Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fire In Front

In a fire scenario, aircraft control can be lost at any moment

The pilot, age 46, was rated for airplane single-engine land, and instrument airplane. His FAA third-class medical certificate had no limitations. The pilot reported 2,000 flight hours on his last medical application. The pilot's logbook was destroyed in the accident. According to an insurance application about four months before the accident, the pilot reported 1,883 total hours with 1,183 in the PA-32R.

The six-seat, low-wing, retractable-gear airplane was manufactured in 1985. The engine was overhauled in 1994, and had accumulated 2,030 hours since overhaul. The engine manufacturer recommended that the engine be overhauled after 1,800 hours of time in service or 12 years. Total time at the last annual inspection, in February, 2009, was 3,590.1 hours. The tachometer wasn't located in the wreckage.

The airplane came to rest inverted in approximately six feet of water about 22 nm west of FXE, and on a heading of 258 degrees magnetic. The forward and rear cabin areas were fragmented. The instrument panel was fragmented and the flight instruments, gauges and avionics were not located. Fire damage was extensive.

Examination of the engine compartment revealed localized fire damage on the rear right section of the engine, in the vicinity of the

No. 5 cylinder. Thermal damage was noted on the top section of the engine cowling and around the right side air-intake louvers. The fire was further isolated to the rear right section of the engine, in the vicinity of the turbocharger. The manifold fuel line supplying pressurized fuel to the fuel injector of the No. 5 cylinder, which was located under the turbocharger, was fractured at the fuel injection nozzle. The fractured No. 5 fuel line was sent to the NTSB Materials Laboratory for further examination. Evidence was found of fatigue cracking.

The Pilot's Operating Handbook contains instructions for handling an in-flight fire. It says to switch the fuel selector off, close the throttle, pull the mixture to idle cut-off, turn the fuel pump off, turn off the heater and defroster, turn off the master switch, and land immediately. The FAA says, "By the time a pilot becomes aware of an in-flight engine compartment fire, it usually is well developed...the first step should be to shut off the fuel supply to the engine." The FAA notes that pilots must bear in mind that airplane control can be lost at any moment, and the only thing that matters is the safety of the occupants.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was fatigue failure of the No. 5 engine cylinder fuel supply line, which resulted in an engine compartment fire. Also causal was the pilot's failure to immediately secure the engine/perform a forced landing after discovery of the fire, which resulted in the pilot's loss of control of the airplane.

Peter Katz is editor and publisher of NTSB Reporter, an independent monthly update on aircraft accident investigations and other news concerning the National Transportation Safety Board. To subscribe, write to: NTSB Reporter, Subscription Dept., P.O. Box 831, White Plains, NY 10602-0831.


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