The Following is unedited text from the NTSB report. View the full PDF here
On May 6, 2019, at 1247 central daylight time, a Piper PA-28-140, N5542U, was destroyed when it impacted terrain shortly after takeoff from Foley Municipal Airport (5R4), Foley, Alabama. The flight instructor was seriously injured, and the student pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated by Lightning Aviation as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 instructional flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local flight.
According to a witness, who was a flight paramedic on an instructional flight at 5R4, he wasturning from the base leg to final approach leg of the traffic pattern when the accident airplane had just taken off from runway 36 after a touch-and-go landing. He heard the flight instructor announce on the radio, "My engine just quit!" He saw the accident airplane about 300-400 ft above ground level (agl) pitched up high "like a power-on stall" and then "lean to the left to start a spin." He added that it was only about 3 seconds from the time he saw the airplane in a nose-high pitch to when it was descending toward the ground. The witness stated that he lost track of the airplane shortly after it descended toward the ground. After a quick landing and taxi to the edge of the taxiway adjacent to the wreckage, the witness and his flight instructor both exited their airplane and ran to the accident site. The witness reported that the top of the airplane was split open with the engine area folded under the cockpit. Both the flight instructor and student pilot were wearing lap belts, and he provided assistance until additional personnel arrived.
A second witness was in an airplane on a 2 nautical mile, 45° entry into the traffic pattern for runway 36 when he heard the flight instructor of the accident airplane announce, "I lost my engine!" He looked, and the airplane was just over the subdivision north of the airport at about 300 ft agl, making what appeared to be an aggressive left turn back to the airport. He then lost sight of the airplane in the treeline.
A flight instructor at 5R4 reported that he flew the accident airplane the day prior to the accident fight and experienced engine roughness when performing simulated engine-out procedures with a student. He stated that on the last simulated engine-out procedure, when he added power at 600 ft agl, the engine started shaking. He leaned the mixture and the engine ran smoothly again. He wrote up a maintenance ticket when he landed and stated that the
mechanic cleaned the sparkplugs, performed an engine run-up, and signed off the maintenance write-up. The instructor subsequently flew the airplane and noted no issues.
Another instructor, who flew the accident airplane on the morning of the accident, reported that it "didn't seem to climb very well." He said he "chalked it up" to high density altitude. The accident flight instructor held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, airplane multiengine land, and instrument airplane. She also held a flight instructor certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. Her most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first-class medical certificate was issued February 14, 2019.Examination of flight instructor's logbooks revealed 977.5 total hours of flight experience, of which 507.2 hours were in the accident airplane make and model. Her most recent flight
review was completed February 27, 2019, and she had logged about 340 hours of instruction in the previous 90 days.
Review of the student pilot's logbook revealed that he had accumulated a total flight experienc of about 16 hours in the previous 3 years, all of which were in the accident airplane make and model. The student pilot had not yet flown solo and no flights were logged in the preceding year.
According to FAA airworthiness records, the four-seat, low-wing, tricycle gear airplane was manufactured in 1969. It was powered by a Lycoming O-320 series, 140-horsepower engine. According to airplane maintenance logbooks, an annual inspection was completed on the airplane on March 12, 2019, at a tachometer time of 6,891.92. The tachometer located in the airplane at the time of the accident indicated 6,985.78 hours, which was 93.86 hours since the annual inspection and 1,976.42 hours since the engine's most recent major overhaul.
Examination of the accident site and wreckage revealed several impression marks on the ground along a 243° heading. The airplane came to rest upright on the edge of airport property. All major airplane components were located on site. The left wing was separated from the fuselage at the wing root and upside down near the main wreckage. The empennage was crushed and folded upside down along the left side of the passenger cabin. The vertical stabilizer was attached and bent 90° to the right at the attachment points. The rudder remained attached and was bent and impact damaged the entire length. The right 3 ft of the stabilator was impact crushed and the left side of the stabilator and trim was undamaged. The top of the airplane cabin rearward of the front seats was folded back on top of the aft cabin. The forward end of the fuselage, including the instrument panel, forward cabin door, firewall, and engine, were folded down and under the forward cabin floor. The left aileron bellcrank, which
remained attached to the aileron and balance cables, was located with the fuselage and had been pulled from its mounting and separated from the wing. Control cable continuity was confirmed from the cockpit to each of the control surfaces except the left aileron which was continuous to the aileron bellcrank. The airplane was not equipped with shoulder harnesses.
The left wing, including the attached flap and aileron, was impact fractured and damaged on all surfaces. The fuel tank was breached, and the grass around the wing appeared blighted consistent with fuel spillage. The landing gear was fractured off and connected by the brake hose. The right wing, including the attached flap and aileron, was crushed from the wingtip to
mid-wing and displaced upward with multiple fractures. The outer 2 ft of the flap was crushed in a negative direction, and the inboard 2 ft of aileron was impact fractured, bent and crushed. The landing gear remained attached. The fuel filler cap remained installed in the filler opening, and fuel was observed in the fuel tank when the cap was removed. The engine was upside down and beneath the forward cabin and remained attached to the mount. The propeller was separated from the crankshaft propeller flange. One propeller blade was buried in the ground and the other was bent aft mid-blade.
The engine and its accessories were examined. The top spark plugs were removed and visually examined with no anomalies noted. The rocker box covers were removed, and no anomalies were noted with the valve springs and rocker arms. Manual rotation of the engine's crankshaft produced compression on all four cylinders. The left and right magnetos were removed, and sparks were observed on all towers when each magneto was rotated by hand. Examination of the engine's cylinders with a lighted borescope revealed the No. 4 cylinder piston exhibited a circular impact mark consistent with an exhaust valve strike. The No. 4 cylinder was removed from the crankcase. The rocker arm, valve keepers, and springs were removed. The exhaust valve could not be removed from the valve guide by hand and was removed utilizing a hammer and a drift. The oil pickup screen was free from debris. The carburetor was removed and disassembled with no anomalies noted. The engine driven fuel pump was removed from the engine and actuated by hand. Bubbles were observed around the gasket when the pump arm was actuated. Four screws on the periphery of the pump were loose.
Examination of the propeller blades revealed one blade was bent forward about mid span. The blade exhibited spanwise scratches on the forward face and leading-edge polishing. The other blade was bent aft about mid span with twisting towards low pitch. The outer portion of the blade exhibited leading edge polishing and chordwise scratches. The wreckage was retained for further examination.