This August 2007 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 Pacer.
Location: Leonardtown, Md.
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 2 Minor.
Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The pilot was attempting to take off in a heavily loaded airplane on a hot, humid day. The airplane was slow to accelerate. The airplane used about 3,000 feet of runway before becoming airborne at 80 mph with an initial climb of about 50 feet per minute at full power. The airplane did not have enough altitude to clear a line of trees past the departure end of the runway. The pilot lowered the flaps. The airplane skimmed the top of the trees, then pitched down, hitting the ground in a nose down right wing low attitude. The Pacer caught fire.
The pilot stated that the gross weight of the airplane was 2,000 pounds. He admitted that he did not conduct any formal performance planning for the flight except for mentally going over the weight and balance in his head. In addition, the pilot did not consider that density altitude and pressure altitude was a factor since he was departing from a 4,000-foot runway.
The weight and balance was computed using the empty weight and three different baggage weights provided to the State Police, FAA, and NTSB by the pilot, and the empty weight provided by the aircraft manufacturer. The takeoff weight in all three computations ranged from 1,816 pounds to 1,981 pounds. The departure airport is located at an elevation of 142 feet, and the departure runway is 4,150 feet in length. The temperature at the departure airport was 82°Fahrenheit, dew point temperature was 72° Fahrenheit, and the altimeter was 29.88. The density altitude at the time of the accident was 1,755 feet. The manufacturer stated that with flaps extended the performance figures were for standard airplanes flown at gross weight under standard conditions at sea level. The takeoff run is 1,220 feet and the takeoff over a 50-foot barrier is 1,600 feet. With a density altitude of 1,755 feet the takeoff run will increase approximately 25% for every 1,000 feet increase in density altitude. The takeoff run would have been approximately 43% longer or 1,745 feet and 2, 288 feet to clear a 50-foot obstacle.
Investigators determined that had the pilot performed written calculations for the weight and balance and density altitude for the departure airport he would have known that his takeoff distance would have increased due to the environmental conditions at the time of accident and he could have selected a go or no go point on the runway to abort the takeoff. Post accident inspection disclosed no evidence of any pre-impact mechanical anomalies.
Probable cause: The pilot’s inadequate performance planning and failure to abort the takeoff.
For more information: NTSB.gov