On November 13, 1999, approximately 1120 Pacific standard time, a Piper PA18, N82553, landed hard after clipping a power line during an emergency landing on the Crowley Ranch, near Malheur City, Oregon. The airline transport pilot, who was the sole occupant, received minor injuries, and the aircraft, which was owned and operated by the pilot, was destroyed by a post-crash fire. The 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight, which had been airborne for about 10 minutes, was being operated in visual meteorological conditions. No flight plan had been filed, and there was no report of an ELT activation. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
According to the pilot, while en route to Ontario Airport, he spent some time flying over his ranch to look at water lines. While maneuvering near the water lines, he smelled what he thought was either smoke or fumes from a heater problem. He turned off his master switch, but the smell continued to get worse, so he elected to make an emergency landing on a county road. After getting lined up for an approach to the road, he changed his mind and decided to land in an open area alongside the road. He determined that in order to land in the open area, he would have to fly under a set of power lines, so he set up an approach to do so. But, just as he got to the power lines, he realized that one was hanging down lower than the others. He said that "without thinking" he pulled up to miss it, and the left wing of the aircraft clipped a line that was above the one that was sagging. This sequence of events, along with the pilot's "fear of fire," resulted in him attempting to get the aircraft on the ground as quickly as possible. During this attempt, the aircraft landed hard, and both main gear collapsed. After the pilot exited the aircraft, he noticed a small fire had initiated in the right wing root area. Because he was afraid of an explosion, the pilot stayed away from the aircraft, which was ultimately consumed by the fire.
During the investigation, it was determined that the pilot had been having trouble with the aircraft's electrical system for about two months, and during that time, the alternator system had not been charging the battery. He had taken the aircraft to two separate maintenance shops in order to have the problem fixed, but as of the date of the accident, neither shop had been able to successfully fix the problem. According to the pilot, work had been performed on the alternator, voltage regulator, circuit breaker panel, battery box area, and the master switch, and additional parts were on order.
Discussions with the pilot revealed that during the period of time the electrical system was malfunctioning, he continued to fly the aircraft, and continued to turn on the master switch for short periods when the electrical system was needed to start the engine or for radio transmissions. According to the pilot, at the beginning of the flight in which the accident occurred, he elected to use the electrical system to start the engine, but had meant to turn off the master switch after the start. When he smelled the smoke/fumes in flight, he looked down and saw the master switch was still on, and realized he had forgotten to turn it off after starting the engine.
The pilot had not labeled the electrical system/master switch as inoperative, and in his written statement to the NTSB, he said that he felt he "... made a mistake by flying this aircraft with an existing electrical problem."