After refueling the Beech C35, the pilot and the pilot-rated passenger took off to return to the pilot’s home airport.
During the initial climb, the airplane accelerated to about 67 knots and reached an altitude of about 170′ above ground level before it began to slow and lose altitude, consistent with a loss of engine power.
Although more than 2,300′ of relatively level grassy terrain suitable for an emergency landing remained ahead of the airplane, the pilot made a left turn back toward the departure end of the runway at the airport in Camden, Arkansas.
During the turn, the airplane entered a steep left spiral, hit the ground, and caught fire. Both people on board the plane died in the crash.
The airplane’s left main fuel tank cap was found on the left side of the runway about 1,000′ from the threshold and 4,500′ from the main wreckage. The cap’s locking lever was engaged, and it showed no fire or impact damage.
The fuel selector valve was found positioned to the right main fuel tank feed position.
Flight control continuity was confirmed, and no other preimpact anomalies were found.
According to the pilot operating handbook for the airplane, the fuel selector should be on the left main fuel tank for takeoff. It is likely that the left main fuel tank cap was not secured after the airplane was refueled and fell off the airplane’s left wing onto the runway during the takeoff. Without the cap in place, fuel escaped from the left main fuel tank and subsequently starved the engine of fuel during the climb, resulting in the power loss.
The pilot likely switched the fuel selector to the right main fuel tank in an attempt to restart the engine. When he tried to turn back to the airport, he failed to maintain a safe airspeed, and the airplane exceeded its critical angle of attack and entered an aerodynamic stall.
Probable cause: The pilot’s improper decision to return to the runway instead of landing straight ahead when the engine lost power and his failure to maintain adequate airspeed while maneuvering for an emergency landing, which resulted in an exceedance of the airplane’s critical angle of attack and an aerodynamic stall. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to properly secure the left main fuel tank cap after refueling, which resulted in a loss of engine power due to fuel starvation during the takeoff climb.
NTSB Identification: CEN17FA364
This September 2017 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.