NTSB Identification: ERA12FA412
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, June 25, 2012 in Gold Hill, NC
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/03/2014
Aircraft: SOCATA TB21, registration: N2528N
Injuries: 1 Fatal.
NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
The pilot departed his home airport in North Carolina with the intention of flying the airplane to Germany where he had another residence. During the weeks before the accident, the pilot made several modifications to the airplane in preparation for the trip. Friends and witnesses described the installation of a white plastic fuel tank in the backseat, "similar to a tank you would see on a riding lawnmower." Such a tank is not aviation-approved. The installation included fuel lines that were smaller than recommended by the airplane manufacturer, and the system was vented into the cabin. Local mechanics also reported that the pilot performed his own maintenance to the turbocharger and the exhaust system. In the 2 weeks before the accident, mechanics "topped off" the oxygen system twice, the most recent service occurring 3 days before the accident. During that servicing, mechanics noted water leaking from the oxygen line, and the pilot reported trouble breathing at an altitude of 25,000 feet.
On the day of the accident, the pilot departed before dawn into instrument meteorological conditions. A witness observed the airplane trailing white and gray smoke, which turned to an orange color, consistent with an in-flight fire. Shortly after, the airplane impacted trees about ½ mile north of the departure airport.
The airplane was consumed by fire and the investigation was unable to determine the fire's origin; however, evidence of several non-approved modifications to the airplane were observed in the wreckage path, including the non-approved fuel line and valve as well as an aluminum can that was safety-wired to the outlet of the air-oil separator. Such modifications could have likely contributed to the fire's origin or spread. Fueling records from a nearby airport revealed that the pilot purchased fuel twice during the week before the accident. Airport security video showed the pilot placing the fuel hose inside the cabin of the airplane on the dates he purchased fuel, likely to fill the tank that was in the back seat.
While the pilot's most recent documented flight time was logged 2 years before the accident, his recent and total flight time could not be confirmed after the accident. Accordingly, the investigation was unable to determine if a lack of recent piloting experience may have contributed to the accident. Although the autopsy also identified coronary artery disease and a mass in the pilot's abdomen, the manner in which the airplane was flown before the accident and the witness report of an inflight fire indicates that the pilot was most likely in control of the airplane and was not incapacitated.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: An inflight fire, the origin of which could not be determined because of postaccident fire damage. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's improper modifications to the airplane. Full narrative available
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