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On March 22, 2000, about 1820 eastern standard time, a Cessna 177RG, N1556H, registered to Aircraft Holding Co., LLC, operating as a Title 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight, crashed during an emergency landing at Columbia, South Carolina. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The airplane was destroyed, the private-rated pilot was seriously injured, and a private pilot-rated passenger was fatally injured. The flight originated from the same airport about 10 minutes before the accident.
According to another pilot who was in the landing pattern at Columbia Owens Downtown Airport when N1556H announced on unicom frequency that he was taxiing onto runway 31 for takeoff, intending to stay in the pattern, the departure and crosswind turn appeared normal. The other pilot completed a touch-and-go landing and lost sight of N1556H somewhere during his, (N1556's) downwind leg. The other pilot heard N1556H begin his "on base" call, pause for a few seconds, and then transmit that he was declaring an emergency because of an engine failure, and that he didn't think he could make the field. At about 1850, the other pilot could see that rescue workers were on the scene.
The PIC/owner possessed a private pilot's license with single engine-land and instrument/airplane ratings. The PIC's logbook indicates he had logged 24.7 hours of PIC time in the airplane, and had accumulated a total of 449 flying hours. According to the PIC, although the pilot/passenger held a current private pilot's license, he had not flown, nor was he flying N1556H, at the time of the accident.
Two FAA inspectors interviewed the PIC/owner at the Richland Hospital, Columbia, South Carolina, on April 28, 2000. Any details pertinent to the day of the accident could not be recalled by the PIC. The PIC's submission of NTSB form 6120.1/2 on August 7, 2000, omitted any narrative of the accident. The FAA report of the hospital interview is an attachment to this report.
The airplane had been purchased by the PIC/owner from a private owner and delivered from Caldwell, New Jersey, on December 30, 1999. At the time of the airplane's annual inspection on September 1, 1994, the accumulated tachometer time was 1576.5 hours, and at the time of it's annual on September 9, 1999, tachometer time was 1598.7 hours. The repair station work order associated with the 1999 annual inspection contained the following entries, (1) "Check fuel screen on servo found debris, flushed out with boost pump. Pull and check injectors, flow fuel thru fuel lines to injectors. OK. 2650 (rpm) reached at static run up awaiting pilot report." (2) "Remove gascolator and disassemble. Replace bad plunger valve and shaft o-ring. Reassemble and check for leaks, OK."
According to maintenance records, the left fuel quantity/oil pressure combination gage was replaced in September, 1995, in accordance with Cessna service kit, SK177-55, 58, and 52.
Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. For additional information, see Weather Information on page 4 of this report.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Ground collision occurred about 1/2 mile from the threshold of runway 31, very near runway extended centerline in an area of trees and dense scrub underbrush running along the northern edge of railroad tracks. The airplane's left wingtip first impacted a 70-foot-tall pine tree located about 30 feet north of the northern edge of that railroad bed. Fragments of the fiberglass wingtip remained in the tree. The power supply for the left wingtip strobe light was found on the railroad bed abeam of the tree strike. A distance of about 160 feet further, on a heading of about 310 degrees, the main wreckage was located in the underbrush. The airplane came to rest inverted, intact but heavily battered, about 30 degrees nose down, heading about 320 degrees. The right cabin door had been removed by emergency personnel. About 18 inches aft of the wing trailing edge, the fuselage was bent downward until the vertical stabilizer contacted the ground. The wing fuel tanks had ruptured and both wing leading edges had been crushed flat corresponding to the angle of terrain impact. Fire rescue workers arrived within 7 minutes of the crash prepared to foam the wreckage; however, they reported that the wreckage site or surrounding area lacked any evidence of fuel spill. There was no odor of spilled fuel when they arrived, nor did they observe any leakage from the wings or engine.
The fuel caps and filler ports revealed a proper fit and there were no fuel stains present. There was no evidence of fuel spewage in the foliage and no residual fuel was found in either tank. The wing skin revealed no evidence of hydraulic bulging in the vicinity of the fuel tanks. The right tank's inner walls were dry and the left tank's inner walls revealed only beads of water. The landing gear were in the extended position and the flaps were retracted. The spinner revealed heavy non-rotational crushing. Both propeller blades were contained in the hub and revealed aft bending with little leading edge or rotational damage.
Aileron control continuity was confirmed from the flight controls to the cockpit yoke. Rudder, stabilator, and trim tab control continuity was confirmed from the flight surface to the firewall bulkhead. The stabilator trim was at about 5 degrees tab down. Both pilot's yokes had broken off their push/pull tubes. The lap belts and left side harness had been cut by emergency personnel. The right side harness was intact and found disconnected at the site. The lower attachment stud plastic bushing was missing. The fuel tank selector was positioned to the right tank. The fuel quantity gages indicated 1/8 tank on the right and empty on the left. The lower fuselage mounted twin fuel reservoir tanks were found intact and undamaged. They were drained and contained 1.5 oz. in the right, and 0.5 oz. in the left, of uncontaminated 100LL aviation fuel. The mixture control was 1 5/16 inch out, the throttle was full in, and the prop control was at full increase. Found in the wreckage was a computer generated technical article titled, "Sacramento Sky Ranch RSA Fuel Injection Troubleshooting".
Fuel feed line continuity was confirmed from each fuel tank to the engine- driven fuel pump using compressed air. The electric auxiliary fuel pump was powered and operated normally. The fuel flow divider was missing the inspection seal on the cover screws safety wiring, and the washers under the cover screws appeared new and shiny. The spark plugs exhibited a light gray to whitish coloring, electrode gaps were proper, and wear was minimal. Six quarts of uncontaminated oil were contained in the crankcase. Engine rotation produced compression at all four cylinders, and valve, accessory drive, and gear train continuity was confirmed. Pumping action was observed for fuel and oil. Spark was observed from all magneto towers upon rotation. The magneto timing to valve/piston relationship appeared proper. The induction, exhaust, and alternate air systems revealed no obstructions, and the exhaust pipe interiors were white in color.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Toxicological testing of specimens of the PIC was conducted by Richland Hospital, Columbia, South Carolina. The medical records are an attachment to this report.
