The pilot, who was conducting a local personal flight in the Piper PA-28-140 with three passengers onboard, was departing from a turf and sand-covered runway in Fountain, Florida, that had a usable length of 2,600 feet.
Although a relatively clear area was located beyond one end of the runway, he elected to depart in the opposite direction toward a heavily forested area with trees that were about 70 feet tall.
After a takeoff run requiring about half of the runway’s available length, the plane began climbing at an abnormally steep angle. It climbed above the trees at the departure end of the runway, stopped climbing, rolled to the right, descended into the trees, and hit the ground, killing three of those aboard and seriously injuring the fourth.
A post-impact fire consumed the majority of the airplane.
Review of video recorded both onboard and from outside the airplane showed that the pilot did not use the manufacturer’s recommended procedure for a takeoff from a turf (soft) runway with obstacles ahead.
The procedure called for 25° of flaps, and he used no flaps.
Further, the procedure called for the pilot to raise the nose wheel off the ground as soon as possible, takeoff at the lowest possible airspeed, and accelerate to 78 mph before climbing. The pilot did none of these.
The video also showed that he elected to depart with a slight prevailing tailwind.
While the estimated velocity of the tailwind was only 3 knots, this tailwind may have increased the airplane’s takeoff distance by as much as 15%.
Additionally, the calculated density altitude of 1,900 feet resulted in an estimated additional 20% increase in the takeoff distance and an estimated 10% reduction in rate of climb once the airplane was airborne.
The video showed that, during the takeoff, the engine tachometer indicated an rpm of about 2,000, which was less than the published minimum static rpm of 2,325 for the engine at its maximum throttle setting.
While the accuracy of the tachometer’s calibration could not be verified due to damage sustained during the accident, one potential cause for this discrepancy was the position of the carburetor heat selector handle.
Video and statements from the airplane’s owner suggest that the pilot had left the selector in an intermediate position, although the appropriate position for the takeoff phase of flight was the off position.
Taking off with the selector in an intermediate position would potentially result in a loss of engine performance consistent with that observed on the tachometer.
The NTSB determined the probable cause as the pilot’s decision to depart from a soft runway with a tailwind and toward obstructions, and his failure to follow the manufacturer’s recommended procedures for the takeoff.
Contributing to the accident were the degradation of airplane and engine performance due to the high density altitude and the pilot’s failure to properly configure the airplane’s carburetor heat.
NTSB Identification: ERA14FA255
This May 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.