During preflight inspection of the Piper PA-22, the pilot discovered three baby birds in the cockpit.
After removing the birds, he continued his preflight inspection, looking for a nest.
He noticed that the rag normally used to cover one of the elevator openings was missing, but he did not find a nest inside.
Immediately after takeoff, about 100′ above ground level, a fire started within the engine compartment, and smoke began to enter the cockpit.
He turned the airplane back toward the runway at the airport in Gallatin, Tenn., but lost control as the airplane touched down because his visibility was limited by the smoke.
The occupants got out of the airplane, which was subsequently consumed by fire.
Post-accident examination of the wreckage revealed remnants of a bird nest between the exhaust manifold and the engine firewall, which was the likely origin of the fire.
Probable cause: The pilot’s inadequate preflight inspection, which resulted in an inflight fire due to the presence of a bird nest in the engine compartment.
NTSB Identification: ERA16LA183
This May 2016 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.