impact damage and could not be rotated by hand. Continuity of the crankshaft and camshaft was observed visually after two cylinders were removed. Borescope examination of each cylinder revealed no abnormalities. The oil filter, when removed and examined, displayed no evidence of debris or metal contaminants. Both magnetos produced spark when rotated by an electric drill. The vacuum pump remained attached to the engine accessory section. When the vacuum pump was partially disassembled, its gears were intact, and the unit appeared normal.
The propeller remained attached to a portion of the crankshaft propeller flange. It exhibited blade polishing, chordwise scratches, and S-bending. According to FAA airman records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. He was issued the certificate on November 23, 2022. He was issued a third-class medical certificate on December 17, 2020. He subsequently completed the FAA Basic Medical course on November 9, 2022. According to FAA registration records, the pilot purchased the accident airplane on March 2, 2021.
Review of the pilot’s logbook revealed a total of 193 flight hours that of which 191 hours were in the accident make and model airplane. A total of 4.4 night hours and 4.5 simulated instrument hours were logged. Zero hours of actual instrument hours were logged. The last flight logged was on November 22, 2022, the day before the pilot’s private pilot checkride. About 30 hours of additional flights in the accident airplane were recorded on commercial flight tracking websites from November 23, 2022, to the day of the accident.
Review of hourly weather observations at the departure airport found that, at 1955, visibility was 10 statute miles, with clouds scattered at 700 ft and 7,500 ft above ground level (agl), with remarks that lightning was distant to the northeast. At 2015, visibility reduced to 1 statute mile, with thunderstorms and mist in the vicinity. The cloud ceiling was broken at 900 ft agl, overcast at 2,600 ft agl, with remarks that lightning was distant to the northeast.
According to ForeFlight account data stored at the company, the most recent route of flight entered at 1822 was for a direct route from CNI to RMN at 7,500 ft. According to preliminary FAA air traffic control (ATC) records and FAA contracted flight service, there was no known communication between the pilot and ATC, nor was there a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan opened or on-file for the accident flight. The wreckage was retained for further examination.