Improper maintenance contributes to crash that kills one

These December 2002 Accident Reports are provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, they are intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.

Aircraft: Rockwell Commander 114.

Location: Hot Springs, Ark.

Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The airplane was en route to Little Rock, Ark., at night on an instrument flight plan. Near Hot Springs the pilot radioed ATC to advise them he had lost engine power. He said he would try to reach the airport at Hot Springs. The pilot’s last transmission indicated that he did not think he would make it and would most likely crash into a nearby lake. The aircraft crashed into a home on the lakefront roughly 6,000 feet from the runway.

The post-crash inspection revealed the engine ignition system’s single-drive dual-magneto exhibited evidence of melted plastic on its four-lobe breaker cam. The cam itself was discolored and lacked lubrication. Internal damage to the magneto suggested the breaker cam’s shaft had been forcibly pushed into the magneto. The magneto was removed and replaced during the last annual inspection. The airplane had flown approximately 148 hours since its annual inspection.

Probable cause: The loss of engine power due to the failure of the engine ignition system’s single-drive dual-magneto, and the magneto’s improper installation by unknown maintenance personnel. A contributing factor was the lack of suitable terrain for a forced landing.


Aircraft: Piper Seneca.

Location: Jeffersonville, Ind.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Minor.

What reportedly happened: In preparation for landing, the pilot lowered the landing gear using the gear handle in the cockpit. He noted all three landing gear position lights were illuminated, indicating the gear was in the down and locked position. As the aircraft touched down, the gear in-transit light illuminated and the landing gear warning horn sounded. The left side of the landing gear folded up. The aircraft skidded to a stop.

Investigators put the aircraft up on jacks and attempted to deploy the landing gear with the gear handle. The nose and right main wheel extended normally. The left wheel came down only part way, although the gear position indicator light indicated the gear was all the way down. Closer inspection revealed the left oleo strut assembly and the gear were corroded and the landing gear position switches were dirty. The linkage was disconnected and the left main landing gear moved freely.

Probable cause: The mechanical binding of the left main landing gear, which resulted in the gear not fully extending to the down-and-locked position. Factors were the oleo-strut linkage being corroded and the contamination of the gear position switches.


Aircraft: Cessna 172.

Location: Vici, Okla.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The non-instrument-rated private pilot was attempting a cross-country flight during a light snow shower. The pilot said when he took off visibility was between five and seven miles. During the flight, ice began to accumulate on the airframe. The pilot made an unscheduled landing at an airport to remove the ice. After partially removing the ice and checking the weather, the pilot continued his flight. The nearest weather reporting station indicated visibility was four miles and there was freezing rain in the area. The aircraft was in cruise flight when it encountered the rain. Ice began to build up rapidly on the aircraft. The airspeed dropped from 115 mph to 80 mph and the pilot decided to divert to the nearest airport. He was unable to maintain airspeed or altitude in the ice-heavy aircraft. He landed in an open field short of the airport. The ground was uneven and the aircraft nosed over during the landing roll.

Probable cause: The pilot’s continued flight into adverse weather conditions. A contributing factor was the lack of suitable terrain for the precautionary landing.


Aircraft: North American T-28B.

Location: Glenwood, Minn.

Injuries: 2 Fatal.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The owner of the aircraft was a commercially rated pilot and had a Letter of Authorization to fly the aircraft in VFR conditions only. The letter prohibited aerobatic maneuvers and formation flying. The passenger also held a pilot’s certificate. Several witnesses reported seeing the aircraft performing low-level steep turns. One witness estimated the wings of the aircraft were at 90° no more than 500 feet agl. One witness said it appeared the pilot was turning close to the ground and realized he was too low, so he pitched up the nose of the aircraft in an attempt to climb. There was not enough clearance between the ground and the wing tip and the aircraft cartwheeled in. The post-crash inspection did not find any mechanical problems.

Probable cause: Altitude/clearance not maintained by the pilot-in-command. The low altitude maneuvering by the pilot-in-command was a contributing factor.


Aircraft: Piper Dakota.

Location: Bryson, Texas.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Minor.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was attempting a cross-country flight at night in VFR conditions. The pilot did not fuel the aircraft prior to take off. The pilot reported that at the time of departure the airplane’s left and right main fuel tanks and the right tip tank were half full. The left tip tank was empty. The pilot switched fuel tanks about every 20 to 30 minutes. Approximately eight nautical miles east of the destination, the engine lost power, and the pilot initiated a forced landing in a field. A passenger, who was seated in the right front seat, stated that after the engine lost power, the pilot “…tried the other three tanks for fuel and could not find any.” There was no evidence of fuel found at the accident site. The passenger told investigators they had been airborne for approximately three-and-half hours.

Probable cause: The decision not to refuel the aircraft and inadequate planning, which resulted in a loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion.


Aircraft: Piper Archer III.

Location: Greensburg, Ind.

Injuries: 1 Minor.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was attempting to take off from a slush-covered runway in a snowstorm. As the aircraft reached take off speed, it began to skid sideways toward the edge of the runway. The pilot tried to reduce speed to avoid a collision with ground objects, but found he had no directional control over the aircraft. The aircraft went through two fences before it finally stopped moving.

A post-accident examination revealed no mechanical defects.

Probable cause: Failure of the pilot to maintain directional control during the takeoff roll. Contributing factors included inadequate planning and the decision of the pilot to attempt to depart from the slush-covered runway, the slush covered runway itself, and the falling snow.

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