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On August 16, 1998, at 2215 hours Pacific daylight time, a Cessna 177, N177GS, was destroyed when it collided with a utility pole and trees during an emergency off-airport landing following loss of engine power at Los Angeles, California. The aircraft was on an instrument approach to the Santa Monica Municipal Airport. The airline transport licensed pilot and one passenger received minor injuries and two passengers sustained serious injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight that departed Santa Barbara, California about 2100.
A flight instructor who lives near the accident site was driving nearby in his car when he heard the plane crash. He was the first person to respond to the accident site on a school athletic field, and passed a female passenger who was getting help for the other three occupants of the aircraft. When he reached the aircraft the three were just getting out of the aircraft. There was fluid on the ground and he was very concerned about fire and explosion danger and encouraged the pilot, who was attending to an injured female passenger, to move her away in case of fire. The pilot said, "it's not fuel." He smelled the liquid and believed it to be water. He reported he saw no fuel at the site and there was no fuel smell.
A security guard at a nearby grocery store was among the first people to reach the accident before emergency vehicles arrived. He said one male, who was sitting about 20 feet from the wreckage and had facial cuts, told him that they had run out of fuel and crashed.
A checker/clerk at the same grocery store held the hand of a female passenger and tried to comfort her at a location behind the store while paramedics attended to her. According to the clerk, the paramedics asked what happened to cause the accident and the passenger replied that they had run out of fuel while on approach to the airport.
According to the manager of the same grocery store, when the police arrived they were concerned about a fire and explosion danger and ordered everyone away from the aircraft. The man who was attending to the injured female told them "there's no fuel spilled," and then "there's no fuel".
Two witnesses reported that they observed the aircraft approach very low and was completely quiet. It made a steep, abrupt U-turn toward the schoolyard and there was a bright flash when the aircraft severed the power lines.
Another witness looked east from his home to see an aircraft approaching on the normal approach course to Santa Monica but very low. He thought it was about half the normal altitude. As he watched the wings "fluttered" and the aircraft entered a steep, sharp turn to the south. The wings appeared to be straight up and down and the aircraft was in a steep descent. He lost sight of the aircraft at tree level. He went to the accident site and was the second person to reach it. One man was seated a few feet away and was dizzy. The pilot was tending to the injuries of a female passenger. He asked the pilot what happened and the pilot replied he lost power. This witness recalled that he had thought it odd that he didn't smell any gas.
An inspector from the Los Angeles Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) arrived at the accident site approximately 1 hour after the accident and reported that there was no perceptible fuel smell in the area. The FSDO inspector also reported that the fire department battalion chief said that there was no fuel present when they arrived within 15 minutes of the accident.
The pilot told the Safety Board investigator that he did not add any fuel during his trip, which departed from Santa Monica and landed at Camarillo and Santa Barbara before returning to Santa Monica. They were executing the VOR A approach to runway 21 at Santa Monica when the engine ceased delivering power abruptly and without warning. He descended on the approach course but when he broke out of the clouds it was obvious they were not going to be able to glide to the runway. He knew of the athletic field from his experience instructing at Santa Monica and turned left off the approach toward the field. He did not recall what the fuel gauges read during the approach but said that, prior to leaving Santa Barbara, he dipped the fuel tanks using the dipstick tool kept in the glove box and determined that there was 3 hours fuel remaining which should have been plenty. He thinks that the fuel gauges read about 1/2 at Santa Barbara.
The aircraft owner, who was not the pilot involved in the accident, said that he was the last person to fly the aircraft before the accident. He flew it on Friday, August 14th, and he put it away in the hangar with a little less that half fuel in each of the two tanks. He estimated there were about 22 gallons of fuel remaining in the tanks.
The aircraft had an hour meter that was operated from an oil pressure activated switch on the engine. According to the aircraft log prior to start of the trip, the meter read 470.7 hours. At the accident site the meter read 473.4 hours.
According to one of the passengers, the first pilot, a flight instructor, was seated in the right front seat and the male passenger was in the left front seat. The first pilot's wife was in the right rear seat and second female passenger was in the left rear seat. All four were able to communicate by intercom/headsets in the aircraft.
According to the owner of the aircraft, there were no mechanical discrepancies (squawks) on the aircraft when he completed the flight prior to the accident flight.
The weather observation at Los Angeles International Airport, 6 miles southeast, taken at 2150 was overcast ceiling at 1,400 feet agl and visibility of 6 miles. The temperature was 68 and the dew point 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident location is in a residential area in northwest corner of the athletic field of the Webster Junior High School near the intersection of Brookhaven Avenue and Sawtelle Boulevard. The site is approximately on the final approach to runway 21 at Santa Monica Airport, 1.5 miles northeast of the airport at latitude 34 degrees 01.65 minutes north, and longitude 118 degrees 26.11 minutes west (GPS).
All of the aircraft components were at the accident location and there was no fire. The fuselage (partly inverted) was lying on top of the right wing up against a baseball backstop. The wing center section and approximately the inboard 3 feet of the left wing remained with the right wing. A residential electrical and telephone utility pole, 120 feet northwest (300 degrees magnetic) of the fuselage wreckage had a scar with red and white markings approximately the color of the aircraft. The scar was on the northwest facing surface of the pole approximately 35 feet above the base, and the telephone and 220 volt electrical transmission lines were severed in the next span extending southeastward.
