This April 2009 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.
Aircraft: Grumman AA-1B. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Chesnee, S.C. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: A witness watched the airplane fly over his house and noted that the engine sounded as if it was running slowly. The wings were rocking from side to side. As he continued to watch the airplane, the engine stopped and the airplane descended until it crashed. The airplane hit the ground in about a 35° nose-low attitude. Each wing leading edge had accordion type damage along the entire length. Examination of the fuel tanks found that they were not breached or damaged. The fuel tanks were drained. Three gallons of fuel were recovered from the left tank and 1.5 gallons of fuel were recovered from the right tank. The recovered fuel included approximately one gallon from each tank that, according to the airplane manufacturer, was considered unusable. The fuel selector was found in the off position.
Examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal evidence of a pre-impact malfunction or failure.
In the month prior to the accident, the 11,420-hour pilot, 64, was suffering from urinary symptoms that were interfering with his ability to obtain adequate sleep. Post-accident toxicology testing indicated that he had likely used at least one prescription sleep aid the night prior to the accident, in addition to relatively recent use of a sedating over-the-counter antihistamine and a prescription barbiturate medication. While the pilot’s extensive experience and the circumstances of the accident indicate the possibility that the pilot may have been distracted by physical symptoms, impaired by fatigue, or impaired by the effects of one or more of the medications he had recently ingested, the investigation was unable to determine conclusively that the pilot suffered from impairment or distraction.
Probable cause: A loss of engine power in flight due to fuel starvation as a result of the pilot’s inadequate inflight fuel planning and the pilot’s failure to maintain airspeed while descending for a forced landing.
For more information: NTSB.gov