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N55995 accident description

West Virginia map... West Virginia list
Crash location 39.696111°N, 79.763056°W
Nearest city Bruceton Mills, WV
39.658692°N, 79.641159°W
7.0 miles away
Tail number N55995
Accident date 21 May 2003
Aircraft type Piper PA-28-180
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On May 21, 2003, about 1113 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-180, N55995, was destroyed when it struck a guy wire on a communications antenna near Bruceton MiIls, West Virginia. The Canadian-certificated private pilot was fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site. A visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan had been filed, but not opened for the personal flight from Harrison/Marion Regional Airport (KCKB), Clarksburg, West Virginia, to Buttonville Airport (CYKZ), Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and which was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

The airplane owner was interviewed by the Safety Board Investigator-In-Charge. The owner reported that the pilot initiated the trip on May 20th, about 0830, when he departed Pompano Beach, Florida. The airplane arrived at Clarksburg later in the day and remained overnight. While at Clarksburg, it was serviced with 45.5 gallons of 100 LL aviation grade gasoline. On the morning of May 21st, the pilot made two telephone calls to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Flight Service Station (FSS), at Elkins, West Virginia.

The first briefing occurred at 0917, and lasted 5 minutes. During the briefing, the pilot was advised of an AIRMET which included occasional instrument flight rules conditions, up to the Canadian border. In addition, it also included mountain obscurement in the Appalachians. The pilot was advised of ceilings of 1,300 to 1,500 feet, and a ceiling of 600 feet overcast in the Jamestown, New York area. The briefer reported that once the airplane passed Niagara Falls, New York, the weather would break up. The pilot reported that he would file a flight plan on his next call.

The second briefing occurred at 1005, and lasted 13 minutes. The pilot advised that he wanted to fly visual flight rules to Allegheny County VOR, Dunkirk, VOR, and then direct to Buttonville. The briefer advised the pilot of an AIRMET for instrument flight rules conditions in western Pennsylvania, most of New York, and all of West Virginia. The conditions were forecast to end between 1200 and 1500. The weather at Morgantown, West Virginia, was reported as 1,300 feet overcast with visibility of 10 miles. The pilot did request and received NOTAMS for the flight, and then he filed a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan.

At 1037, the pilot made initial contact with the FAA control tower at Clarksburg, West Virginia. He was cleared to takeoff at 1044:47, and at 1048:28, the pilot requested a frequency change to talk to the Elkins flight service station.

At 1054, the pilot reported to the Clarksburg control tower that he was unable to establish radio contact with the Elkins flight service station.

The pilot never requested that the Clarksburg Control Tower open his flight plan, and Elkins FSS had no record of communication with him. The FAA coordinator reported that the tower personnel at Clarksburg watched the airplane's departure on radar, and observed a primary target only, with no secondary beacon code.

There were no known communications with the airplane after it departed from Clarksburg.

According to the general manager of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the company maintained a communications tower on a mountain peak located 32.2 nautical miles (nm) from Clarksburg airport on a magnetic heading of 050 degrees. The tower's location from Morgantown, West Virginia airport, was 7.8 nm, on a magnetic heading of 075 degrees. At 1113, the company recorded a momentary power outage which was restored at 1117. However, when the power was restored, the signal was degraded. About the same time, a power interruption was recorded on a 12,000-volt power line.

The FAA coordinator reported that personnel from the power company told him that when they arrived at the site of the power interruption, the visibility was reduced by fog, and they discovered a burning airplane laying on top of a downed power line, near the communications antenna.

The accident occurred during the hours of daylight at 41 degrees, 41 minutes, 46 seconds north latitude, and 79 degrees, 45 minutes, 47 seconds west longitude.


According to pilot records received from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the pilot held a Canadian private pilot certificate with limitations for airplane single engine land, and a night endorsement. The pilot did not hold an instrument rating. According to the latest licensing records from Transport Canada, dated December 3, 2001, the pilot listed his total flight experience as 1,160 hours, with 12 hours in the preceding 90 days. The pilot did not possess a valid Canadian airman medical certificate at the time of the accident. There were no records that the pilot possessed a FAA airman medical certificate or FAA pilot certificate at the time of the accident.


According to the owner, the airplane was equipped with dual VOR receivers. In addition, the pilot had a hand-held GPS (global positioning navigation system). It was also equipped with a two axis auto-pilot, but did not have altitude hold.


