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On July 13, 2000, approximately 2140 central daylight time, a Bellanca 17-30A single-engine airplane, N8263R, was destroyed when it impacted trees and terrain during a night forced landing following a loss of engine power near Houston, Texas. The airplane was registered to and operated by private individuals. The private pilot and his passenger were fatally injured. Dark night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan was not filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. The cross-country flight originated from Conroe, Texas, at an unknown time.
The person, who was manning the West Houston Airport's unicom reported that he received a call from the pilot of the accident airplane asking for an "airport advisory." He advised the pilot that the wind was from the south at 6 knots, and the active runway was 15, with left hand traffic. Approximately 3-5 minutes later, the pilot radioed, "West Houston we've lost power requesting emergency landing." The unicom operator asked for the pilot to repeat, at which time the pilot stated, "I have lost power and need to make an emergency landing." That was the last radio transmission the operator heard from the pilot.
The pilot of a helicopter, which was inbound for landing at the West Houston Airport, stated that he heard the pilot of the accident airplane report crossing midfield entering left downwind for runway 15. When he was unable to make visual contact with the airplane, he radioed the pilot to inform him he didn't have him in sight and that he was turning on his landing light. He then heard the pilot call West Houston's unicom and request that the runway lights be turned to high intensity, and stated that he had "lost all the power."
The airplane impacted trees and came to rest in a densely wooded area, approximately 1,400 feet southwest of the approach end of runway 33.
According to FAA records, the pilot was issued a private pilot certificate on September 25, 1987, with an airplane single-engine land rating. The pilot held a third class medical certificate, which was issued on February 14, 2000. The medical certificate stipulated a limitation to wear corrective lenses while operating an aircraft.
A review of the pilot's flight logbook revealed that on May 30, 2000, he completed a biennial flight review in the accident airplane. The logbook also revealed that as of May 30, 2000 (last entry in logbook), the pilot had logged a total flight time of 760.9 hours, of which 35.6 hours were in the accident airplane. The pilot had logged 114.8 flight hours in night conditions and 2.6 flight hours in simulated instrument conditions.
The 1972-model Bellanca 17-30A, was a low wing, four-place airplane, which had retractable tricycle landing gear. The airplane was powered by a Continental IO-520-K engine rated at 300 horsepower, and a Hartzell three-bladed, constant speed-controllable pitch propeller. The pilot and two other individuals purchased the airplane in December 1999.
A review of the airframe and engine records did not reveal evidence of any anomalies or uncorrected maintenance defects. The airplane's last annual inspection was completed on November 3, 1999, at a total aircraft time of 2,479.0 hours. The engine's last 100-hour inspection was completed on November 3, 1999, at 1,119.5 hours since major overhaul. The last recorded maintenance activity on the engine was on April 14, 2000. The oil and filter were changed, and the alternator belt was replaced.
The aircraft's maximum takeoff weight was 3,325 pounds, and an estimate of the weight of the aircraft at the time of the accident placed it within weight and balance limits.
The West Houston Airport (IWS) is located 13 miles west of Houston, at an elevation of 111 feet. The airport has one runway, 15/33. The runway has high intensity runway edge lights and runway end identifier lights, which operate sunset to sunrise (pilot controlled). The rotating beacon, which operates dusk to dawn, and the runway lights were on at the time of the accident. The runway edge lights were set to medium intensity.
WRECKAGE IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located using a global positioning satellite (GPS) receiver at 29 degrees 48.588 minutes north latitude and 95 degrees 40.313 minutes west longitude.
Examination of the accident site revealed that the airplane impacted trees leaving its left wing and left elevator lodged in the trees. The airplane continued through the trees on a magnetic heading of 125 degrees for 61 feet before impacting the ground. The airplane came to rest upright and partially on its right side, on a magnetic heading of 081 degrees. All of the fabric from the firewall aft was burnt off of the airplane. The right wing's forward and aft spars were burnt. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit to both wing roots, the rudder, and the elevator. The fuel selector was destroyed by fire; however, the pointer appeared to be pointing toward the copilot seat.
The engine remained attached to the airframe, and was intact with all of the accessories separated except the propeller governor, magnetos, and starter. Fire damage was noted in all areas, with melting on the rear and bottom of the oil sump. The engine was removed from the airplane and transported to Rite-Way Aviation, Inc., at the David Wayne Hooks Airport neat Spring, Texas, for further examination.
The propeller was separated from the crankshaft with the crankshaft propeller flange still attached to the propeller hub. The propeller was found in the initial ground impact scar with the engine. All of the propeller blades remained attached to the hub. Two of the blades were bent aft and they displayed minimal chordwise scratching.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
On July 14, 2000, an autopsy was performed on the pilot at the Office of the Medical Examiner of Harris County, Houston, Texas. Toxicological testing on the pilot, performed by the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for carbon monoxide, cyanide, and alcohol was negative. The drug cimetidine (an antagonist for gastric ulcers) was detected in the pilot's liver.
TEST AND RESEARCH
The examination of the Continental IO-520-K engine, serial number 209213-72K, revealed that both magnetos had sustained fire damage. The left magneto would not rotate, and the right magneto would rotate, but no spark was noted. Both magnetos were dissembled, and they both had internal fire damage and melting. The fuel pump vanes and drive coupling were intact, the remainder of the fuel pump was destroyed by fire, and the oil pump was partially melted. The interior of the crankcase was coated with oil. The rear of the crankshaft was dry, and it had sustained heat damage. The connecting rods were intact and free to rotate on the crankshaft. The camshaft was intact and not damaged. All cylinders were intact with fire damage. The vacuum pump had fire and impact damage. The examination of the engine did not reveal any anomalies that would have resulted in a loss of power.
The airplane was released to the owner's representative on July 17, 2000.