August 01, 2012
A 33-year-old, instrument-rated private pilot and his four passengers were killed on Dec. 19, 2011, when their Piper PA-32-260 broke up in flight near Bryan, Texas, while attempting to divert around an area of thunderstorms. The cross-county IFR flight had originated at Clayton County Airport in Hampton, Ga., at 1345 that day. The pilot stopped for fuel at Jackson-Evers International Airport in Jackson, Miss., then departed at 1750 bound for Waco (Texas) Airport, the ultimate destination.
Weather briefings for the area covered by the flight's final leg included two SIGMETs valid for the area west of the accident site at the time of the accident. Convective SIGMET 5C and Convective SIGMET 7C advised of a line of storms moving from 200 deg. at 45 kt. with embedded severe thunderstorms. Thunderstorm tops were forecast above FL 450 with wind gusts to 50 kt. possible.
ATC recordings revealed that the pilot was diverting around an area of thunderstorms at 2133 CST when he reported that he was in “bad” weather and was going to try to get out of it. Radar track data showed the airplane had been traveling on a heading of about 230 deg. at an altitude of 8,000 ft. (msl). At 2137, the airplane turned south to a heading of 193 deg. Two minutes later, the airplane turned back to a southwesterly heading. Then at 2142, the airplane made a right turn toward the northeast and began descending at a rate of about 600 fpm. The descent continued until radar contact was lost at 2144. At that time, the airplane was at 6,800 ft., descending at a rate of 840 fpm, and on a heading of 315 deg. The airplane's position was 18 nm northeast of College Station, Texas.
About 2150, an area resident in her home heard a sound resembling an explosion. The witness reported that at the time she heard the noise, the rain was falling as a light drizzle. However, by the time she and her husband got outside to see the source of the explosion, the rain started pouring down. The witness's husband located the main airplane wreckage approximately 450 ft. southwest of their house.
The airplane wreckage was spread over an area approximately one-half mile long by 200 ft. wide. The main wreckage was near a clump of trees, and the left wing was located about 200 ft. north-northeast of it. The wing spar was broken upward at the root. Several bends, tears and paint transfer marks were noted along the outboard leading edge. An examination of the fractured spar surface showed that the wing broke upward and twisted aft in positive overload. The left wing aileron cables found with the main wreckage showed unraveling and fracturing consistent with overload failure where the wing separated from the fuselage.
An examination of engine, propeller and fuel system revealed no abnormalities that would have prevented normal operation or production of rated horsepower. Investigators also determined that the cockpit gyro instruments had been functioning properly and that the aircraft weight and c.g. were within limits.
All on board died of multiple blunt force injuries. Toxicology tests of the pilot's tissues were positive for marijuana, but below the levels where impairment would have been a factor.