The elevation of the airport at Clarksburg was 1,217 feet. The 1053 weather observation at Clarksburg included, wind from 030 degrees at 6 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, ceiling 1,200 feet overcast, temperature 9 degrees Celsius, dewpoint 7 degrees Celsius, altimeter 30.25 in/hg.

The elevation of the airport at Morgantown was 1,248 feet. At 1129, a special observation at Morgantown, included winds from 360 degrees at 7 knots, visibility 10 statue miles, ceiling 1,500 feet overcast, temperature 9 degrees C (48 F), dewpoint 7 degrees C (45 F), barometric pressure 30.28 inches Hg, and remarks of ridges obscured east through northeast.


Radar data was requested and received from the FAA. A check of the data failed to find a track, either maneuvering in the vicinity of the communications antenna, or headed toward the communications antenna.


The airplane was examined at the accident site on May 22, 2003. The bearing and distance of the airplane from the communications antenna was 311 degrees magnetic, and 270 feet. The airplane was laying on top of a broken 12,000 volt power line, pointed 080 degrees magnetic. The outboard half of the left wing fuel tank which contained the fuel tank cap, was lodged in a tree above the outboard leading edge of the left wing. The separated wing was about 120 feet from the communication tower on a heading of 278 degrees magnetic, and measured 6 feet 11 inches long. The distance and bearing from the wing section to the airplane was 180 feet on a magnetic heading of 343 degrees.

The cockpit and inboard section of both wings were burned. No documentation was obtained from inside the cockpit due to fire damage.

Flight control continuity was checked. The right aileron control cable turnbuckle was melted in the wing root area. The upper stabilator cable was separated 30 inches forward of the rear pulley. The ends of the cable were rounded globules of metal consistent with arcing. No sharp or cut edges were visible on the separated control cable. The rudder cables were intact.

The carburetor was partially melted. The main jet and venturi were destroyed. Metal floats were installed. The finger screen in the carburetor was absent of debris. The bronze rotate able fuel selector valve was melted and the position of the fuel selector valve was not determined.

The magnetos were not able to be tested due to fire damage. The cylinders were bore scoped and the valves were in place. No holes were observed in the pistons. The engine sump screen was absent of debris. The engine would not rotate, and the engine case was cracked behind the propeller flange, which precluded rotation of the crankshaft. During the engine exam, two cylinders were removed, and the engine case was separated. The forward bearings had been pushed back, and the # 1 crankshaft cheek was pushed aft into the # 1 connecting rod. All connecting rods were intact.

The vacuum pump drive was melted. The pump was disassembled and showed no internal rotational damage. The vanes were intact and the rotor was shattered.

One propeller blade leading edge was curled forward, opposite the direction of rotation. The outboard 12 inches of the other blade was separated from the propeller, and exhibited "S" bending on the leading and trailing edges.

The inboard half of the left wing fuel tank was in place, with metal at the leading edge bent rearward, toward the spar. Lateral scrape marks were visible on the leading edge of the spar. Small pieces of metal were bent, consistent with the guy wire entering the left wing fuel tank in the middle, traveling to the spar, and then moving outboard along the spar. The guy wire exited the leading edge of the left wing 6 feet 11 inches from the outboard side of the left wing fuel tank.

No soot patterns were found that aligned with the longitudinal axis of the airplane.


Toxicological testing was conducted by the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

An autopsy was conducted by Zia Sabet, MD, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for the State of West Virginia on May 23, 2003.


The communications tower was depicted on the latest edition of the Cincinnati Sectional chart issued on December 26, 2002. According to the sectional chart, the height of the communications antenna was 518 feet above ground level, and the elevation of the top of the tower was listed as 3,114 feet.

According to documents received from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the tower was secured in place by three sets of guy wires, spaced at intervals of 120 degrees. Each set consisted of four subsets of wires. The top wire was a 15/16-inch diameter braded steel cable. The general manager reported that a shiny spot was observed mid-span between the tower and the ground anchor, on the top wire that radiated out on a heading of 252 degrees from the tower. This corresponded to an approximate altitude of 250 feet above ground level, or 2,850 feet mean sea level.

According to the flight plan filed by the pilot, the first navigation fix after departure from Clarksburg, was the Allegheny VOR/DME (AGC), on a course of 017 degrees magnetic. The accident site was located 18 nm east of a straight line course between Clarksburg and the Allegheny VOR.

The airplane was released to the insurance adjustor on May 22, 2003. No items were retained.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's intentional decision to continue visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, and his failure to maintain obstacle clearance which resulted in the airplane striking a guy wire on the communications antenna. A factor was the fog.

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