At approximately 1800 Central time, the airplane was substantially damaged when it collided with trees and terrain. The commercial pilot and pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured. Night visual conditions prevailed.
According to a witness, this was the first flight after the right engine had been overhauled. The left main landing gear brake was reported “soft” during initial engine run-up and the nose landing gear strut was flat. The nose strut was inflated and the aircraft taxied for takeoff. After another run-up, the aircraft returned to the ramp where the pilot said the right engine was not feathering. A mechanic traced the feathering problem to the throttle-quadrant friction lock. At this time, the mechanic noticed the nose gear strut was flat again. Subsequently, the airplane departed, with an unlit grass strip as its destination.
Another witness took off in a second airplane and followed. While en route to the destination, the second pilot established radio communication and made visual contact with the accident airplane. Shortly, the accident airplane’s occupants reported “fuel or oil” was coming out of the right engine. While overhead the destination airport, the accident airplane occupants informed the second pilot they had shut down the right engine and were returning to the departure airport. The second pilot then flew up along the right side of the accident airplane and noted there was no smoke or fire coming from the engine.
When the accident airplane was approximately a mile south of the grass strip, its occupants reported they were not able to maintain altitude. The second pilot advised them an Interstate highway was one mile ahead. The accident airplane occupants announced they were going to land on the Interstate, but the accident airplane continued losing altitude. The second pilot saw the light on the accident airplane’s nose gear come on and illuminate trees. The accident airplane’s nose then pitched up, rolled slightly to the right and pitched forward, followed by flames and a fireball.