Final Report: Meridian stalls and hits trees

 - August 12, 2008, 5:08 AM

Piper PA-46-500TP, Vero Beach, Fla., April 9, 2001–The NTSB determined the probable cause of this accident to be the pilot’s excessive bank angle and failure to maintain airspeed while returning to the airport after takeoff, resulting in the airplane stalling and colliding with trees.

At 12:08 p.m. EDT Piper Meridian N262MM, registered to LK Aero, collided with trees shortly after takeoff from Vero Beach Municipal Airport and was destroyed. Both the commercial-rated pilot and his private pilot-rated passenger were killed. The aircraft, which had been operating under Part 91 on a personal flight to Daytona Beach, Fla., was in VMC and no flight plan was filed.

Vero Beach Tower’s communications transcript showed that at noon N262MM was cleared by the ground controller to taxi to Runway 29L. At 12:04 p.m. the right-seat pilot transmitted to the local controller that the aircraft was ready for takeoff. The controller told the pilot to hold short of the runway. At 12:05 p.m. the controller instructed the pilot to taxi into position and hold on Runway 29L, and one minute later the turboprop single was cleared for takeoff and a northbound departure approved.

Approximately three minutes after takeoff the right-seat pilot transmitted, “We need to land–we have to turn around.” The local controller cleared the flight to return to the airport when able. At 12:08 p.m. the right-seat pilot transmitted, “Two Mike Mike. We’re going down, we’re going down,” followed by “over the golf…” The controller responded, “Copy over the golf course.” No further transmissions were received from the flight.

Witnesses stated they observed N262MM taxi to Runway 29L and the pilot perform what appeared to be a normal engine runup. The airplane then taxied onto the runway for takeoff. The wind was from the east, making the takeoff with a tailwind. According to witnesses, during the takeoff the engine seemed to operate at a steady level, but appeared to be low on power. The turboprop single lifted off about halfway down the runway and the landing gear was retracted.

The witnesses said the airplane climbed slowly and turned slowly to the left. The airplane entered a 60 to 80-degree left bank before rolling level with the wings rocking back and forth. They said the airplane was then on a southerly heading and the nose dropped. According to the witnesses, the airplane then collided with trees about 15 to 20 feet agl, fell to the ground and burst into flames. Witnesses said they saw no smoke or flames coming from the airplane before it hit the trees. At the time of the accident the landing gear was retracted and the engine was running.

The 43-year old pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single-engine and multi-land privileges and an instrument rating. He held a current third-class medical with a corrective-lens limitation. The FAA determined he was current by regulations and had 1,514 hours TT, with 33 in the Piper Meridian. He also had 608 hours in the Piper PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage and 119 hours in a Piper PA-46DLX JetProp conversion.

The 44-year-old passenger held a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land privileges and a current third-class medical with no restrictions. At the time of the medical examination he reported 378 hours TT and that he had flown 60 flight hours in the previous six months.

Postmortem examination of both pilots determined the cause of death for each was attributed to blunt trauma of the head. There were no findings that could be considered causal to the accident.

At the time of the accident, N262MM had accumulated 45 flight hours. Maintenance records show the airplane was taken by the pilot to Sun Aviation in Vero Beach on April 2, 2001, for installation of weather and traffic collision avoidance systems. The pilot had also complained about intermittent alternator output problems and about the pilot’s microphone and headset being intermittent. During this shop visit, the voltage regulator was changed to correct the alternator problem, but the microphone and headset problem could not be duplicated. The airplane was picked up by the pilot on April 6, 2001, and the airplane’s total time at this point was 43.7 hours.

On April 9, 2001, the day of the accident, the pilot took the airplane to Piper Aircraft in Vero Beach for repair of the intermittent pilot’s microphone and headset and a high alternator load. The plug for the headset was reconnected securely behind the lower pilot’s side panel and the alternator voltage regulator was adjusted. The airplane’s total time after this work was 44.8 hours.

Examination of the airplane wreckage showed that all components of the airplane that would be necessary for flight were located on or around the main wreckage.
Examination of the flight-control system showed that all separation points within the system were consistent with overstress separation due to impact forces and damage from the post-crash fire. The elevator- and rudder-trim systems were found in the neutral position. Meridians are equipped with a ground-adjustable tab on the right aileron for roll trim. N262MM’s landing gear and wing flaps were found in the retracted position. The main cabin door was destroyed by the post-crash fire, and the locking pins for the door were found in the locked position. The autopilot pitch, roll, yaw and pitch trim servos were found in the disengaged position, and the cables from the actuators were attached to the respective cables to the flight-control and trim-tab surfaces.

Examination of the engine controls in the cockpit and at the engine showed they had received impact and fire damage. The condition lever was found in the run position, and the power lever was found in the midrange position. The manual override lever was found in the midrange position.

Examination of the engine was performed under NTSB supervision at Pratt & Whitney Canada in Montreal. There was no evidence of any pre-crash malfunctions of the engine components, controls or accessories examined. The engine displayed contact signatures to its internal components characteristic of the engine developing significant power at the time of the crash. The engine displayed no pre-impact anomalies or distress that would have precluded normal engine operation before the crash.

Examination of the propeller was performed under NTSB supervision at Hartzell Propeller in Piqua, Ohio. It was determined that the propeller was rotating and not in the feathered position at the time of the crash. There were no propeller discrepancies noted that could have precluded normal operation of the propeller. All damage was consistent with impact damage.