JETPROP DLX CONVERSION OF PIPER PA-46-310P, HILTON HEAD, S.C., AUG. 31, 2003–P&WC PT6-powered JetProp DLX Piper Malibu conversion N70DL, registered to Hickory Travel and operated by a private pilot, collided with trees, crashed and caught fire during an attempted return-to-land maneuver at Hilton Head Airport (HXD) at 3:29 p.m. EDT. The pilot and only passenger were killed and the airplane was substantially damaged. It was operating in VMC on an IFR flight plan. N70DL was a turboprop conversion by DLX of Spokane, Wash., and was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 engine under an STC.
A witness told NTSB investigators that the pilot announced his takeoff from Runway 21 on the airport CTAF. Minutes later, the witness heard the pilot declare an emergency and announce intentions for an immediate return. The witness saw the airplane on a left downwind for Runway 21 and said the aircraft appeared to be streaming white and brown smoke from the front. He said the airplane was descending on downwind and disappeared briefly behind the treeline approximately abeam the midfield position, then it reappeared in a climb with its landing gear down. The witness stated the airplane then climbed to about 400 feet and banked abruptly into a steep turn to the left, at which point the nose pitched up. He said the airplane maintained the left bank and the nose-high position and sank from view behind the trees. He then detected the sound of impact, followed by thick black smoke.
Another witness monitoring the airport frequency heard the pilot declare an emergency and say what sounded like “cover off.” A third witness, on the ground northeast of the airport, saw the airplane fly low over his home and then bank and turn directly toward the airport with what appeared to be smoke coming from the left wingtip only.
Initial examination found the airplane in a wooded area behind a residence three-quarters of a mile northeast of the airport. The wreckage path extended approximately 60 feet from a tree freshly broken at 20 feet agl. The engine assembly was found separated and displayed impact and fire damage, and the forward and upper cabin were consumed by fire. The tail assembly was found still attached to the aft fuselage. The header fuel tank was found separated, and a sample of clean, clear fuel was obtained from the tank. Both wings were damaged by the impact and fire, and the wing fuel tanks were breached. The right inboard fuel cap was found secure in the filler port with the handle in the stowed position, but the left inboard fuel cap was absent from the filler port. A ground search found the cap on the grass beside Runway 21 with the handle in the stowed position.