Engine failure on takeoff proves fatal

Aircraft: Piper Super Cruiser. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Delta, Alaska. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: According to witnesses on the ground, the airplane took off from the private airstrip and had reached an altitude of about 200 to 300 feet AGL, when the engine lost power.

The airplane turned to the left and the nose pitched down abruptly. The airplane hit the ground in a steep, nose-down attitude.

Two witnesses, both pilots, noted that before the loss of power, the engine made some popping noises.

The post-accident examination disclosed no mechanical malfunctions.

A weather station near the accident site recorded the temperature at 65° F with a dew point of 47°. A carburetor icing probability chart indicated that the relative humidity and temperature were conducive to carburetor icing at glide power.

Although carburetor icing was possible, absent any mechanical malfunctions or fuel contamination, it could not be determined why the engine lost power. The carburetor heat was found in the off position.

Investigators noted that the accident site was adjacent to a road and about 300 yards from a clear field. Despite these potential emergency landing areas, the pilot attempted to return to the airstrip by initiating a turn at low altitude and low airspeed, resulting in an aerodynamic stall and a loss of control with insufficient altitude to recover.

During the crash, the pilot’s seat separated from the airframe and moved forward about 6 inches, which allowed the pilot to hit the instrument panel and subsequently contributed to the severity of his injuries.

After the accident, the pilot received on-site medical attention from first responders, and was taken to a local clinic for treatment. He was initially alert and responsive to questions, but had no recollection of the accident. He rapidly deteriorated in the medical clinic, requiring life support, and died en-route by air to Anchorage, the location of the nearest Trauma Center.

Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to make a low altitude turn back to the airport following a loss of engine power, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall and loss of control. Contributing to the severity of the pilot’s injuries was the separation of the pilot’s seat during impact.

NTSB Identification: ANC11FA065

This July 2011 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.


    • Brian Workman says

      My flight instructor told me that, No Plane is worth the 180* back to the field, at under 1500 feet! Land in the Hudson if you have to!

  1. RudyH says

    That overriding medical cert. matter; We Are Not Docs. Again and again…we take the 3rd class for the ‘under 45 year olds’ and extend its validity right out to four Or five years; now we have the FAA reasonably appeased, then: allow ANY doc to apply general human approved med standards for the aviator’s physical who ships it to the FAA for cert. issuance; thus some docs still make money; and best of all aviators keep on flyin’….this Can be kept simple and would be a peaceful Starting point….

  2. Mooney 9242V says

    Another case where the resources directed towards valueless medical certification for a private pilot would have been far better used with dual flight instruction on emergency procedures. We all know that loss of power on departure is one of the most severe risk conditions a pilot faces. As the Peter, Paul and Mary song od old states, “When will They (FAA) Ever Learn?” There is a strong probability that this acciodent could have been avoided.

    Personally, I would be happy to accept 5 hours of dual instruction each year in lieu of a nonsense medical certification.

    • Lee Ensminger says

      I like your idea. Too often, someone dies trying to save the aircraft by attempting an impossible turn. More emergency training would be much more valuable than the 3rd class medical.

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