Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Clues From Survivors

Survivors can provide new information or confirm what came from another source

Piper PA-23-250
A Piper PA-23-250 crashed in the water near Charlotte Amalie, U.S. Virgin Islands. One passenger survived, while the pilot and two other passengers didn't. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The flight was en route from Christiansted in the Virgin Islands.

FAA radar data indicated the airplane climbed to 1,700 feet after departure. It held that altitude on a heading of 330 degrees for about two minutes. The airplane then entered a steady descent on the same approximate heading for the next 10 minutes until it leveled at 200 feet. The airplane cruised at 200 feet for the final 18 seconds of the flight until the radar contact was lost, approximately five miles from the destination airport.

The surviving passenger was interviewed by the US Coast Guard and FAA. She stated that the airplane flew progressively lower to "get under the weather." She said she could see lights on the shore near the destination airport and could see that it was raining. She recalled light turbulence. She next remembered the airplane "hitting a wall" and "seeing a flash" before the airplane filled with water. She said the pilot broke the window on his side of the airplane, and that she and the pilot got out through it. She didn't see any of the occupants of the airplane after that. When asked if she noticed anything unusual with the flight, or if the pilot provided any warning before striking the water, she said no, and indicated that everything was "normal."
Unable to find the aircraft, company personal began an aerial search.
Satellite images depicted clouds associated with a tropical storm that was developing to the southeast of the accident site. In the vicinity of the accident site, several towering cumulus-type clouds were evident.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot's attempted VFR flight into marginal VFR conditions on a dark night over water and his failure to maintain sufficient altitude, which resulted in the airplane's controlled flight into water. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's inadequate preflight weather planning.

Peter Katz is editor and publisher of NTSB Reporter, an independent monthly update on aircraft accident investigations and other news concerning the National Transportation Safety Board. To subscribe, write to: NTSB Reporter, Subscription Dept., P.O. Box 831, White Plains, N.Y. 10602-0831.


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