Aircraft: Swift GC-1A. Injuries: 2 Fatal. Location: East Moriches, N.Y. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The airplane departed with an adequate supply of fuel in the main fuel tank but an unknown amount in the tip tanks. The Swift’s takeoff was witnessed by the mechanic who performed the last inspection on the airplane. The mechanic thought the engine sounded unusual and thought the pilot would return for landing, but he did not.
The airplane’s GPS indicated that the flight proceeded south to the southern Long Island coastline then turned to the west, paralleling the coastline while climbing to a maximum altitude of 2,602 feet. The flight continued on the westerly heading and descended to 2,383 feet and then turned north. The flight continued on the northerly heading and descended to 1,812 feet, then turned to an easterly heading, followed by a southeasterly heading then back to an easterly heading with a steadily decreasing altitude and a steady groundspeed of about 86 knots. When just west of Moriches Inlet, the GPS altitude was noted to be 60 feet, and the groundspeed was 85 knots.
Several witnesses near the crash site heard a sputtering engine. One witness stated that the airplane was running flawlessly, but he thought it was going to land because it was flying “way too slow.” Another witness who was about 1,000 to 1,500 feet west of the Moriches Inlet, reported seeing a flock of birds take flight followed by the airplane pitching up and then pitching down into the inlet.
Although minimal damage was noted on the propeller, no evidence of a bird strike was noted on any component of the airplane. The flaps and landing gear were extended, consistent with a precautionary landing.
The fuel selector was found positioned to the tip tanks, both of which were breached during the impact, therefore no determination could be made as to the quantity of fuel in the tanks at the time of the accident.
Although the remaining quantity of fuel in the main fuel tank was not quantified during the post-accident investigation, the airplane had only been operated for 40 minutes since the main fuel tank was filled and the main fuel tank can hold over two hours of fuel.
No obstructions of the fuel supply from the main or tip tanks were noted, and the engine-driven fuel pump tested satisfactorily.
Although about six ounces of water was drained from the main fuel tank, the water was consistent with ocean water and no other contaminants from the tank were noted. Water contamination was also noted from a sample of fuel and water drained from an open fuel supply line for the right tip tank, however, the right tip tank was breached and the water was likely from the ocean. No fuel or contamination was noted in the carburetor bowl.
Although a valve on the left side of the firewall was inoperative, which allowed heated air to enter the cockpit by the pilot’s side, no determination could be made as to how or if that factored into the accident sequence. Further, that condition had been known by the pilot since September.
Based on the flight track and groundspeed recorded by the GPS and the fact that the landing gear and flaps were extended, investigators determined that it is likely that the pilot was performing a precautionary landing. However, the reason for the attempted precautionary landing could not be determined from the available evidence. Based on the witness statement of birds in the area, it is likely that during the precautionary landing, the pilot reacted to the birds by pitching the airplane up, stalled the airplane, and was unable to recover because of the low altitude.
Probable cause: The failure of the pilot to maintain airspeed while attempting a precautionary landing for reasons that could not be determined from the available evidence. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s pitch-up reaction to birds that took flight during his approach for the precautionary landing, which resulted in an inadvertent stall
NTSB Identification: ERA13FA032
This October 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.