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N2966X accident description

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Crash location 38.078334°N, 91.436944°W
Nearest city Cuba, MO
38.062823°N, 91.403483°W
2.1 miles away
Tail number N2966X
Accident date 14 Jun 2015
Aircraft type Piper Pa 32
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On June 14, 2015 at 0746 central daylight time, a Piper PA32-300 airplane, N2966X, experienced an inflight break up and subsequently collided with trees and terrain near Cuba, Missouri. The private rated pilot and one canine passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was destroyed. The airplane was registered to LIMB-A-NATOR LLC, O'Fallon, Missouri, and operated by a private individual under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident and the flight operated on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan. The flight departed from the Branson West Municipal Airport (FWB), Branson, Missouri, at 0701 and was en route to the Creve Coeur Airport (1H0), St. Louis, Missouri.

The pilot was in radar and radio contact with the Kansas City Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). A review of the recording revealed that the accident airplane was in cruise flight at 5,000 ft mean sea level (msl), 163 knots groundspeed, and on a 050 degree heading. At 0716:09 the pilot checked in with the ARTCC controller who stated, "moderate to extreme precipitation from your 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock position beginning in 50 miles, about 30 miles in diameter." The pilot acknowledged the information and stated that he would communicate with ARTCC and that he had "a scope onboard". About 30 minutes later, at 0745:16 the pilot stated to the controller that he was in the middle of the precipitation and was not experiencing any bumps. He also stated that his Stormscope was showing some returns to the right of his position and seeing "a little bit on NEXRAD." At 0746, ARTCC lost radar contact with the airplane and after multiple attempts, was unable to make radio contact with the pilot. ARTCC attempted to relay communication through another airplane in the area; all attempts were unsuccessful.

A review of the radar data revealed the accident airplane made a right descending turn during the final moments of the flight.

One witness reported the accident airplane was above the tree line with pieces of the airplane falling toward the ground. The airplane's nose was pointed southeast and the airplane spun as it descended. The airplane continued below the tree line and out of sight, and then a loud crash sound was heard immediately after.

Another witness heard the airplane above, but couldn't initially make visual contact because of the low clouds. The airplane descended through the clouds and the witness noticed a wing was falling separately along with other parts of the airplane.


The pilot, age 54, held a private pilot certificate with ratings for single engine airplane and instrument airplane. On September 24, 2014, the pilot was issued a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third class medical certificate with the limitation that he must have glasses available for near vision. On the application for the medical certificate, the pilot reported his total flight experience included 1,175 hours and 60 hours in the previous six months.

On November 21, 2014, the FAA Aerospace Medical Certification Division issued the pilot a time-limited Special Issuance Certificate which was valid until September 30, 2015; the pilot was treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy for sleep apnea.

A review of the logbook entries revealed that as of May 26, 2015, the pilot had logged 1,203.1 total flight hours, about 1,048 of which were in the accident airplane, and 3.7 hours in the preceding 90 days.

On March 7, 2014, the pilot satisfactorily completed a biennial flight review (BFR) and an instrument proficiency check (IPC) in the accident airplane. Since the BFR, the pilot logged 11.3 hours in actual IFR conditions and three approaches; two instrument landing system (ILS) and one GPS.


The six-seat, low wing, fixed tricycle landing gear airplane, was manufactured in 1979. The airplane was powered by a 300-horsepower Lycoming IO-540-K1G5 engine, which drove a three blade, constant speed Hartzell propeller. The airplane was inspected in accordance with a 100-hour / annual inspection and was determined to be in airworthy condition on October 9, 2014, at a tachometer time of 3,956.72 hours.

Installed on the airplane was a Stormscope WX-10 Weather Mapping System. The system detected electrical discharges and mapped them on the instrument screen. The system updated continuously and automatically.

The pilot stated to ARTCC that he had Next-Generation Radar (NEXRAD) onboard; however, the investigation was unable to find any evidence of NEXRAD capabilities.

Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) Excerpts:

Maximum Structural Cruising Speed – No not exceed this speed except in smooth air and then only with caution – 149 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS).

Design maneuvering speed – Do not make full or abrupt control movements above this speed – 131 KIAS at 3,400 lbs, and 114 KIAS at 2,400 lbs.


