On November 15, 2001, at 1816 eastern standard time, a Cessna 172S, N346ME, was destroyed by an explosion and fire on the taxiway at Leesburg Executive Airport (JYO), Leesburg, Virginia. The certificated commercial pilot/owner was seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules flight plan had been filed for a flight to Montgomery County Airpark (GAI), Gaithersburg, Maryland. The personal flight was to be conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
According to the pilot, the purpose of the flight was to fly to a nearby airport, pick up a passenger, and return to Leesburg. He had not planned to fly that night, but was doing a favor for a friend.
The airplane had been loaded for a fishing trip planned for the following day. The pilot had planned to fly to Ocracoke Island Airport (W95) on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, do some fishing, and return the same day.
The airplane was loaded with fishing gear, camping gear, and a 15-gallon auxiliary supply of 100LL aviation gasoline. The aviation gasoline was distributed between four, five-gallon fuel cans. The fuel cans and the gear were secured under a cargo net in the airplane 2 days prior to the accident.
The pilot completed his preflight inspection with no anomalies noted. He visually confirmed the fuel quantity in both wing tanks, and checked the security of the cargo in the back of the airplane. There was no evidence of fuel spillage and no odor of fuel in the cabin of the airplane.
The pilot started the engine and taxied to the run-up area at the approach end of runway 35. He applied the parking brake, and started the takeoff checklist. He didn't recall how far he got in the checklist before there was an "overwhelming fuel smell...It was not there one second and then there was a strong odor of fuel."
The pilot shut down the engine with the mixture but left the master switch and the lights on. He looked for fuel on the floor of the cabin, but I couldn't see anything.
The pilot unbuckled his seat belt, opened the door, and stepped out of the aircraft. He never closed the door, but was facing the airplane and putting his hand on the door when the cabin exploded. A ball of flame came out of the door and blew him backwards, onto his back. All he could see was the entire cockpit engulfed in flames. He then took his cell phone out of his pocket and called 911.
In a written statement, the pilot also noted that the "ignition appeared to come from the cockpit area."
The pilot was asked if the fixed base operator at Leesburg Airport had serviced the fuel cans in the airplane. He said no. The pilot explained that he siphoned the fuel from his airplane, which was full, into the fuel cans. He then had the airplane's fuel tanks filled to the top. An examination of fuel records revealed that the airplane was serviced with 22.7 gallons of fuel the day before the accident.
Examination of the wreckage revealed that the cockpit, cabin area, empennage, and the right wing were consumed by fire. The engine and accessories forward of the firewall were undamaged.
The airplane was purchased new by the pilot in September 2000, and had accrued 350 hours since that date. The most recent annual inspection was completed on October 16, 2001, and the airplane had accrued 10 hours of flight time since that date.
During the interview, the pilot was asked why he carried auxiliary fuel in non-crashworthy fuel cans in the passenger compartment of the airplane. He said that after a direct flight from Leesburg to Ocracoke Airport, the airplane had approximately 1 hour of fuel endurance remaining. The pilot said there were no fuel services available at Ocracoke, and that the additional fuel onboard provided an extra hour and some "peace of mind" for the first leg of the return trip.
The pilot said he would normally stop in the Norfolk/Newport News, Virginia area for fuel before returning to Leesburg. During the interview, a survey of several airports within 50 miles of Ocracoke revealed fuel services were available, and that the pilot carried the credit card honored by the fuel vendors. The pilot said he was not aware that fuel services were available at those airports.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land and instrument airplane. He reported 424 hours of flight experience, 400 hours of which were in make and model.
At 1842, the weather at Leesburg was clear skies, calm winds, and 10 miles of visibility. The temperature was 59 degrees and the dewpoint was 39 degrees.