The following is an unedited report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
On August 9, 2007, at 0707 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-22-160, N2731P, registered to and operated by a private owner as a 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight made a forced landing to an open field on initial take off climb. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. A post crash fire destroyed the airplane. The private pilot and one passenger reported minor injuries. The remaining passenger was transported to a local area hospital with serious injuries and died that evening. The flight originated from ST. Mary’s County Regional Airport, Leonardtown, Maryland, on August 9, 2007, at 0706.
The pilot stated the airplane was topped off with 17 gallons of 100 low lead fuel before departing. No formal performance planning was conducted except for mentally going over the weight and balance in his head. The maximum gross weight of the airplane was 2,000 pounds and he estimated his take off weight at 1,804 pounds. The pilot did not compute the density altitude or pressure altitude at his departure airport. The pilot stated he started his take off roll from runway 29 and the ground roll was slower than normal down the 4,000-foot long runway. The pilot pushed the control wheel down in an effort to increase airspeed. The airplane was about 3,000 feet down the runway when he rotated the airplane at 80 mph. The airplane came off the runway, the airplane had a reduced rate of climb, and was basically flat. The airplane was at full power and the pilot was concerned about clearing the trees off the departure end of the runway and lowered one notch of flaps. Just before reaching the tree line, the pilot lowered the flaps to the full down position and the airplane skimmed the top of the tree. The airplane would not maintain altitude and was descending. The airplane touched down in an open field in a nose down right wing low attitude. The nose wheel was either bent aft or separated. The airplane began sliding to the right and turned about 90-degrees before it came to a complete stop and caught fire. When the pilot was asked if the airplane had any mechanical problems on takeoff, the pilot replied no. “It was my fault, I made a bad choice, the airplane was heavy, it was hot, and very humid.” When asked why he did not abort the take off the pilot stated, “I never thought about it and I do not know why. I just kept the nose on the runway. I knew we were heavy and it was hot.”
A witness who is also a commercial pilot and a flight instructor observed the accident airplane taxi from the gas pump towards runway 29 for take off. As the airplane taxied by his location, the witness observed the tail of the airplane was low “as if the airplane was overloaded.” The airplane started its take off roll and the winds were light and variable with a high-density altitude. The witness stated the runway at the airport is 4,150 feet long. The accident airplane takeoff roll was slow and long and there was no change in engine noise on the takeoff roll or climb out. The airplane used about 3,000 feet of the runway before the pilot “forced the airplane off the runway.” Once the airplane became airborne the climb out was “flat” and the witness was not sure if the airplane would clear the trees off the departure end of the runway. The airplane cleared the trees by about 100 feet and disappeared from view behind another tree line. The witness stated he observed a plum of black smoke and knew the airplane had crashed.