At 0716 a special automated weather observation at the Rolla National Airport (VIH), located 16 miles west of the accident site, reported wind from 200 degrees at 11 knots, 3 miles visibility, light rain, mist, scattered clouds at 900 ft, broken clouds at 2,400 ft, overcast clouds at 4,600 ft, temperature 70° F, dew point 70° F, and altimeter setting 29.97 inches of mercury.

At 0736 another special weather observation at VIH reported wind from 190 degrees at 8 knots, 10 miles visibility, few clouds at 700 ft, broken clouds at 3,800 ft, overcast cloud base at 4,800 ft, temperature 70° F, dew point 70° F, altimeter setting 29.98; remarks: lightning over 10 miles away to the southeast, rain began at 0657 and ended at 0731, 0.27 inches of precipitation since 0653.

At 0753 a weather observation at VIH reported wind from 190 degrees at 10 knots, 10 miles visibility, few clouds at 2,300 ft, broken clouds at 4,200 ft, overcast clouds at 5,000 ft, temperature 70° F, dew point 70° F, altimeter setting 29.98, and rain in the area began at 0657 and ended at 0731.

Weather radar imagery from KLSX, St. Louis, Missouri, between 0722 and 0746, depicted moderate to high reflectivity northeast of and directly in the flight path of the accident airplane. The reflectivity features were consistent with convective activity. As the airplane flew past the first area of reflectivity (between 0742 and 0745), it made a right turn in front of an area categorized by moderate-high reflectivity that had been moving southeast into the flight path of the accident airplane. At the accident airplane's final recorded position, the airplane was in a small area void of reflectivity.

There were no convective or non-convective Significant Meteorological Information (SIGMET) advisories active for the accident location at the accident time.

Two Airmen Meteorological Information (AIRMET) advisories were active for the state of Missouri for altitudes below 10,000 ft for the accident time.

Total lightning data from the Earth Networks Total Lightning Network and Vaisala's National Lightning Detection Network did not identify the presence of any lightning in the accident area from 0730 to 0746.

At 0456, the pilot requested and received an FAA Direct User Access Terminal Service (DUATS) 'Low Altitude Weather Brief' for the accident flight which contained the above weather information.


The accident site was located at latitude 38° 4.706' N, longitude 91° 26.213' W, at an elevation of 995 ft msl, and 0.5 miles northwest of the Cuba Municipal Airport (UBX), Cuba, Missouri. Airplane debris was found 0.65 miles northwest of the accident site; the entire debris path extended on a 120° magnetic heading toward the main wreckage. The beginning of the debris path was identified by pieces of broken windscreen and other small airplane debris. The main wreckage, which included the fuselage, portions of the empennage, nose landing gear, right wing, and engine, came to rest in a heavily wooded area immediately adjacent to an east-west fence line. There was evidence of several damaged trees in the debris path leading to the main wreckage.

The fuselage from the engine firewall aft to the tail cone exhibited impact damage and was breached and twisted. The main carry through spar on the left side exhibited upward bending signatures. All seats and associated restraints were noted and the pilot's seat was removed by first responders. All cabin and cargo doors were separated from the fuselage. All window enclosures and windscreens were missing and the remnants were found in the wreckage debris path.

The instrument panel was compressed aft. The engine ignition switch position was not confirmed due to impact damage. The flight instruments were impact damaged and revealed no useful information. All switches and circuit breakers were impact damaged and their positions prior to impact could not be confirmed. The throttle quadrant levers were near the full forward position. The fuel selector valve was noted between the LEFT and OFF position. The stabilator trim wheel position could not be confirmed. The rudder trim indicator was not observed. The alternate air lever position was not determined. The two control yokes were impact damaged and the rudder pedal control bar was separated at its mounting points.

The engine was located in front of the fuselage and partially covered in mud. The propeller remained attached to the crank shaft and the nose landing gear was located under the engine. One propeller blade was fractured near the propeller hub and was found near the engine.

The empennage from the aft bulkhead was breached and twisted with impact damage. The vertical stabilizer was separated from the empennage, exhibited impact damaged, and breached near the center. The attachment points exhibited shear lips consistent with overstress failure. The rudder and its integral balance weight were not located.

