On October 9, 1997, at 1017 eastern daylight time (edt), a Piper PA-23-250 Aztec, N54738, operated by an airline transport pilot, lost total engine power on both engines shortly after takeoff from Fitch H. Beach Airport, near Charlotte, Michigan. The airplane was substantially damaged during the subsequent forced landing. Both the pilot-in-command and the pilot-rated passenger received minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was being conducted under 14 CFR Part 91 and no flight plan was on file. The local flight departed Fitch H. Beach Airport at 1010 edt. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
The accident flight was being conducted as a pre-purchase demonstration flight. The multi-engine rated left-seat occupant was being shown the airplane, which was under the authority of the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificated right-seat occupant. In their respective statements, both pilots attest to completing a thorough preflight, which included an extensive discussion about the fuel system. According to the left-seat pilot, prior to takeoff the fuel selectors were set to the 'INBOARD' detents, and the pressure crossfeed was set to the 'OFF' position. The cowl flap selectors, located forward of the fuel selectors on the same floor mounted console, were both set to the 'OPEN' positions.
During taxi, takeoff, climb, and cruise, the left-seat pilot was the pilot flying (co-pilot) and the right-seat ATP was the pilot not flying (PIC). According to the PIC, the co-pilot demonstrated a "...good knowledge of the turbo operating characteristics, maintained excellent directional control...and after rotation began a smooth acceleration for blue line." At about 500' above ground level (AGL), the PIC performed a visual scan of the engine instruments. He stated that the "...engine and fuel gauges at that time...were in the green with the tanks indicating full." At approximately 1200-1300 feet AGL, the co-pilot began to transition the aircraft from climb to cruise. At which time, he stated that he closed the cowl flaps. Shortly thereafter, both engines lost total power simultaneously. At this time, the manipulation of the flight controls was transferred to the pilot-in-command. In an attempt to restart the engines, the PIC tried varying the power level positions, adjusting the mixture control, and turning the fuel pumps on and off. In a written statement, the PIC reported that he "...decided to leave both engines wind-milling...while working on engine restart procedures." During the emergency descent, the PIC determined that the airplane would not make the landing site initially chosen due to tree obstruction on the near side of the field. He decided to land prior to the trees, in a soybean field. During the subsequent forced landing, the airplane touched down approximately 150 feet from the end of the field. The airplane slid across the bean field until colliding with trees and coming to rest. The PIC reported that the airplane was configured with the flaps up, landing gear retracted, and propellers unfeathered during the forced landing sequence.
The damage to the airplane prevented the left-seat occupant from exiting the aircraft. The left wing at the leading edge root had penetrated the fuselage, pinning his left leg. The airplane's right wing leading edge, inboard of the engine, impacted a tree approximately 1 foot in diameter. The fuel tanks were inspected and found to have ample fuel in the main tanks. Both the pilots and a fueler indicated to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Inspector that 85 gallons of fuel had been pumped into the Aztec the day of the accident flight. The main fuel lines for both engines were removed at the firewall and were found to be without any fuel. The fuel flow dividers on both engines were inspected and were also found to be without fuel. An examination of the engine revealed no anomalies. The spark plugs were found to be in good condition. Each cylinder was found to have compression, and both engines demonstrated mechanical continuity. Flight control surfaces were examined for control continuity and found to be operational.
An examination of the cockpit revealed both fuel selectors to be in the middle position, indicating 'OFF.' The cowl flap selectors were both in the full up and aft position, indicating 'OPEN.' Both pilots stated that the cowl flap selectors were set to the 'OPEN' position during takeoff and climb. The co-pilot stated that he moved the cowl flap selectors to the middle, or 'trail' position, shortly before both engines failed. Both pilots told the FAA that neither one touched the fuel selectors at any time after takeoff; this included climb, cruise, emergency descent, and after the crash. According to the FAA-approved Piper PA-23-250 checklist, the 'Engine Inoperative Procedures' checklist calls for the fuel selector to be set to the 'OFF' detent. The 'Engine Failure During Flight' checklist calls for the fuel selector to be switched to the other tank.