A video made by a witness located in a restaurant parking lot near the top of a ridge near Lake Elsinore, Calif., initially shows the Piper PA 28R’s wings level at a low altitude with a steady engine rpm and the landing gear in the retracted position. The airplane then makes about a 45° left turn.
It subsequently levels off, flying in the direction toward the ridgeline with the landing gear in the extended position. The airplane continues at a low altitude toward the rising terrain, and then the video ends.
Shortly thereafter, witnesses reported seeing smoke in the area where the airplane had disappeared from their sight. The wreckage was found about 0.32 mile southwest of the restaurant parking lot. The airplane had hit trees on the rising terrain, killing all three aboard.
The airplane was equipped with a back-up landing gear extension system, which incorporates a pressure-sensing device to automatically lower the landing gear at airspeeds between about 85 and 105 mph depending upon the power setting and regardless of the position of the gear handle in the cockpit. The system can be overridden by manually holding the emergency gear lever in the raised position.
About 16 years before the accident, the manufacturer issued a mandatory two-part service bulletin requiring that either (1) the back-up landing gear extension system be removed from the airplane or (2) that the owner and operator review and understand the information about the system in the airplane flight manual and Pilot’s Operating Handbook, including its operation and limitations.
The mechanic who conducted the airplane’s most recent annual inspection reported that the airplane’s back-up landing gear extension system was still operational and that it had not been disabled. The pilot was maneuvering at a low level in an area with no suitable terrain for landing, therefore it is likely that he did not intentionally lower the landing gear.
During the steep turn, the airspeed likely decreased enough for the back-up landing gear system to engage and extend the gear. With the increased drag of the landing gear and low airspeed, the airplane did not have sufficient power or altitude to clear the rising terrain and subsequently hit the trees.
The NTSB determined the probable cause as the pilot’s failure to maintain airplane control when the landing gear unintentionally extended while maneuvering at low altitude and airspeed, which increased the airplane’s drag and decreased its ability to climb over the rising terrain.
NTSB Identification: WPR14FA282
This July 2014 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.