On July 19, 1998, at 1138 hours mountain standard time, an experimental De Malignon VariEze, N77AX, lost engine power and struck utility lines while on decent for landing at the Globe-San Carlos Apache Regional Air Facility, southwest of Globe, Arizona. The aircraft was destroyed and the pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. The aircraft was being operated as a personal flight by the pilot/owner under the provisions 14 CFR Part 91 when the accident occurred. The flight originated from Falcon Field Airport in Mesa, Arizona, at 0900 on the morning of the accident. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the destination and no flight plan was filed. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
Witnesses on the ground reported hearing the engine of the low-flying aircraft start and stop several times before the aircraft struck utility lines located about 2 miles west of the airport. After striking the wires, the engine surged, but the aircraft continued to the ground. The terrain at the accident site was hilly to mountainous.
The Gila county sheriff's deputy who responded to the scene, reported seeing a wet stain on the ground near the right wing tank. The aircraft retriever reported that when he first lifted the aircraft, about 2 gallons of fuel leaked out of the left wing tank. He also reported that there was about 1 or 2 cups of fuel in the fuselage header tank. He stated that the color of the fuel was light yellow and it had an odor consistent with auto fuel.
The pilot's last recorded logbook entry showed a flight on July 11, 1998, for a period of 1.7 hours in the accident aircraft. The airport manager told Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors that there was no record of a fuel purchase during the intervening period.
An inspection of the aircraft's hangar revealed three empty 5-gallon fuel containers.
The POH states that "the wing tanks were vented together to maintain equal tank fuel levels." It also contains a caution that states "auto gas, especially the high aeromatic (sic) content no-lead, should not be used," and that "starvation can occur during long steep descents with two gallons per wing tank. Because of this possibility, the fuselage tank should be selected for all descents and landings, with less than two gallons per wing tank." Finally, it states that "If engine failure occurs when there is less than one gallon of fuel in one or both fuel tanks, or during a long, sustained, steep descent with low fuel (less than two gallons in each tank), the most probable cause is fuel starvation. Select fuselage tank."
The fuel selector was found partially displaced from the auxiliary (fuselage tank position). A further inspection of the fuel tanks revealed that the fuel lines are connected to the aft bottoms of the tanks. The fuselage tank is separate from the main fuel system and must be filled independently.
The carburetor throttle and mixture control arms were in the full open and full rich positions, respectively. No fuel was found in the carburetor bowl. The inlet screen contained a black material that had a sealant-like odor.
A filter in the fuel line forward of the firewall leading to the tank sumps contained a rust-like material.
All spark plugs exhibited dark sooty deposits. The electrodes exhibited evidence of wear. According to Champion Spark Plug's Check-A-Plug chart, the engine had been running rich.
Both blades of the wooden propeller were splintered.
There was evidence of sooting and thermal distress in the upper left side of the engine compartment on the engine mounts and wiring. However, there was no fire associated with this accident.
The aircraft logbook contained an entry dated July 5, 1998, stating that the fuel system had been cleaned and the carburetor overhauled. The entry was signed by the pilot/owner, who was also an airframe and powerplant mechanic. The logbook time did not coincide with the 950 hours the pilot reported in his most recent flight physical application.
The pilot's logbook entries showed a series of recurring fuel and engine problems dating from December 25, 1993, too as recently as June 28, 1998. An inspection of the engine and fuel system conducted by Safety Board investigators did not reveal any discrepancies.
It was noted; however, that no engine driven fuel pump or electric fuel boost pump was installed. The aircraft designer specifies that the aircraft be equipped with both an engine driven fuel pump and an electric auxiliary fuel boost pump because of the limited headspace between the tanks and the engine.
The aircraft is equipped with tricycle landing gear. The mains are fixed; however, the nose gear is retractable.
An autopsy was conducted by the Gila county coroner, with specimens retained for toxicological examination. The toxicological test results were negative for alcohol and all screened drug substances.
No ELT signal was reported in association with this accident.