There was a debris field of wreckage extending in a northwest-southeast direction over the 120-foot interval between the utility pole and the fuselage wreckage. A yucca plant, 25 feet southeast of the pole, was damaged about 25 feet above the base. Forty feet southeast of the pole and 2 feet left of the centerline was a portion of the left wing flap outboard of the center hinge point. Seventy feet southeast of the pole, on centerline, was the aircraft's left wing outboard of the flap midspan. The wing spar was bent at the separation in a contour approximately equal to the shape of the utility pole, and there was a brown colored residue on the wing in proximity of the separation that resembled the preservative oil on the pole. To the right about 15 feet, on the opposite side of a fence in a residence back yard, was the horizontal stabilator. Commencing under the left wing was a family of red, white, and black scrape marks on the asphalt extending approximately 20 feet toward the fuselage wreckage.
The fuselage was inverted approximately 135 degrees to the right. Two fuel line fittings were fractured forward of the firewall. The fitting on the fuel line from the electric boost pump to the carburetor was broken at the pump outlet, and the fitting where the lines from the engine driven boost pump and the electric boost pump join and enter the carburetor was fractured at the inlet to the carburetor. The fitting fracture surfaces exhibited a uniformly bright gray/silver appearance around the circumference of the fractures. The fuel sump, when opened, contained an amount of fuel approximately equal to the unusable quantity of the bowl. The remainder of the fuel lines forward of the firewall was opened at the site and did not contain any fuel at system low points. The carburetor was removed from the engine and the float bowl opened and did not contain any fuel. According to the Textron Lycoming party representative, the carburetor accelerator pump, when pumped manually, produced one partial squirt of fuel mixed with air.
No fuel was observed coming from the aircraft during the wreckage recovery.
The aircraft was examined at Aircraft Recovery Service, Compton, California, on August 27, 1998.
The left-hand fuel cell was destroyed. The right-hand fuel cell was ruptured at the inboard forward corner by skin buckling. The fuel tank caps were modified in accordance with Supplemental Type Certificate SA2457CE that incorporates anti-siphon flapper valves in the tank refueling inlets. The right tank fuel cap was in place. The left tank fuel cap, located in proximity of the area where the left wing was severed, was damaged. The plug portion of the left cap was in place in the neck of the tank inlet and the cover portion of the cap was located among the loose items of wreckage. A "Universal Fuelhawk" fuel dipstick tool was found in the wreckage.
The left tank fuel level transmitter was destroyed. The fuel gauges were removed from the cockpit and connected electrically to the fuel level transmitter in the right wing fuel tank. The right-hand gauge indicated full with the float assembly approximately at the top of the tank and empty with the float at the bottom of the tank. With the float in the mid-range position, the right-hand gauge read approximately 3/8 tank. The faceplate of the left-hand fuel gauge was slightly bent and the gauge needle was bent to the left past the empty position. When connected to the right-hand transmitter, and when the float was in the top of the tank, the needle of the left-hand gauge moved to the right-hand limit of the sector cut out in the face of the instrument. The needle moved to the left-hand limit of the sector when the float was at the bottom of the tank. With the float in the mid-range position the needle was approximately in the center of the sector.
The power wire to the electric fuel boost pump was severed, however, when a battery was connected to the pump it functioned and no fuel came out. When water was supplied to the inlet of the pump, water was pumped from the outlet port of the pump.
The propeller blades had minor abrasion to the leading edge and one tip was bent aft approximately 10 degrees starting about 4 inches from the tip. There were no nicks or gouges in the leading edges, no chordwise striations, and no twisting on the blades.
The engine was examined on the aircraft. The number 2 cylinder had damage to the rocker arm area and the valve pushrods were absent. When the engine was rotated there was thumb compression on all cylinders, valve action at the number 1, 3, and 4 cylinders, and mechanical continuity to the accessory gearing. There were no visible obstructions to airflow in the inlet or exhaust systems. The clutch unit on the starter motor was engaged to the starter ring gear.
When the engine was rotated, the left magneto, with an impulse coupling, fired all four spark plug wires at the spark plug end with the P-lead connected to the magneto switch and the switch in the "both" position. Similarly, the right magneto produced spark at all four spark plug leads when spun by hand. The left and right magnetos were timed to the engine at 25 and 26 degrees, respectively, BTDC. When disconnected from the magnetos, both P-leads were electrically opened to ground with the magneto switch in the "both" position. The spark plug electrodes for the number 2 and 4 cylinders were clean, unfouled, and light gray in color. The spark plug electrodes for the number 1 and 3 cylinders were clean and unfouled and had a coating of light brown oil.
When the mechanical fuel pump was removed from the accessory case there were approximately 2 tablespoons of clean fuel in the pump. The smell of the fuel resembled aviation fuel. The pump produced suction and pressure at the respective inlet and outlet ports, and the diaphragm was intact and the check valves were clear. The engine oil filter was opened and the element was free of foreign matter.
The engine driven vacuum pump drive coupling was intact, as were the vanes and rotor.
The cylinders were removed from the engine. The bores were shiny and unscored and the piston rings were intact and free to rotate in their grooves. There were light gray deposits in the cylinder heads and on the piston faces. The number 1 and 3 connecting rods were removed from the crankshaft and the journals were shiny, unscored, and had a uniform coating of light brown oil.
The aircraft wreckage was released to Citrus Investigations, agent for the owner's insurance company, on August 28, 1998.