Examination Of The Elevator Trim Tabs Revealed That They Were Installed Upside-Down And Reversed

Location: Myrtle Beach, SC Accident Number: ERA21FA224
Date & Time: May 21, 2021, 18:14 Local Registration: N575BC
Aircraft: Piper PA-31P Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Personal

On May 21, 2021, at 1814 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-31P, N575BC, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The airline transport pilot was fatally injured.

The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. The flight was the airplane’s first flight after maintenance was performed and prior to the flight, the airplane was fueled with 167.5 gallons of 100 low lead aviation fuel.

The airplane departed Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR), Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, at 1812 with the intended destination of Grand Strand Airport (CRE), North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. According to preliminary ADS-B and air traffic control radio communications data, prior to takeoff the pilot established communications and reported that he was ready for departure from runway 18. He was instructed to fly runway heading, climb to 1,700 ft, and was cleared for takeoff. Once airborne, the controller instructed the pilot to turn left; however, the pilot stated that he needed to return to runway 18.

The controller instructed the pilot to enter a right closed traffic pattern at 1,500 ft. As the airplane continued to turn to the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, it reached an altitude of about 1,000 ft mean sea level (msl). While on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, the airplane descended to 450 ft msl, climbed to 700 ft msl, and then again descended to 475 ft msl prior to the loss of radar contact. About 1 minute after the pilot requested to return to the runway, the controller asked if any assistance was required, to which the pilot replied, “yes, we’re in trouble.” There were no further radio communications from the pilot.

The airplane impacted in a field about .1 mile beyond the last radar return, at an elevation of 20 ft. A postimpact fire ensued, and the debris field was about 400 ft long by 150 ft wide. All major components of the airplane were located in the vicinity of the main wreckage. Each engine came to rest in about a 5 ft crater and remained attached to the fuselage.

The left engine crankcase was impact damaged in multiple locations. The gearbox was impact separated. All valve covers remained intact and attached to the cylinders. The valve covers were removed an no anomalies were noted. Crankshaft and camshaft continuity were confirmed by using a lighted borescope to examine the internal components of the engine. In addition, the cylinders were examined using a lighted borescope and no anomalies were noted. All engine accessories were impact separated and fragmented. The left engine turbocharger was impact separated, would bind when it rotated, and scoring was noted on the casing.

The right engine crankcase was impact damaged in multiple locations. All valve covers remained intact and attached to the cylinders. The valve covers were removed an no anomalies were noted. Crankshaft and camshaft continuity were confirmed by using a lighted borescope to examine the internal components of the engine. In addition, the cylinders were examined using a lighted borescope and no anomalies were noted. All engine accessories were impact separated and fragmented. The oil suction screen was removed was not occluded. The right engine turbocharger was impact separated and would bind when it rotated. The left propeller was impact separated from the engine. Two of the three blades were separated from the hub. All blades exhibited polishing. One blade was bent forward, one exhibited tip curling, and the last blade was bent aft. The blade that was bent aft remained attached to the propeller hub.

The right propeller was impact separated from the right engine. Two of the three blades were impact separated from the hub. All blades exhibited polishing. One blade was bent forward, one blade was bent aft, and one blade remained straight. The straight blade remained attached to the propeller hub. Flight control cable continuity was established from all flight control surfaces to the cockpit through multiple overload breaks in the cables. A majority of the wings and fuselage were consumed by fire. The remaining skin and structure exhibited accordion-like impact damage that was symmetrical on both wings. The landing gear was in the extended position. The flaps were in the retracted position. The empennage was separated from the fuselage and located about 50 ft from the main wreckage. The top section of the vertical stabilizer and the rudder were impact crushed downward. The elevator remained attached to the right horizontal stabilizer. The right trim tab remained attached to the right elevator, was deflected up, but was impact separated from the connecting rod. The left trim tab remained attached to the left elevator, the connecting rod remained attached to the flight controls, and it was deflected up.

Further examination of the elevator trim tabs revealed that they were installed upside-down and reversed. The connecting rod that attached the trim tab to the trim drum that should be located on the top of the trim tab was located on the bottom side.

The airplane’s most recent annual inspection was completed on May 19, 2021. Maintenance performed at that time included removing, repainting, and reinstalling the primary and secondary flight control surfaces.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov