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NTSB Report, 1956 Piper That Crashed Killing Alaskan Pilot Was Overloaded

March 26, 2014 – NTSB report indicates that the 1956 Piper PA-18A Super Cub, N4581A that crashed just after takeoff out of Tatitna Airport, Alaska killing its pilot back in August 2013, was over its maximum takeoff weight.  

On August 30, after a successful caribou hunt, pilot Scott Muellerage, 58 and a passenger departed a 1,200 foot long gravel runway at Tatitna Airport for the Big Lake Airport, Big Lake, Alaska.  

Just after takeoff the 1956 Piper stalled just above the treetops and crashed. Both the pilot and passenger survived the initial crash. However, the aircraft then caught fire the passenger was able to get out but the pilot was not able to get out in time.


On the day of the accident, the Muellerage had completed multiple trips, shuttling the passengers, caribou meat, and hunting gear from a remote hunting location to the Tatitna Airport. The passenger later told the NTSB that after refueling the main wing fuel tanks and loading the airplane with two butchered caribou and other hunting gear, they taxied to the end of the runway and departed the Tatitna Airport to the east.  

Once above the treetops they initiated a left turn, when he heard the pilot start to swear and say "I should have taken off the other way". Realizing they were going to crash, he shut his eyes and put his hands up to protect his face. He had no recollection of the accident sequence. 

The NTSB reported the gross weight of the airplane at the time of the accident was estimated to be 2,392.25 pounds, or 642.25 pounds over the approved maximum takeoff gross weight for the airplane. The estimated center of gravity at the time of the accident was positive 25.07 inches. The center of gravity range at 1,750 pounds (maximum gross weight) is positive 14.0 inches to positive 20.0 inches.



The FAA has established policy that allows external loads to be carried on fixed wing aircraft within the State of Alaska. The procedure has been established as a valid "special purpose" under 14 CFR, Part 21.25. These operations are authorized in the restricted category only and airplanes used for these operations must be issued a multiple airworthiness certificate. In addition, no person may be carried on board the airplane, when the airplane is operated in the restricted category, unless the person is a flight crewmember, flight crewmember trainee, or performs an essential function in connection with the external load. 

No record was found in the FAA electronic airworthiness documents database that indicated a multiple airworthiness certificate, authorizing eternal load operations, had been issued for the accident airplane. 

The FAA has developed a list of suggestions when carrying external loads on fixed wing airplanes, the suggestions state in part: It has been reported that on some aircraft, antlers secured to the wing struts can cause a significant air flow disturbance to the tail surfaces.
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