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The pilot had a Commercial pilot's license and was enrolled in Flight Instructor Certification Course at the University of North Dakota (UND), Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The pilot obtained weather briefings at 1118 CST and at 1718 CST. He was
advised in both briefings that VFR flight was not recommended. At 1839 CST he
activated his VFR flight plan and made no other radio contacts. The pilot had
flown a total of 2.8 hours of night time in the last nine months. A local
witness reported that there was a "slight covering of snow but not real
windy," at 2130 CST, but at 2230 CST, the "...wind was howling.
Visibility was very low. Could hardly see the yard light 150 feet away. Winds
were strong, 25 to 30 miles per hour. Snowing pretty good. Light pole was
blurred. 35 feet tall...." The airplane had flown into a marsh about 300
degrees and 3.8 nautical miles from Fond du Lac Airport.
the pilot's intentional VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions, and his failure to maintain altitude. Factors included the weather obscuration due to snow and fog, the dark night, and the pilot's lack of recent night flight time.
History of Flight
On November 10, 1995, at 2208 central standard time (CST), a Piper PA-28-151, N161FS, was destroyed when it impacted the ground near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The commercial pilot and passenger received fatal injuries. The 14 CFR Part 91 flight departed Grand Forks, North Dakota, en route to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed. A visual flight plan had been filed.
The pilot had contacted the Grand Forks Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) at 1118 CST to obtain an outlook weather briefing for a visual flight rules (VFR) flight from Grand Forks, North Dakota, to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, departing at 1700 CST. He was advised that the terminal forecast for his departure from Grand Forks indicated VFR conditions. The Wisconsin Area Forecast for after 1700 CST indicated marginal VFR conditions with lowered ceilings and lowered visibilities due to snow. The Terminal Forecast for the Central Wisconsin Airport predicted marginal VFR with occasional instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions until 1900 CST. The pilot was advised that VFR flight was not recommended. The Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Appleton, Wisconsin, Terminal Forecasts indicated occasional IFR conditions, with some improvement extending after 1900 CST, but with Green Bay expecting IFR conditions extending beyond 1900 CST.
After the pilot had received the weather briefing, he talked to numerous classmates at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, North Dakota. The classmates reported that the pilot expressed concern about the weather at his destination. The pilot indicated that a front was moving through his destination area, but that he was not sure when it would arrive at his destination. The classmates reported that the pilot indicated that he would keep out of clouds, and that he expected to arrive at his destination before the front moved through.
The pilot contacted the Grand Forks AFSS at 1718 CST to obtain a weather briefing for his intended route of flight. The weather briefer advised the pilot of a pilot weather report 57 miles west of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which indicated 5 to 10 miles visibility in light rain and snow showers. The briefer advised the pilot of the Green Bay amended Terminal Forecast (GRB 102218 UTC AMD FT), and advised the pilot that VFR flight was not recommended in the Green Bay area after 2000 CST.
The pilot called the Grand Forks AFSS and filed a VFR flight plan at 1740 CST. The pilot contacted Grand Forks AFSS by radio at 1839 CST and requested that his VFR flight plan from Grand Forks, North Dakota, to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, be activated at 1830 CST. The pilot did not request flight following and made no other radio contacts during the flight.
Radar data indicated that the pilot flew a direct track from Grand Forks, North Dakota, to about seven nautical miles northwest of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The radar track indicates that between 7 to 3.8 nautical miles from Fond du Lac Airport, the airplane's heading, altitude, and airspeed changed during a series of turns. The last radar indication of the airplane was at 2208 CST. The accident site was about 300 degrees and 3.8 nautical miles from Fond du Lac Airport.
The pilot had a Commercial pilot's license and was enrolled in Flight Instructor Certification Course at the University of North Dakota (UND), Grand Forks, North Dakota. He had about 220 hours of total flight time, which included about 110 hours in a Piper PA-28-161. He had one hour of flight time in a Piper PA-28-151.
The pilot's flight and ground school grades for the Flight Instructor Certification Course indicate that he had a 2.9 average on a 3.0 scale. Witnesses reported that the pilot regularly attended the monthly Safety meetings sponsored by the UND Aerospace Department. The pilot's flight instructor indicated that the pilot's flying ability was fine.
The pilot had taken a written exam and flew a one hour check ride in the airplane, N161FS, on November 8, 1995, as part of the normal rental procedures required by GFK Flight Support.
