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On November 15, 1998, approximately 1615 Pacific standard time, a Piper PA-23-150, C-FJXG, owned by Charlotte Aviation, and operated by the pilot as a 14 CFR Part 91 ferry flight, impacted the terrain during a wheels-up emergency landing in an open field about 3 miles north of Bellingham International Airport, Bellingham, Washington. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time, and a VFR flight plan was filed. The aircraft was substantially damaged. The pilot, who is a commercial rated flight instructor, and the sole occupant, was seriously injured. The aircraft, which departed Boundary Bay, British Columbia, Canada, about 20 minutes earlier, was en route to Bellingham International Airport.
On the day of the accident, the pilot completed the purchase of the aircraft from IMEX Capital Group, Inc., of Aldergrove, British Columbia. After completing the purchase and before adding any fuel to the tanks, the pilot performed a preflight inspection. During the inspection, he drained fuel through the fuel strainer from each of the aircraft's four tanks. While draining the tanks he collected a few traces of water and noticed that a small amount of a thick gooey white liquid came out of the fuel strainer on the right wing. After inspecting the fuel drained from the sumps, the pilot performed an engine run-up on both engines, shut them down, and then took fuel samples from the sumps a second time. After sampling fuel a second time, he filled all four tanks to the top with 80/87 aviation fuel. He then started the engines again, completed a second run-up, and then shut the engines down a second time. After the engines were once again shut down, the pilot drained the fuel sumps for a third time. According to the pilot, he had run the engines a total of approximately 30 minutes prior to departing Boundary Bay, and he had rocked the wings prior to one of the sump inspections and taxied the aircraft prior to another. He also reported that, except for the little bit of water drained from both sumps and the white gooey liquid that drained from the right sump, both of which ceased to be present after the first sump test, he did not see any further sign of contamination in the fuel. He did not remove either sump bowl for further inspection, and he did not use an artificial light source to visually inspect the bottom surface of the fuel tank bladders.
After completing the last sump inspection, the pilot departed Boundary Bay about 1550 and climbed to about 2,200 feet MSL. When he leveled off, the pilot started following Highway 99 (Canadian designation) to the south, which becomes Interstate Highway 5 at the Canada/United States border. When he leveled off, the pilot set the propeller rpm at 2,300 and the manifold pressure at 23 inches of mercury. Soon after establishing his cruise power settings, the pilot noticed that the rpm on the right engine was beginning to drop. He reported that he tried using carburetor heat, but that just resulted in a small additional drop in the rpm. He said that he then checked the fuel pressure, but that it was "good." He then turned on both of the electric fuel pumps and switched the right engine to the right auxiliary tank, but the engine continued to lose power. Although switching to the auxiliary tank did not help, the pilot elected to continue to feed the right engine from the right auxiliary tank. Ultimately the right engine rpm settled about 1,400 and moving the throttle forward would not increase it. He further stated that, although he could only get 1,400 rpm out of the right engine, it was running smoothly at that power, and did not appear to be missing or coughing. While the pilot was attempting to figure out what was wrong with the engine, the cabin door popped open and remained that way through the end of the emergency landing. Because he was having trouble holding altitude with the door open, the left engine at 2,300 rpm and 23 inches, and the right engine at 1,400 rpm, the pilot elected to shut the right engine down. He therefore pulled the right propeller lever back to the feather position, and the propeller feathered as expected. The pilot then pulled the mixture for the right engine to full lean and turned off the electric fuel boost pump. Then with the aircraft descending approximately 100 to 200 feet per minute, the pilot attempted to make it to his ultimate destination of Bellingham before he ran out of altitude. Upon reaching a position about five miles northwest of Bellingham Airport, the pilot estimated that he would not be able to reach the airport at his present rate of descent. Because he felt he would not make it to the runway, and since there were buildings between his position and the airport, the pilot elected to land in a nearby field. Because the fields in the area were very wet from recent rains, the pilot decided to attempt his landing with the gear retracted. Once he felt he had the field made, he pulled the left engine mixture to full lean and turned the master switch to off. After clearing the trees at the edge of the field, the pilot forced the aircraft onto the ground because he felt that the field was too short to let the aircraft bleed off airspeed and settle to the ground naturally. During this attempt, the aircraft hit hard and the pilot received serious injuries. As the aircraft slid across the field on its belly, wings, and a small portion of the main gear tires that normally protrude from the wheel wells, the windmilling left propeller dug into the soft terrain. During this sequence of events, the aircraft sustained substantial damage to its wings and fuselage.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The aircraft's initial impact was near the northwest edge of a grassy field located approximately three miles northwest of Bellingham Airport. At the point of initial contact with the terrain, there were three shallow furrows/gouges in the underlying dirt where the fuselage and both engines/gear assemblies dug into the ground. The furrows were about six feet long and approximately four inches deep. Three shallow ground track scars ran from the end of these furrows to the point where the aircraft came to rest approximately 300 feet past the initial impact point. All three gear were in the retracted position, and the right propeller was in the high pitch/feathered position. One blade of the left propeller was sticking almost vertical and the other had been bent back under the wing. The outboard-most eight inches of both blades had been bent back about 30 degrees. Although the aircraft structure had stayed intact, the forward half of the belly and the inboard half of the bottom of both wings had been dented, wrinkled, and crushed by the impact sequence. Both forward wing spars were substantially damaged at the landing gear/engine mount attach point.
