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On October 26, 2000, about 1105 hours Pacific daylight time, a Grumman American AA-5A, N26470, made an off airport forced landing in Gardena, California. The private pilot/owner was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The pilot sustained serious injuries and two persons on the ground sustained minor injuries; the airplane sustained substantial damage. The local personal flight departed the airport at Hawthorne, California, about 2 minutes prior to the accident. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed.
The pilot stated that maintenance had just been completed on a cylinder and the carburetor, and this was to be the test flight. He completed a run up, took off to an altitude of 10 feet, and then landed in order to be safe and check the airplane out. He stated that everything seemed normal, so he taxied back and completed another run up. The run up was unremarkeable so he decided to takeoff for a short flight. He departed and, as he reached 400 feet, the engine lost power.
The pilot said he pushed the nose over to maintain airspeed. He tried to restart the engine by hitting the starter button, but the engine did not restart. He looked at the instrument panel, but could not discern anything out of the ordinary. He made small left turns to determine if he could return to the airport, but decided he could not make it due to the low altitude. He looked for a landing zone that did not have people around it and headed for a flood control channel. The airplane's landing gear hit power line wires and a witness saw sparks. The airplane dragged a line with it as it passed over a business. The airplane came to rest on a service road next to the flood control channel.
The airplane caught fire after coming to rest. Rescuers reported there were some flames in the cockpit, but most of the fire was on the ground by the left side of the engine. The rescuers used fire extinguishers and a water hose to control the flames and prevent further injury to the pilot.
The pilot was conscious and moving, but couldn't release his seat belt. There was a lap belt, but not a shoulder harness. One of the rescuers couldn't release the seat belt, so he cut it. The canopy was closed and the windscreen was broken. The rescuer couldn't open the canopy and had to pull the pilot out through the broken windshield. One rescuer, who was transported to the hospital with cuts, burns, and lung congestion, was released that evening. Another rescuer transported himself for a checkup for lung congestion.
A review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman records revealed the pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. The pilot held a third-class medical certificate that was issued on October 30, 1998; it had no limitations or waivers. The pilot indicated he had a total flight time of 1,079 hours. He logged 4 hours in the last 90 days, and 2 in the last 30 days. He had 849 hours in this make and model.
The airplane was a Grumman AA-5A, serial number AA5A-0614. The pilot reported a total airframe time of 3,750 hours. An annual inspection was completed on March 24, 2000.
The airplane had a Textron Lycoming O-320-E2G engine, serial number L-48052-27A, installed. Total time on the airframe and engine at the annual inspection was 3,700 hours; time since overhaul was 736 hours at the annual.
A review of the airplane and engine maintenance records indicated that on September 9, 2000, the recorded time since major overhaul was 747 hours at a tachometer time of 1,977.9. The entry for that date stated that all cylinders had a compression ratio greater than 70/80. The left magneto was removed, the points were reset, and then the magneto was reinstalled. The carburetor was removed, disassembled, and cleaned. The entry noted installation of a new mixture control metering valve, pump inlet check valve, pump discharge check valve, and main discharge nozzle. The float level was reset, and the carburetor was reassembled and installed. The entry noted that the engine was run up and the mechanic adjusted the idle speed and mixture.
An entry in the logbooks dated October 13, 2000, stated that cylinder number 3 had been removed. It had a worn valve guide and collapsed exhaust valve spring. The entry recorded installation of a new exhaust guide. The intake and exhaust valves had been cleaned and faced; the valve seats had been ground and lapped. The cylinder was installed with new seals and gaskets. The number 2 cylinder push rod was changed due to excessive clearance. The tachometer entry was 1,979.3.
The tachometer read 1,979.48 at the accident site.
A routine aviation weather report (METAR) for Hawthorne (HHR) was issued at 1105 PDT. It stated: skies 500 feet scattered; visibility 10 miles; winds from 290 degrees at 6 knots; temperature 64 degrees Fahrenheit; dew point 52 degrees Fahrenheit; and altimeter 29.00 inHg.
The pilot was in contact with Hawthorne tower on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency of 121.1.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane came to rest on a service road behind commercial shops. The nose gear had collapsed and the bottom of the engine cowling was on the ground. Both fuel tanks were punctured, but the Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) estimated that several gallons of a blue fluid that smelled like aviation gasoline remained in the right tank.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Investigators from the Safety Board, the FAA, and Textron Lycoming examined the wreckage at Aircraft Recovery Service, Compton, California.
The throttle and mixture handles were full forward. The primer was in the locked position. The carburetor heat handle was forward in the off (cold) position. The magneto switch was in the both position. The fuel pump switch was in the on position.
The fuel selector valve was in the right position. The fuel sump contained water. Investigators disconnected the fuel inlet line to the carburetor, blew into the line, and did not hear or see any leaks in the lines or at the fuel selector valve.
The electric fuel pump and its attached fuel lines sustained thermal damage and were partially consumed by the post crash fire.
Investigators removed the engine. They slung it from a hoist and removed the spark plugs. They manually rotated the engine. All valves moved in sequence, the vacuum pump and accessory gears turned freely, and they obtained thumb compression on all cylinders in firing order. The fuel pump operating arm moved up and down, and the throttle moved freely.
The spark plug electrodes were gray in color except the bottom plugs for cylinders No. 2 and 4, which were slightly oily. The engine lay on its right side during recovery. The gray color corresponded to normal operation according to the Champion Aviation Check-A-Plug AV-27 Chart.
The carburetor was sent to Precision Airmotive for examination under the supervision of the FAA. Their inspection report noted that the throttle and mixture controls rotated. The unit was fire damaged and covered with a yellow and black crust. The throat was clean, but they were unable to flow test the unit due to dirt, sand, and tan colored contamination in the inlet screen and housing.
Precision did not remove the venturi because the float was glued in place by contamination. The float had no adjustment tab and had the wrong retractor clip installed. The float valve needle, seat, float, and clip were glued together by light brown contamination. A large drip of material was hanging off the float valve down into the bowl. The FAA inspector noted that they concluded that the contamination was most likely melted material from upstream in the fuel line. The accelerator pump, check valves, and screen were satisfactory.
The magnetos sustained thermal damage and were sent to Unison Industries for examination under the supervision of the FAA. The following paragraphs are a summary of their report.
Magneto 4281, serial number 4060081, was installed on the left side and could not be test run due to shaft and heat damage. The distributor block and capacitor were unserviceable due to thermal damage. They observed that the rotor shaft was bent 20 degrees and the bearings would not turn. They inspected the interior of the magneto and noted that it was in good physical condition and appeared to have accrued a low number of hours.
Magneto 4250, serial number 4020221, was installed on the right side and exhibited severe heat and fire damage. The distributor block and capacitor had melted. They examined the interior of the magneto and it was in good physical condition and appeared to have accrued a low number of hours. They attached a serviceable housing cover, which included a distributor block and capacitor, to the magneto's frame. The magneto produced and sustained a normal running spark from 350 rpm through 2,800 rpm.
The Safety Board IIC released the retained components to the owner's representative.