Overloaded airplane crashes

This May 2010 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.

Aircraft: Piper Malibu/Mirage Injuries: 2 Serious, 1 Minor. Location: Clearwater, Fla. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: A lineman who fueled the airplane observed several people loading boxes into the front and rear baggage compartments prior to the airplane’s departure. The lineman stated that the pilot’s sister expressed concern about the airplane’s weight, and wanted the lineman to ask the pilot about the amount of cargo that was onboard. The pilot replied that he only had about 200 pounds of cargo, and that the weight was “okay.”

According to the lineman, the airplane rotated normally about halfway down the 3,500-foot runway, but appeared tail-heavy. The airplane’s pitch oscillated several times and turned sharply to the left.

Another witness stated that the airplane lifted off with about a third of the runway remaining, and its climb rate appeared to be poor. About 20 feet above the ground, the landing gear retracted, while the airplane appeared to fly level, or with a low rate of climb. The airplane cleared some trees beyond the end of the runway in a nose-high attitude. He then lost sight of the airplane before hearing the sounds of impact about 10 seconds later. The engine sounded normal throughout the takeoff roll and climb out. The airplane hit trees and a house.

A data card on board the aircraft indicated that the pilot had retracted the flaps prior to reaching the manufacturer’s recommended flap retraction speed. Review of the pilot’s operating handbook takeoff performance data indicated that the airplane’s takeoff ground roll distance and distance to clear a 50-foot obstacle at maximum gross weight with 20° of flaps was approximately 1,600 feet and 2,600 feet, respectively, given the atmospheric conditions present at the time of the accident.

After the accident it was determined that the airplane was loaded more than 500 pounds over the maximum gross weight.

Probable cause: The overweight condition of the airplane due to the pilot’s inadequate preflight planning, resulting in the airplane’s degraded climb performance. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s retraction of the flaps prior to reaching the manufacturer’s recommended flap retraction speed.

For more information: NTSB.gov. NTSB Identification: ERA10LA267


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