As part of the investigation, the right engine and right wing fuel delivery system were inspected. During that inspection, the right main tank fuel bladder access plate was removed so that a visual inspection of the inside of the bladder could be completed with the aid of a flashlight. That inspection revealed that more than 10 percent of the bottom of the bladder was covered by puddles of water that had frozen into sheets of ice in the 15 to 20 degree Fahrenheit temperatures in which the inspection took place. All of the ice sheets, as well as the remainder of the bottom surface of the bladder, contained large amounts of dirt, sand, and rusting metal flakes. Further inspection revealed that there was approximately one teaspoon of a very thick syrupy white substance in the bottom of the right wing fuel strainer sump. Although this substance did not readily flow from the sump drain valve, if the valve was left open, small amounts of the substance would drip out after about a minute.
During the engine examination, approximately one tablespoon of water contaminated with dirt and rusted metal flakes, was found in the carburetor bowl. In addition to the water, a small amount of what appeared to be the same white substance that was in the strainer sump was found. Also, when the carburetor inlet finger screen from the right engine was removed, it was found to be approximately 90 percent filled/restricted by small particles of solid contaminants. The screen was cut open and the contaminants were placed on a piece of white paper and allowed to dry. They were then viewed with a ten power magnifying loop. Visual inspection revealed that most of the contaminant mix was made up of sand, dirt, and flakes of rusting metal. After the visual inspection, a magnet was used to separate ferrous material from the mix, and it was found that about half of the contaminant was able to be separated in this manner. There were no other discrepancies or anomalies noted in the right wing fuel system or the right engine.
The aircraft was a 1957 Piper Apache PA-23-150, registered as CFJXG. According to its engineering record, it had been operated in Canada for at least 10 years prior to its last flight on July 23, 1986. The last 100 hour/annual inspection entry in its service record was on 23 July, 1985, one year prior to its last flight. According to the individual who sold the aircraft, it had not flown for about 13 years prior to the sale, although the engines had been run a "few times" during the intervening years. The aircraft was inspected in conjunction with the issuance a Specific Purpose Canadian Flight Authorization on October 10, 1998. The authorization was for a one-time ferry flight from Boundary Bay, British Columbia, to Seattle, Washington, to Charlotte, Michigan. That permit was due to expire one day after the accident flight.
During the investigation it was determined that the aircraft was not in compliance with Piper Service Bulletin No. 827A, nor with Airworthiness Directives (AD's) 88-21-07 R1 or 92-13-04. The service bulletin addressed "Fuel System Drain Procedures/Water Contamination/Dual Fuel Drain System Installation," and the AD's addressed actions "...to prevent rough engine operation or complete power interruption caused by water contamination in the fuel." It was further noted that the Service Bulletin and both of the AD's were issued since the last time the aircraft flew in 1985. It was also determined that even if the aircraft had been in service, the FAR's would not have required compliance with the Service Bulletin if the aircraft was operated only under FAR Part 91. In addition, it was noted that both AD's allowed for the aircraft to be flown under a special (ferry) flight permit to a location where the AD's could be complied with.
The pilot earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 1984 and his single engine airplane Flight Instructor certificate in June of 1995. He had accumulated approximately 2,580 hours of pilot time prior to the accident, but only 8.1 hours of that time was in multiengine aircraft. He was issued his multiengine airplane rating nine days prior to the accident, and he had not flown a multiengine aircraft since that day.
ADDITIONAL DATA AND INFORMATION
According to the pilot, the decrease in right engine rpm began soon after he leveled off and while the aircraft was still north of the United States/Canadian border. After passing the border and following Interstate Highway 5 to the south, the pilot passed within two to three miles of two airports where he could have made a precautionary landing (see attached map). The first, Blaine Airport, which is situated 1,500 feet northeast of the highway, is located about one and one-half mile south of the border and a little less than half way between Boundary Bay and Bellingham. The runway at Blaine is 2,100 feet long and paved with asphalt. The second available airport was Meadow Mist, a private (Restricted) turf/grass airstrip located about two and one-half miles east of the highway and about ten miles south of where the aircraft crossed the border. The runway at Meadow Mist is 2,000 feet long. In addition to the two airports located near Highway 5, there was a third airport, Lynden Municipal, located about seven miles northeast of the pilot's route. Although this facility was further off his route, it was located about five miles closer to where the aircraft crossed the border than was his ultimate destination. The runway at Lynden Airport is a 2,450 foot paved surface. All three of these airports were depicted on the current Seattle Sectional Aeronautical Chart, and the depictions included runway lengths.
The aircraft, which had no insurance coverage on its hull, was removed from the field and stored by Chuckanut Aviation at Skagit Regional/Bayview Airport, Burlington, Washington. The NTSB final teardown examination was completed on December 21, 1998, and the aircraft was released to the owner one day later.