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‘Lou Grant’ plane crash episode: Life imitates art in ‘Obituary’

| July 22, 2014 | Reply
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In a final-season episode of "Lou Grant" titled "Obituary," Los Angeles Tribune reporter Billie Newman (Linda Kelsey) watches a doomed plane take off. The actual aircraft, a PIPER PA-34-200T with tail number N477BL, crashed in real life on Dec. 31, 1982 near Prescott, Ariz. (© 1982 MTM Enterprises)

In a final-season episode of “Lou Grant” which originally aired March 22, 1982, fictional Los Angeles Tribune newspaper reporter Billie Newman (Linda Kelsey) watches a doomed plane depart the Van Nuys Airport. In an eerie case of life imitating art, the light aircraft used in the television production — a twin-engine Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II — actually crashed nine months later in Arizona. (Photo © 1982 MTM Enterprises)

In Episode 16 of the fifth and final season of venerable newspaper drama “Lou Grant,” aired March 22, 1982, fictional Los Angeles Tribune newspaper reporter Billie Newman (Linda Kelsey) is pulled off a flight at the last minute when the city desk decides to reassign her to another story instead of sending her upstate to cover a prison riot in Modesto, Calif.

In an eerie case of life imitating art, the plane used in the episode “Obituary” — a twin-engine Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II clad in what might be best described as the striped earthtone livery of 1980s gym socks — really did crash nine months after the episode first aired, albeit a minor crash in which no one was hurt.

The Piper Seneca II used in the television production, registered with the Federal Aviation Administration under tail number N477BL, crashed Dec. 31, 1982 during a landing at Ernest A. Love Field, also known as Prescott Municipal Airport, in Prescott, Ariz., according to National Transportation Safety Board records.

An NTSB investigation report released Dec. 31, 1983 — one year after the accident in Arizona — shows two people were on board the flight when it crashed, but neither was injured.

The Seneca II’s right main landing gear rotated out and collapsed during a landing, the NTSB report said. Federal investigators concluded the accident was caused by a material failure in the trunnion, a part which attaches the landing gear to the frame of the aircraft.

The Piper Seneca II is an iconic light aircraft of which 2,588 have purportedly been built since it was first certified airworthy by the FAA in 1974.

FAA records show the Piper Seneca II used in “Obituary” was destroyed in 1992. The aircraft was last registered in Oklahoma City, Okla.

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'Lou Grant' plane crash episode: Life imitates art in 'Obituary'
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Nine months after the "Lou Grant" fifth-season episode "Obituary" aired in 1982, an airplane used in the production crashed in an eerie case of life imitating art.
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