Sunday, January 25, 2009

Reliving a Horrific Night - The Crash of Piper Comanche N5703P

The Charleston Post and Courier has published a follow up story to a plane crash that happened back in January of 2000.

The story "Cold, Pain, Darkness .... Then Rescue" is more about the lone survivor Molly Haupt, who lost both of her parent's in the crash, than it is about the accident itself, or at least that is what the story should have been.

It seems the PnC can't help but put a little blood into even a human interest story but then fails to understand even the basics of flying as is evident in this paragraph:

"He consulted a "map" (that would be chart) and radioed Charleston air traffic controllers about 9:25 p.m. to request "landing procedures". The plane was near Cordesville in Berkeley County. Molly looked out the window and saw nothing but darkness below them".

The PnC story even contradicts the story "Teen Rescued from Plane" published back in 2000 and the NTSB report with several factual errors.

This accident has always made me wonder, how does a professional pilot with all the ratings, (Air Transport Pilot certificate, multi-engine land, instrument, commercial, single engine land and a glider tow certificate) and total flight time of more than 16,000 hours including approximately 850 flying hours in the Piper Comanche PA-24-180, run out of fuel?

A similar Piper Comanche PA-24-180

Fuel management, is flying 101, it is not like you just top off the tanks and go. New Jersey to Savannah, GA is 600 plus miles down the coast, it is not a direct flight in a plane that burns 10 gph at 139 knots and has only two 30 gallon tanks. (Some versions of the Comanche have 2 aux wing tanks adding an additional 60 gallons and others also added extended wing tip (pod) fuel tanks which increased the total fuel to 130 gallons.)

I can only assume that the pilot, figured he'd just "go for it".

Which is fine if your flying alone, but he was the pilot in command, responsible for his aircraft and his two passengers, one a student pilot who by example should have been shown everything by the book:

Detailed flight planning, fuel, weather, weight and balance etc.

When the pilot realized he was out of fuel, five hours and fifteen minutes into the flight it was too late.

After he radioed Charleston requesting to land, CHS controllers turned him towards Moncks Corner in hopes that he could reach the 3,801 foot long runway at the municipal airport. Regrettably he crashed 7 miles short on a northwest heading.

Night single engine cross country, is not for the meek or the foolish. I'd be hard pressed to make a trip across unfamiliar terrain even under the best conditions (VFR and a full moon) This fatal flight was VFR, with no flight plan filed, under a moonless sky.

The NTSB finding: "The pilot's inadequate inflight planning that resulted in fuel exhaustion and the subsequent loss of engine power".

A lesson to remember is that no matter how experienced you are, you need to check your ego at the parking lot when you take your family flying.


Country music singer Patsy Cline, was on board that same type of aircraft a Piper Comanche owned and piloted by Cline's manager, Randy Hughes, when it crashed in deteriorating weather near Camden, Tennessee on 5 March 1963, killing all on board.

A few days after the Haupt accident, a Mooney M20M, registration: N2135X would crash while attempting to land at Mt. Pleasant Airport. The NTSB findings: The pilot's failure to maintain airspeed (VSO) while maneuvering on a night instrument approach in instrument conditions. This resulted in an inadvertent in-flight loss of control (stall/spin), and subsequent in-flight collision with a swamp. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's impairment due to marijuana.

In December of 2006 a family was killed when a surgeon, Dr. Ray Amistead, his wife and 2 daughters aboard a twin engine Cessna crashed into the Stono River after a failed landing attempt. The PnC story Crash is a Family Tragedy tells of a Christmas holiday at Kiawah Island that was filled with sorrow.

Lauren, Ray, Patricia and Kristin Armistead

The NTSB findings: The pilot's failure to maintain airspeed during a turn from base to final, resulting in an inadvertent stall/spin. Contributing to the accident was the impairment of the pilot due to the combination of drugs.


Anonymous said...

Cedar don't you think you are being a little hard on the dead here?

OK maybe not the pot head in the Mooney.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you're right, this flight was not done by the book, and maybe it needn't have happened. I would not attribute it to pilot ego, however. And pilot error or not, it doesn't change the fact that the pilot was a caring and loving father and husband and a lovely lovely person.