Aircraft: Socata TV21. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Gold Hill, N.C. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The pilot intended to fly from his home airport in North Carolina to Germany, where he had another residence. During the weeks before the accident, he made several modifications to the airplane in preparation for the trip. Friends and witnesses described the installation of a white plastic fuel tank in the backseat, which they described as “similar to a tank you would see on a riding lawnmower.”
Such a tank is not aviation-approved.
The installation included fuel lines that were smaller than recommended by the airplane manufacturer, and the system was vented into the cabin.
Local mechanics told investigators that the pilot performed his own maintenance to the turbocharger and the exhaust system.
In the two weeks before the accident, mechanics topped off the oxygen system twice, the most recent service occurring three days before the accident. During that servicing, mechanics noted water leaking from the oxygen line, and the pilot reported trouble breathing at an altitude of 25,000 feet.
On the day of the accident, he departed before dawn into instrument meteorological conditions. A witness reported the airplane was trailing white and gray smoke, which turned to an orange color, consistent with an in-flight fire. The airplane crashed in trees about a half mile north of the airport and burned.
Investigators were unable to determine the fire’s origin, however, evidence of several non-approved modifications to the airplane were observed in the wreckage, including the non-approved fuel line and valve, as well as an aluminum can that was safety-wired to the outlet of the air-oil separator.
Investigators determined that such modifications could have likely contributed to the fire’s origin or spread.
Fueling records from a nearby airport revealed that the pilot purchased fuel twice during the week before the accident. Airport security video showed the pilot placing the fuel hose inside the cabin of the airplane on the dates he purchased fuel, likely to fill the tank that was in the back seat.
While the pilot’s most recent documented flight time was logged two years before the accident, his recent and total flight time could not be confirmed after the accident. Accordingly, the investigation was unable to determine if a lack of recent piloting experience may have contributed to the accident.
Although the autopsy also identified coronary artery disease and a mass in the pilot’s abdomen, the manner in which the airplane was flown before the accident and the witness report of an inflight fire indicates that the pilot was most likely in control of the airplane and was not incapacitated.
Probable cause: An inflight fire, the origin of which could not be determined because of post-accident fire damage. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s improper modifications to the airplane.
NTSB Identification: ERA12FA412
This June 2012 accident report is are provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.