The one hour airplane flight check was conducted at night. The pilot's previous night flight was conducted on October 11, 1996, for 1.5 hours. It was also the pilot's last night flight since flying .3 hours of night time on March 22, 1995.
The airplane was a 1974 Piper PA-28-151. It was operated by GFK Flight Support. The last annual inspection was performed on October 26, 1995. The total airframe time was 2772.5 hours. The total engine time was 2772.5 hours and a major overhaul had been completed at 1021.5 hours.
The Grand Forks AFSS had advised the pilot of the Green Bay amended Terminal Forecast (GRB 102218 UTC AMD FT) which indicated the following forecast weather:
From 1900 CST to 2100 CST, the Green Bay weather was forecast to have 1,500 foot overcast, 4 miles visibility in light snow and fog, winds 340 degrees at 12 knots gusting to 25, with occasional ceilings of 800 overcast with 3 miles visibility in light rain and snow showers and fog.
From 2100 CST to 0600 CST, the Green Bay weather was forecast to have 1,500 foot overcast, 3 miles visibility in light snow and fog, winds 350 at 16 knots gusting to 28 knots, with occasional 500 foot ceilings, sky obscured with .5 miles visibility in snow and fog.
Watertown, Wisconsin, 38 miles south of Fond du Lac, was reporting the following weather at 2157 CST:
Sky partially obscured with measured ceiling of 500 foot overcast, 1 mile visibility in snow and fog, temperature 32 degrees, dew point 32 degrees, wind 350 at 14 knots gusting to 19 knots, altimeter 29.68
Watertown, Wisconsin, was reporting the following weather at 2217 CST:
Sky partially obscured with obscured measured ceiling of 300 foot overcast, 3 miles visibility in snow and fog, temperature 32 degrees, dew point 32 degrees, wind 340 at 16 knots gusting to 20 knots, altimeter 29.69
Oshkosh, Wisconsin, 12 miles north of Fond du Lac, was reporting the following weather at 2145 CST:
2,800 foot scattered clouds, 5,500 foot scattered clouds, measured 8,500 overcast, 1 mile visibility in light snow, temperature 33 degrees, dew point 25 degrees, wind 360 at 20 knots gusting to 25 knots, altimeter 29.78
A witness who lives about a half mile south of the accident site reported that there was a "slight covering of snow but not real windy," at 2130 CST. He reported that the weather at 2230 CST, as such:
"...wind was howling. Visibility was very low. Could hardly see the yard light 150 feet away. Winds were strong, 25 to 30 miles per hour. Snowing pretty good. Light pole was blurred. 35 feet tall."
Wreckage and Impact Information
The accident site was located at North 43 degrees 48 minutes, West 88 degrees 34 minutes. The area was known locally as Eldorado Marsh. The area was flooded and varied in depth from 1 to 3 feet in the area of the crash. The temperature was below freezing at the time of the accident, and ice encased part of the wreckage.
The aircraft wreckage path was on a heading of approximately 165 degrees. The right wing was the first large piece of wreckage along the path. It was severed at the main spar outboard bolt line. A trail of parts led to the main wreckage about 105 yards distant.
The wing tanks remained intact and about 10 to 12 gallons of fuel were found in each tank.
The propeller and spinner were recovered. Propeller mounting bolts were in place, but had been sheared at the engine flange.
The engine examination revealed that the engine had continuity and compression. The magnetos, vacuum pump, spark plugs, and engine driven fuel pump were examined and determined to be in operating condition. The carburetor had broken off its mounts but had fuel in the bowl.
Medical and Pathological Information
Autopsies were performed on both the pilot and passenger at the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office on November 15, 1995.
A Forensic Toxicology Fatal Accident Report was prepared by the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aeromedical Institute. The report indicated negative results except for 18.400 (ug/ml, ug/g) Acetaminophen detected in the pilot's urine. Acetaminophen is commonly found in pain relievers. The examiner reported that the level of Acetaminophen indicated in the report was innocuous.
Search and Rescue
The search for the accident airplane was hindered by inclement weather, and the lack of radio communications or pilot reports by the accident pilot. Also, the emergency radio beacon failed to operate after the accident.
A search was initiated and the wreckage was discovered about 0400 CST November 13, 1996.
Parties to the investigation included the New Piper Aircraft, Inc., Textron Lycoming, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The aircraft wreckage was released to AIG Aviation, Inc., on November 17, 1995. The engine and aircraft logbooks were released to GFK Flight Support on November 27, 1995.
The emergency locator transmitter had a battery expiration date of January 1997.
Source: National Transportation Safety Board