Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Great Places Not To Have An Accident

Don’t spend so much time looking at scenery that you neglect to look at flight necessities

A Safety Board investigator completed weight-and-balance calculations for the accident flight. The takeoff weight was 2,767 pounds. According to the Pilot Operating Handbook, the airplane’s approved gross takeoff weight was 2,650 pounds.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s failure to properly lean the mixture, which resulted in a power deficiency, a degraded climb capability and the inability to attain/maintain an adequate airspeed that led to a stall/mush condition while departing during high-density altitude conditions. Also causal was the pilot’s inaccurate preflight performance and weight-and-balance calculations.

Hilton Head Airport (HXD)
After you’ve spent time on Hilton Head Island, S.C., with its picturesque waterfront and wildlife areas, it might be difficult to focus your mind’s eye away from the beauty and onto mundane things like a preflight inspection. A Piper PA-46-310P had taken off from Hilton Head Airport in VFR conditions on an IFR flight plan to North Myrtle Beach, S.C. The instrument-rated pilot had 2,536 hours with 186 in type. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot determined that he needed to return to the airport. During the attempted return, the airplane hit trees and the ground and caught fire. The pilot and passenger were killed. A pilot told investigators that he saw the pilot and passenger arrive at the airport, load the airplane and board it. The witness said he didn’t see the pilot perform a preflight inspection, and he stated he “wondered about it” at the time. A witness saw the airplane flying erratically, with a “vapor trail” coming from the left wing. A witness who was monitoring the airport’s common traffic advisory frequency heard the pilot declare an emergency and make reference to something being “off.”

Emergency response personnel found the airplane on the ground in flames in a wooded area behind a residence less than a mile from the airport. Investigators could not find the fuel cap for the left-wing inboard tank at the accident site. It was later found at the airport, in the grass beside runway 21 with the cap’s locking handle in the stowed position.

Investigators determined that the airplane was fueled while it was at Hilton Head. The lineman who fueled the left wing stated he secured the left inboard fuel cap and “closed and locked cap back and rechecked to make sure cap was closed and locked back to its original position....”

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s failure to maintain control of the airplane during a VFR pattern for a precautionary landing, which resulted in an uncontrolled descent and subsequent collision with terrain. Also causal was the pilot’s inadequate preflight inspection of the aircraft, which resulted in his failure to secure the fuel cap.


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