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N7710M accident description

West Virginia map... West Virginia list
Crash location 40.174445°N, 80.659444°W
Nearest city Wheeling, WV
40.063962°N, 80.720915°W
8.3 miles away
Tail number N7710M
Accident date 18 Jul 2004
Aircraft type Piper PA-32R-301T
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On July 18, 2004, about 2308 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32R-301T, N7710M, was destroyed when it impacted terrain while on approach to the Wheeling Ohio County Airport (HLG), Wheeling, West Virginia. The certificated private pilot, pilot-rated passenger, and three other passengers were fatally injured. Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed for the flight that originated from the Central Illinois Regional Airport (BMI), Bloomington, Illinois. The business flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, the pilot had requested the pilot-rated passenger to be a safety pilot for the flight.

The airplane departed BMI about 2030, and proceeded uneventfully to the Wheeling, West Virginia area.

Review of air traffic control data from the Pittsburgh Terminal Radar Approach Control facility revealed that a pilot from the accident airplane "checked in" at 2253. The approach controller instructed the flight to descend and maintain 4,000 feet, and to expect the ILS approach to runway 3 at HLG. At 2302:52, the approach controller advised the flight, "6 miles from the marker, turn heading 050, maintain 3,000 until established, cleared ILS 3 approach at Ohio Wheeling Airport." The flight replied, "cleared for the approach." At 2303 the approach controller instructed the flight that radar services were terminated, and to contact the advisory frequency. The flight acknowledged the instruction. No further transmissions were received from the airplane.

Review of radar data revealed that a target, identified as the accident airplane, tracked about 1 mile north of the Bellaire VOR on a heading of 112 degrees, at 3,800 feet. The Bellaire VOR was located 12.3 miles southeast of HLG. At 2302:58, the target began a turn to the left. The turn continued until the target intercepted the final approach course for the runway 3 localizer, where it began a gradual descent. At 2303:49, the target was observed about 7.3 miles from HLG, at an altitude of 3,200 feet. About 9 seconds later, the last target was observed about 7 miles prior to the HLG airport. The target was recorded on the localizer course, at a ground speed of 115 knots, on a heading of 030 degrees, and an unknown altitude.

The airplane came to rest upright in a wooded area, about 1/2 mile west of runway 3, approximately abeam the 500-foot markers painted on the runway surface. A postcrash fire consumed the majority of the main wreckage.

The accident occurred during the hours of darkness, at 40 degrees, 10.294 minutes north longitude, 080 degrees, 39.360 minutes west latitude, at an elevation of 1,079 feet.


The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine and multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. The pilot's most recent application for an FAA third class medical certificate was dated May 17, 2004. Review of the pilot's logbook revealed that he had accumulated about 1,096 total hours of flight experience. Within the preceding 90-days of the accident, the pilot logged 5 total hours as being flown in actual instrument conditions.

The pilot-rated passenger held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine and multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. The pilot's most recent application for an FAA second class medical certificate was dated October 30, 2003. Review of the pilot's logbook revealed that he had accumulated about 1,021 total hours of flight experience.


Review of the airplane's maintenance logbook revealed it's most recent annual inspection was completed on January 23, 2004. At that time the airplane had accumulated 2,873 hours of operation.

The airplanes most recent maintenance performed on the airplane was on July 17, 2004. At the time of the maintenance, the airplane had accumulated 3,088 hours of operation.


The weather reported at HLG, at 2303, included winds from 310 degrees at 3 knots; 2-1/2 statute miles of visibility; mist; few clouds at 200 feet agl, an overcast cloud layer at 1,800 feet agl; temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point of 62 degrees Fahrenheit; and an altimeter setting of 29.86 inches of mercury. The weather reported at HLG, at 2311, included calm winds; 3/4 statute miles of visibility; mist; scattered clouds at 200 and 500 feet agl, an overcast cloud layer at 1,800 feet agl; temperature 64 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 62 degrees Fahrenheit; and an altimeter setting of 29.86 inches of mercury.

The runway 3 runway visual range (RVR) transmissometer recordings were reviewed after the accident. At 2307, the RVR was recorded as 3/4-mile visibility. At 2310, the RVR was recorded as 1-mile visibility. At 2312, the RVR was recorded as 1/2-mile visibility.


Review of the instrument approach procedure for the ILS Runway 3 approach at HLG revealed that the minimums for the straight in approach were 3/4 statute miles of visibility, and a decision altitude of 1,421 feet msl (250 feet agl). The missed approach procedure was, climb to 3,000 feet, direct to the HLG VOR/DME, and hold. The HLG VOR was located about 6.7 miles northeast of the airport.

