On July 4, 1997, at 1300 central daylight time, a Cessna 172G airplane, N3888L, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain in an uncontrolled descent near Powderly, Texas. The private pilot, who was the registered owner of the airplane, and his passenger sustained serious injuries. No flight plan was filed and visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the Title 14 CFR Part 91 local personal flight. The flight was originating from the privately owned Powderly Airport at the time of the accident.

During a telephone interview conducted by the NTSB investigator-in-charge and in a written statement, the pilot reported that while performing the preflight inspection, he added 1 quart of engine oil. He departed to the north on the 3,100 foot runway and was about 2 feet in the air when he realized the cowl door was not latched. He started to abort the takeoff, but then, due to a concern that he did not have enough runway left to stop, decided to continue. The pilot stated that he "must have become fixated on the flopping door." He further stated that he turned left to go back to the airport, and the last thing he recalled was that the airplane began to loose altitude.

According to the passenger, after the "oil door came loose," the airplane "proceeded north on takeoff and made [a] short left hand turn to return to airstrip." The airplane then "immediately began to descend rapidly toward the highway."

Written statements were obtained by the FAA inspector from two witnesses. One witness, who watched the takeoff, reported that she observed "something flopping on the airplane" which she identified as "the door on the cowling where you check the oil." She further reported that the airplane "started to turn left" and "was going down" when she lost sight of it behind a hangar. Another witness observed the airplane heading west and "getting lower." This witness reported the airplane was "approx[imately] 100 ft above the ground and pointed downward." She further reported that "upon hitting a small bush in the center median [of Highway 271] the plane flipped over 2 times and then on to its top."

Review of photographs taken by the local authorities revealed that the airplane came to rest inverted in the southbound lanes of US Highway 271. The nose wheel and the engine separated from the airframe. The fuselage buckled aft of the baggage compartment, and the left wing outboard of the landing light was bent aft and down.

On July 17, 1997, the airplane's engine, a Continental O-300-D, S/N 33802-D-5-D, was examined under the supervision of the NTSB investigator-in-charge at Air Salvage of Dallas in Lancaster, Texas. The fixed pitch metal propeller remained attached to the crankshaft, and the spinner was crushed aft. One propeller blade was bent aft approximately 90 degrees and twisted slightly toward the direction of rotation. The other blade was bent to the shape of a shallow "S". The crankshaft was rotated and continuity was confirmed to all cylinders and to the accessory drive gears. Both magnetos sparked at all terminals when rotated by hand. When the carburetor was disassembled, a strong odor of automotive gasoline was noted. Wear marks were present on the bottom of the composite float which appeared to correspond to raised knobs in the bottom of the carburetor bowl. The float was placed in a container of automotive gasoline. After 24 hours, the float remained buoyant.

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