Poor judgment and an overloaded aircraft proves fatal

General Aviation News will often reprint accident reports from the US’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), including one from June 2009 about an accident that involved a Piper Cherokee Lance in Lakeview (Arkansas) that led to three fatalities along with one serious and one minor injury.

Apparently the pilot, who had logged more than 670 total flying hours, had remarked to the surviving passengers that the aircraft would need all of the 3,200-foot grass runway for takeoff plus an employee at the airfield who helped to load the aircraft told investigators that he thought it was overloaded as passengers were actually holding their luggage on their laps. The pilot also attempted to take off with the flaps up – something that contradicted procedures in the aircraft’s Pilots Operating Handbook.

The Piper Cherokee Lance did take off only to drop into a shallow valley, touch the ground and lift off again at a nose high altitude. The aircraft then touched down again and smashed into both a fence and a tree and finally rolled several times.

Investigators calculated that the aircraft was 188 pounds over its maximum certificated gross weight while GPS data indicated the aircraft climbed no more than 29 feet at between 74 and 78 mph.

Hence, the pilot’s bad judgment, a no-flap takeoff and an overloaded aircraft were all ruled as the probable causes of the fatal accident. In other words, always follow an aircraft’s standard operating procedures and never attempt to take off overloaded.

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