The airport elevation at HLG was 1,194 feet msl.


Examination of the accident site on July 20, 2004, revealed terrain that consisted of evergreen and hardwood trees reaching a height of about 80 feet. The foliage surrounding the accident site was wilted, consistent with being exposed to heat. The wreckage path was about 110 feet in length, and oriented on a 297-degree heading, with the main fuselage coming to rest on a 230-degree heading.

The first tree strike area was located about 90 feet prior to the main fuselage, at an elevation of 1,050 feet msl. Along the wreckage path were wing skin sections, flight control surface sections, and all three landing gear assemblies.

All flight control surfaces were accounted for at the accident site.

The left wing was partially separated from the fuselage but remained attached by the aileron cables and wire bundles. The main spar was separated at the center-section. The left wing was severely damaged by the postcrash fire with the top of the wing skin being burnt through over the fuel cells. The wing tip outboard of the aileron was detached and recovered along the debris path; it was crushed along the leading edge. The crushed area contained tree bark residue. The left-hand aileron remained attached except for the outboard 8 inches, which was recovered in the debris path. The left flap was partially detached, and the inboard four feet was consumed by the postcrash fire.

The right wing was separated from the fuselage at the center-section and further fragmented into several pieces. The right wing tip was separated with a three-foot radius imprint in the leading edge noted. A leading edge imprint with a three-foot radius was noted in the outer wing panel containing both fuel cells. The center of the depression was located two feet outboard of the fuel fill port and it contained tree bark residue. The right aileron remained attached to the outboard wing panel; the detached right flap was recovered separately. The right aileron cable was broomstrawed as was the aileron balance cable.

The empennage section remained intact, and was located with the main wreckage. The rudder remained attached top the vertical stabilizer. The leading edge of the vertical stabilizer sustained severe postcrash fire damage. The right-hand side of the horizontal stabilator was sheared off three feet outboard of the fuselage. The left-hand side of the horizontal stabilator had only minor fire and impact damage. Rudder and stabilator control cables were intact from the rudder horn and stabilator balance bar to the cockpit.

The 2-bladed propeller assembly was separated from the engine. One blade was located about 40 feet prior to the main wreckage, and the other remained attached to the hub, which came to rest near the engine. The blades displayed s-bending, leading edge nicks, and chord-wise scratching.

The pilot's airspeed indicator was recovered, but sustained impact damage. The airspeed indicator displayed a reading of 0 knots. The altimeter displayed a reading of 2,340 feet. The Kollsman window displayed an altimeter setting of 29.88 inches of mercury. The vertical speed indicator displayed a positive rate reading of 500 feet per minute. The horizontal situational indicator was aligned to 275 degrees. The heading bug was set to 030 degrees, and the course indicator was set to 018 degrees.

The remaining primary flight instruments, engine instruments, and navigational radios were destroyed. The throttle, mixture, and propeller controls were also destroyed.

The engine was separated from the main fuselage, and came to rest about 8 feet beyond the main wreckage.

The engine was rotated through the accessory drive section. Thumb compression and valve train continuity was confirmed to all cylinders. Examination of the turbocharger revealed scratches on the impeller housing walls, and the impeller blades exhibited leading edge nicks. Tree bark fragments were also observed on the intake side of the turbocharger.

The top and bottom spark plugs of all cylinder heads were removed; their electrodes were intact and light gray in color. The dual magneto was removed from the engine case and rotated by hand. It produced spark from all distributor block towers.

Fuel was present at the fuel distributor, injector screen, and the engine driven fuel pump. The fuel servo filter screen was absent of debris. All four remaining fuel injector nozzles were removed, and were absent of debris.

Residual oil was present throughout the engine, and no metal contamination was observed in the oil or oil filter. The oil sump screen was removed from the engine and was absent of debris.

Internal examination of each remaining cylinder was conducted using a lighted borescope. No abnormalities were observed to the valves, top surfaces of each piston, or the cylinder walls.

Both the primary and secondary vacuum pumps were removed from the engine. When rotated, suction from the inlet and outlet lines were observed. Disassembly of the pumps did not reveal any abnormalities.


The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau of Public Health, Charleston, West Virginia, performed an autopsy of both pilots.

The FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma conducted toxicological testing on both pilots.


The airplane wreckage was released on April 21, 2005, to a representative of the owners insurance company.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's failure to maintain terrain clearance while executing an instrument approach. A factor was the night instrument meteorological conditions.

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