The stabilator was located in the debris path 0.27 miles from the main wreckage and separated into three sections. The right section exhibited aft and downward twisting signatures and blue paint transfer marks. The left two sections also exhibited multiple blue paint transfer marks; the inboard section was twisted and exhibited upward and downward bending signatures, the outboard section exhibited some minimal twisting. The stabilator balance weight was attached to the aft bulkhead at its mounting blocks.

The left wing had separated from the airframe at the wing root and found in a densely wooded area 0.18 miles from the main wreckage. The main spar stub and the forward and aft attach fitting were sheared and bending was noted. The wing skin exhibited tree and ground impact damage. The flap was separated and found about 60 ft to the west. The aileron was attached but exhibited downward crushing at the tip. The aileron bell crank was pulled from its mount in the wing. The main landing gear assembly was intact and remained attached to the wing. The pitot tube was intact and free of obstructions. The fuel tank vent was open. The fuel cap was in place and secure. The stall warning vane moved freely.

The right wing remained attached to the fuselage; the wing was twisted and the leading edge was crushed aft. The flap and aileron remained attached to their respective hinges and exhibited impact damage. The bottom of the wing was crushed up and aft. The main landing gear was in an intermediate positon and faced inboard about 45 degrees. The fuel tanks were breached and the fuel vent was completely obstructed by dirt. The fuel cap was in place and secure.

The smell of aviation fuel was present at the accident site, although the exact amount could not be determined because the fuel tanks were breached.

The wreckage was taken to a secure facility in Wright City, Missouri, for a postaccident examination.

The engine exhibited impact damage and remained attached to the engine mounts. The crankcase near the propeller hub was fractured, which precluded the propeller from being manually rotated. The spark plugs were removed and exhibited signs of normal wear when compared to a Champion Check-A-Plug comparison card.

The propeller blades were labeled A, B, and C for identification purposes in this report only. Blades A and B remained attached to the propeller hub. Blade A exhibited leading edge scoring, chord wise scratches and forward bending. Blade B exhibited a small amount of leading edge damage and forward bending. Blade C was separated about 3 inches from the propeller hub; the blade was twisted, the tip curled aft, and exhibited substantial leading edge damage and chordwise scratches.

The flight control cables were observed and all were either cut during the recovery process or exhibited tension overload separations.

The postaccident examination of the engine and airframe revealed no pre-impact mechanical malfunctions or anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Boone/Callaway County Medical Examiner's Office, Columbia, Missouri, on June 15, 2015. The cause of death was blunt trauma of the body secondary to an airplane crash. A full autopsy was not possible given the condition of the body; therefore, no comments can be made on factors that could have posed a hazard to flight safety.

The FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute completed a Final Forensic Toxicology Fatal Accident Report which detected no medications, illicit drugs or alcohol that could pose hazards to flight safety.


FAA Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge - Chapter 11, "Weather Theory"

"…if an aircraft enters a thunderstorm, the aircraft could experience updraft and downdraft that exceed 3,000 ft per minute…a good rule of thumb is to circumnavigate thunderstorms by at least 5 nautical miles…if flying around a thunderstorm is not an option, stay on the ground until it passes."

FAA FAASTeam "Thunderstorms – Don't Flirt…Skirt 'Em"

Pilots should observe the following rules for any flight routed even potentially near actual or possible thunder­storm activity:

• Avoid all thunderstorms.

• Never get closer than 5 miles to any visible storm cloud with overhanging areas, and strongly consider increas­ing that distance to 20 miles or more. You can encounter hail and violent turbulence anywhere within 20 miles of very strong thunderstorms.

• Do not attempt flight beneath thunderstorms, even when visibility is good, because of the destructive potential of shear turbulence in these areas.

• At the first sign of turbulence, reduce airspeed immediately to the manufacturer's recommended airspeed for turbulent air penetration for a specific gross weight (design maneuvering speed).

• If the aircraft inadvertently penetrates the thunderstorm, maintain a straight and level altitude on a heading that will take you through the storm area in the minimum time.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's continued flight into thunderstorm activity, which resulted in his loss of airplane control, the exceedance of the airplane's design limits, and its subsequent in-flight breakup. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's reliance on onboard weather equipment to navigate through severe weather.

© 2009-2020 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.