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On April 30, 1995, at 1515 central daylight time, a Piper PA-28-180, N7573W, landed hard after experiencing an in-flight fire during approach near Porter, Texas. The private pilot sustained serious injuries and the airplane was destroyed. The airplane departed at 1512 CDT for a local personal flight conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed.
According to the pilot, during initial climb after takeoff from runway 17 at Williams Airport, he "noticed a strange odor, and decided to return for landing." He reported that after entering the downwind leg, smoke began to fill the cabin, and he shut down the engine "thinking that was the problem." The pilot further reported that on final, he "had to restart engine for fear of hitting the trees." On short final, he "tried pushing door open to clear cockpit of smoke, but it intensified heat."
Witnesses observed the airplane returning to land trailing smoke from the right hand side of the fuselage. Several witnesses also reported observing black smoke in the cabin. The witnesses reported the airplane touched down "hard" on the runway, collapsing the landing gear, and then slid approximately 100 yards before coming to rest off the right side of the runway. One witness stated, "while the aircraft was sliding, smoke and flames were coming from the passenger door. As soon as the aircraft stopped, the pilot exited through the door."
A review of the airframe and engine logbooks did not reveal any anomalies or uncorrected maintenance defects.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane came to rest on a measured heading of 195 degrees magnetic, approximately 600 feet south of the approach end of runway 17, and 35 feet west of the runway centerline. The right main landing gear and the nose wheel were found on the runway approximately 250 feet south of the approach end. The left main gear separated but remained attached to the wing by means of the brake line.
Control continuity was confirmed from the flight control surfaces to the cockpit controls. The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft and the last 6 inches of both propeller blades were curled back and displayed chordwise scratches. Examination of the engine disclosed no evidence of any pre-impact mechanical anomalies.
An automotive battery was found unsecured on the right side of the baggage compartment. A set of automotive-type jumper cables was found attached to both battery terminals. The other ends of the cables were found fused together on the baggage compartment floor.
Fire consumed the cabin of the airplane from the firewall to the aft side of the baggage compartment. Evidence of extreme heat was found on the root of the right wing and in the area of the wing carry through spar. The exterior side of the baggage compartment door was heavily sooted. There was no evidence of fire in the engine compartment.
During a telephone interview with the investigator-in-charge, the pilot stated he kept an automotive battery in the baggage compartment which he "occasionally" used to jump start the airplane. He further stated that he did not recall using the battery to jump start the airplane on the day of the accident. One witness reported hearing "the aircraft owner trying to start his plane on a weak battery. After several attempts the battery went dead. I then saw the baggage door open and soon after that the plane was started."
The wreckage was released to a representative of the owner.