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On July 10, 1995, at 0046 central daylight time, a Bellanca 17-31A, N39875, was destroyed while maneuvering near Hot Springs, Arkansas. The non-instrument rated private pilot and his three passengers were fatally injured. The aircraft was being operated by the owner/operator, under Title 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal night cross country flight and no flight plan was filed.
A lineman at the airport in Destin, Florida, the airplane's initial departure point, reported that the airplane was topped off with fuel before departure. Three passengers and the pilot boarded, and the airplane departed at approximately 1755 for their flight to Hot Springs. The lineman added that approximately 5 minutes after departing Destin, the airplane returned to the airport. The pilot complained of "low manifold pressure." He stated that he had experienced a loss of engine power and a "drop of 6 to 7 inches of manifold pressure" during takeoff. The pilot asked to borrow a few hand tools to remove the engine cowlings. The lineman further stated that he observed the pilot inspecting and working on the engine for approximately one hour. After reinstalling the cowlings, the pilot "did several run-ups and high speed taxis down the runway followed by one flight around the pattern while his passengers waited at the terminal."
The passengers reboarded the airplane and departed Destin, at 1944 en route to the Johnson County Executive Airport near Olathe, Kansas. The lineman overheard one of several pilots watching the departing aircraft comment that it "sounded O.K." The flight made an intermediate stop at the Hot Springs Memorial Field at approximately 2340 to refuel and departed from Runway 23 at 0045.
The private pilot was part owner (1/2 interest) of the airplane. His pilot logbooks were not located. It was determined from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records and the co-owner of the airplane, that the pilot had logged approximately 1,300 hours of flight time.
The pilot was not a licensed airframe and powerplant mechanic. The co-owner of the airplane reported that neither he nor the pilot customarily worked on their airplane.
The wing tanks were topped off with 45.2 gallons of 100LL Avgas prior to his departure from Hot Springs. A review of the airframe and engine records by the FAA inspector did not reveal any anomalies or uncorrected maintenance defects prior to the flight. The last 100 hour inspection was completed on February 9, 1995, and approximately 16 hours of flight time had been accumulated up to the time of the accident.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane came to rest among trees at the base of a hill approximately one mile south of the airport in a nose down attitude. Numerous pine branches with slash marks and paint transfers were found on a measured heading of 120 degrees leading to the final resting site of the airplane. The first tree with broken branches and airplane debris in it, was on a ridge 600 feet from the main wreckage. The next tree with broken branches was 200 feet from the main wreckage. See the enclosed crash scene diagram for additional details.
On-scene investigation revealed that the flaps were extended 23 degrees, and the landing gear was down. Examination of the engine control cables revealed that the throttle was full forward (maximum power), the propeller was full forward (high RPM), and the mixture was full forward (full rich). Engine continuity could not be established, fuel selector position could not be established, and flight control continuity could not be determined due to thermal damage from the post impact fire.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory at Little Rock, Arkansas, on July 11, 1995. Toxicological tests were ordered and performed. Carbon monoxide, cyanide, and ethanol were all found in the blood. Dr. John Soper, Ph.D. of the Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aeromedical Institute at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, attributes the ethanol to postmortem decomposition.
A post-impact fire destroyed the airplane. No evidence of pre- impact fire was found during the investigation.
TEST AND RESEARCH
An examination of the engine and airframe revealed that the throttle cable housing had disengaged from the swaged end of the throttle push rod assembly. The enclosed photographs show that the cable housing had slipped out of position by 2 inches and the throttle push rod assembly shows 1/2 inch of displacement. According to the engine manufacturer representative, "this [slippage] would allow the engine power to decelerate even though the throttle was in the full power setting."
According to the airframe log books, the throttle cable assembly had never been replaced. The airplane was manufactured in 1973. Examination of the throttle cable also revealed a frayed section of the throttle cable housing. Information provided by the throttle cable manufacturer established that the cable is a "condition" change item. Title 14 CFR, Part 43, Appendix D, Paragraph D, item 6, states that each person performing an annual inspection shall inspect the engine controls for defects, improper travel, and improper safetying.
Fuel from the last refueling point was examined for contaminants and/or water. None was found.
The airplane was released to the owner's representative.