Postmortem examination of the passenger was conducted by Dr. Frank E. Barron, III, Richland County Coroner. Cause of death was attributed to multiple trauma due to airplane crash. Toxicological tests of specimens from the passenger were conducted at the Federal Aviation Administration Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. No ethanol was detected. Pseudoephedrine was present in the blood and urine. Ephedrine was present in the blood and urine. Phenylpropanolamine was present in the urine. These substances are present in over-the-counter medications for asthma, hay fever, and cold/cough symptoms. The passenger's widow stated that the passenger suffered the standard allergies and used an inhaler.
TEST AND RESEARCH
At the time of the accident the engine had not been overhauled since new, (1975) and had accumulated about 1621 hours. Textron Lycoming Service Instruction No.SI 1009AN, dated November 4, 1998, specifies time between overhauls for the IO-360-A1B6D series engine as 2,000 hours or 12 years.
According to the PIC, the airplane was last fueled at Orangeburg Municipal Airport, Orangeburg, South Carolina, on March 19, 2000, by himself. The tanks were topped off, and the amount added was 37.5 gallons. The receipt for that transaction is an attachment to this report. He states he does not remember flying the airplane at any time between parking the aircraft at CUB after the 30 minute flight from Orangeburg following the March 19th top off and the accident flight, 3 days later.
According to the widow of the passenger/pilot in the right seat, the aircraft had been acquired by the PIC in January 2000. Immediately before the sale, it had been based in New Jersey and used very little because its owner lost his pilot privileges for medical reasons, (22 hours in the last 5 years). She further stated she was present and observed the fueling of N1556H at Orangeburg on March 19, 2000.
According to Columbia Owens Downtown Airport's (CUB) only fixed-base operator, Midlands Aviation, N1556H became a tie-down customer on January 6, 2000. Midland's records reveal that fuel or oil was never purchased, nor had any maintenance been performed on N1556H by their personnel. On March 3, 2000, the PIC/owner purchased five Lycoming engine intake gaskets and four intake tube o-rings from Midlands parts department.
The fuel tank quantity sender units, as well as the cockpit mounted quantity gages were removed and sent to the Cessna factory for operational analysis, with FAA oversight. The right sender unit revealed evidence of a field repair in that safety wire had been installed to reattach the potentiometer's rear face to the unit, (on March 9, 1976, at a tachometer time of 302.3 hours, the right fuel quantity transmitter was replaced). Electrical resistance testing revealed the potentiometer operated intermittently and erratically throughout most of its movement range, and, "the condition appears to be due to a pre-impact condition." With 14 volts supplied to the system, the right tank quantity gage would stick in the 1/8 to 1/4 fuel remaining position when the potentiometer's wiper arm was actioned from full to empty. Similarly, the needle would hang up at the 1/4 reading when the wiper arm was actioned from empty to full. The left side indicating system revealed normal operation except for indicator impact damage. The Cessna fuel quantity indication system inspection report is an attachment to this report.
The Textron Lycoming IO-360-A1B6D engine, serial number L-13980-51A was shipped to the manufacturer for operational examination, with NTSB and FAA oversight. The engine would not start as received, and the factory found the #1 fuel injector nozzle's feed line B-nut cross-threaded with brass filings on the threads forming the union. Impact damaged components needing replacement included; magneto cover and ignition harness, cover plate in lieu of damaged vacuum pump, cover plate in lieu of damaged propeller governor, No.2 intake pipe, No.1 and No.3 top spark plugs, oil filler tube, and No.1 and No.2 injector nozzle lines. The fuel servo inlet strainer appeared slightly deformed, contained some amount of rust colored sediment, and was replaced with a new strainer. The engine started and ran, but not smoothly. Not until all four injector nozzles were replaced did the engine run smoothly and meet Lycoming operational limits. The fuel system components were removed and sent to the NTSB for further investigation. The Textron Lycoming Engine Test Report is an attachment to this report.
The fuel system components underwent repair station disassembly inspection, with NTSB oversight. Disassembly of the fuel injector servo, (RSA-5AD1, serial no. 510A5) revealed a rust colored sediment, soupy in texture, found on the inlet strainer as well as the periphery of the strainer receptacle, and tested positive for water content. Similarly colored, dried sediment was found on the removed, accident strainer. The same type contaminant was found in the fuel control idle valve recess, as well as in the mixture control side. The cover plate for the regulator assembly had the contaminant caked on its interior recesses. The fuel pump-to-fuel servo and the fuel servo-to-fuel distributor block fuel lines checked satisfactorily, although both line's inner diameters were stained the same rust color.
A sequential series of e-mailings describing troubleshooting procedures for the RG Cardinal's fuel system were provided to the FAA by a friend of the pilot/passenger. The e-mails had been exchanged between February 29 and March 13, 2000, between the pilot/passenger and the friend following an in-flight incident with N1556 where the cockpit fuel flow/pressure gage indication went to zero. Copies of the e-mails are attachments to this report.
On March 24, 2000, the wreckage, minus the Lycoming IO-360 A1B6D engine, serial no. L13980-51A, and the fuel quantity indication components was released to James P. Clark, Claims Management Services, Columbia, South Carolina. The engine, fuel system components, and the fuel quantity indication components were returned to James Clark and signed for on August 29, 2000.