Soon after takeoff, the airplane’s engine cowling opened and began to swing back and forth. Concerned the cowling might fracture the windshield, the pilot reduced engine power to land straight ahead, but, after realizing that the runway remaining was insufficient, he attempted to climb and return to the runway at the airport in South Beloit, Illinois.
During his attempted go-around, the Piper PA32R began to descend and then hit a cornfield off the end of the runway. The pilot and a passenger suffered minor injuries, while another passenger suffered serious injuries.
Examination of the airframe and engine revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal flight operations.
The pilot said he was very startled by the opening of the cowling, which distracted him from maintaining airspeed.
Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain airspeed after being startled and distracted when the engine cowling opened during takeoff, which led to a subsequent impact with terrain.
This August 2018 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.