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About a week ago, a Piper PA-30 crashed into a residential area just a few miles from where I live. An engine was found to have landed a 0.24 nm from the impact site. Sadly, the pilot of the aircraft was killed. Thankfully, however, in spite of the crash occurring in a crowded subdivision, nobody on the ground was injured.

Now, to the heart of my query:

The NTSB preliminary report indicated an in-flight breakup of the plane. There was not an active thunderstorm in the area, but with 30 minutes or so a small cell had developed (source: me, I do live nearby). Are smaller aircraft subject to atmospheric effects that could cause an in-flight breakup? If so, what sort of atmospheric conditions, assuming a skilled pilot who wouldn't purposefully fly into known bad conditions, would be necessary to cause such catastrophic damage to a small craft like a PA-30?

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  • $\begingroup$ This it too broad of a question for a simple answer. It would require a detailed Failure Mode Effect Analysis and that can be a pretty big document $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Jul 27 '16 at 6:54
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    $\begingroup$ I think your answer is to wait for the accident report to come out. (I'm not in the US so don't know what sort of reports the NTSB put out or where they publish them.) If this is about what sort of accidents can happen to light aircraft leading to loss of control, it might be too broad for a single answer. $\endgroup$ – Andy Jul 27 '16 at 7:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Andy Right this way for NTSB accident reports... $\endgroup$ – Michael Hampton Jul 27 '16 at 7:48
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    $\begingroup$ Was the 1971 crash necessarily the same plane? The [NTSB summary of that incident]((ntsb.gov/_layouts/ntsb.aviation/…) doesn't list the plane's serial number and my understanding is that tail numbers aren't unique. Isn't it possible that the owner of the plane that crashed in 1971 replaced it with another of the same model and gave it the same tail number. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jul 27 '16 at 8:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Dustin, you may find an answer to that question here $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Jul 27 '16 at 20:36
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Atmospheric conditions do not cause aircraft to break up in flight.

Improper aircraft handling in response to bad weather can cause an aircraft to be overstressed and then breakup.

So can improper handling due to disorientation.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is that likely to be the case with a pilot with "a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commercial pilot certificate with airplane multiengine land and instrument airplane ratings [...and...] pilot privileges in single engine land airplanes"? I don't know if over 900 hours' flight time and his licensure is enough to rule out improper handling, I'm asking honestly. $\endgroup$ – Dustin Jul 28 '16 at 0:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Dustin The more experienced a pilot is the less likely they would be to mis-handle the aircraft, but there are many cases of extremely experienced pilots doing so. It can happen to anybody if they get complacent or confused $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jul 28 '16 at 1:07
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW thanks. This pilot seemed to be one that was "connected" with their aircraft - took it to shows and such - but of course there's no way for me to know what level of experience that suggests. I have wanted to pursue my private license for years, and this accident has made me sit up and take note of new variables I hadn't considered before. The responses on this thread have helped me to understand more, and I appreciate everyone's willingness to share their commentary. $\endgroup$ – Dustin Jul 28 '16 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ Given that this is a direct "answer" to my query, I'm going to mark it as such. Thanks, everyone! $\endgroup$ – Dustin Jul 28 '16 at 1:16

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