The Initial Point Of Impact Was The Top Of A 70 Ft-Tall Hardwood Tree

Location: Marienville, PA Accident Number: ERA24FA077
Date & Time: December 29, 2023, 21:57 Local Registration: N4209W
Aircraft: Zenith STOL CH701 Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Personal

On December 29, 2023, about 2157 Eastern Standard Time, an experimental, amateur-built Zenith STOL CH 701, N4209W, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Marienville, Pennsylvania. The private pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

Preliminary automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) track data revealed that the airplane departed runway 24 at Erie International Airport/Tom Ridge Field (ERI), Erie, Pennsylvania about 2058, destined for John Murtha Johnstown/Cambria County Airport (JST), Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The flight proceeded generally in an easterly direction, then turned to a southeasterly direction, toward JST. At the time of the accident, the flight was operating under visual flight rules and the pilot was not in communication with air traffic control. 

About 90 seconds prior to the last recorded ADS-B return, the airplane began a left turn at about 2,900 ft mean sea level (msl), or about 1,300 ft above ground level (agl). The left turn continued and tightened until the last ADS-B return, about 3,000 msl, at 2156:51. The airplane crashed onto wooded terrain inside the confines of the Allegheny National Forest. The initial point of impact was the top of a 70 ft-tall hardwood tree, and the airplane continued at a 60° descent angle until the main wreckage lodged into another hardwood tree. Both wings and the main landing gear separated during impact. All structural components of the airplane were accounted for at the accident site. The magnetic heading from the initial tree strike to the main wreckage was 140°, and the fuselage was found oriented on a heading of 320°. The entire wreckage path was about 65 ft long and about 25 ft wide. There was no fire.

The pilot did not possess an instrument rating, and the airplane was not approved for flight in instrument conditions. The closest recorded weather observation was at Du Bois-Jefferson County Airport, Du Bois, Pennsylvania, located about 18 miles southeast of the accident site. The 2150 observation included instrument meteorological conditions with an overcast ceiling at 800 ft. The pilot’s destination airport, JST, was also reporting an 800 ft overcast ceiling at 2154.