Inflight engine fire leads to crash that kills two

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: Piper Saratoga II.

Location: Woodbury, Conn.

Injuries: 2 Fatal.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: During cruise flight at night, the aircraft developed an engine fire. The pilot declared an emergency, stating that the cockpit was filling with smoke. ATC gave the pilot vectors to the nearest airport and notified emergency personnel.

Several witnesses, including an air traffic controller, saw a red glow or flames around the front of the airplane as it was on final approach for the runway. The aircraft crashed in a neighborhood short of the airport.

Examination of the wreckage revealed that the majority of inflight fire damage was on the right side of the airplane, from the engine cowling back to the right passenger door. Because of the extent of the crash damage, the source of the fire could not be determined.

Probable cause: An engine fire for undetermined reasons, which resulted in the loss of control, and the airplane’s subsequent impact with terrain.

Aircraft: Cessna 172.

Location: Moline, Ill.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Minor.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was attempting to land at an airport on a moonless night. As he made the turn from base to final, he saw something out of the corner of his eye and then felt a bump, as if the aircraft had hit something. He thought the landing gear had hit the tops of some trees in the approach zone and increased power to gain altitude. He was able to land normally on the runway. When he exited the aircraft he discovered the leading edge of the right wing had been crushed in and there were parts of a tree imbedded in the crease.

Probable cause: The failure to maintain altitude clearance during a base to final turn on approach.

Aircraft: Cessna 170.

Location: West Helena, Ark.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Minor.

What reportedly happened: The 850-hour private pilot was attempting to land. He told investigators that he touched down harder than he intended to, so he initiated a go-around rather than trying to salvage a bad landing. The airplane ground looped on the second touch down and skidded off the runway. The landing gear and the propeller were damaged by impact with the ground. The pilot believed the right tire was blown during the hard landing and the flat tire contributed to the ground loop.

Probable cause: The failure to maintain directional control during landing. A contributing factor was the damaged tire.

Aircraft: Piper Twin Comanche.

Location: Tallahassee, Fla.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Minor.

What reportedly happened: The pilot pulled the aircraft from the hangar before the flight. He could not get the left engine to start. He left the aircraft and pulled the propeller to facilitate the starting procedure. Because the pilot had left the magneto switches in the “on” position, the engine started and the plane began to move. The pilot ran back to the cockpit, but didn’t make it before the unoccupied aircraft lurched forward, colliding with the door of the hangar.

Probable cause: The improper start procedure, which resulted in an unintentional engine start.

Aircraft: Grumman American AA-1.

Location: Chehalis, Wash.

Injuries: 1 Serious, 1 Minor.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot and his son went for a short flight to look at some property. Weather conditions were conducive to icing. The pilot took the aircraft to an altitude of 2,000 feet. As they neared the property, they found it was obscured by fog and decided to return to the airport. While on final approach the pilot felt he was too far from the runway and advanced the throttle to arrest the descent and increase forward speed. The engine did not respond and the descent continued. The pilot attempted to stretch the glide, but the aircraft came down a quarter of a mile short of the runway in a pond.

The post-crash inspection revealed approximately one gallon of fuel in the left fuel tank. The right tank was half full. Because of the condition of the wreckage, investigators could not determine which tank was selected at the time of the crash. It also could not be determined if carburetor heat had been applied before the descent or if the aircraft had run out of fuel.

Probable cause: The total loss of engine power, for undetermined reasons, while the aircraft was on a VFR final approach. A lack of suitable terrain for landing was a factor.

Aircraft: Cessna 182.

Location: Nashville, Tenn.

Injuries: 2 Minor.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was attempting to taxi to the runway in heavy fog. The pilot missed the turn off for the runway. The aircraft went off the end of the taxiway and down a 25-foot embankment. The aircraft nosed over and landed on its back.

Probable cause: The failure to maintain visual lookout and inattentiveness during taxi. A factor was the fog.

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