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On January 22, 2002, at 1010 mountain standard time, a Cessna 177 single-engine airplane, N29406, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain following a loss of engine power while in the traffic pattern at the Farmington Four Corners Regional Airport, Farmington, New Mexico. The airplane was co-owned by the pilot and another individual and was being operated by the pilot. The private pilot sustained serious injuries, and the passenger sustained fatal injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan was filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 business flight. The cross-country flight originated from the Tradewind Airport, Amarillo, Texas, at 0515 mountain standard time, and was destined for Farmington.
According to a line service agent at the Tradewind Airport, on the evening prior to the accident flight, the pilot had the airplane fueled with 41.7 gallons of 100LL aviation grade fuel, which topped off the fuel tanks. According to a flight plan located in the airplane, the pilot had estimated that he had 5.0 hours of fuel on board prior to departing for Farmington. The flight plan also revealed that the pilot estimated that total flight time would be 3 hours and 45 minutes at an altitude of 10,000 feet and an airspeed of 100 knots. The co-owner reported that the pilot planned on flying the airplane to the south of the mountain range between Amarillo and Farmington, by way of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition, the co-owner stated this was the first cross-country flight to Farmington attempted by the pilot.
The Farmington air traffic controller stated that when the airplane was on a right downwind for runway 7, the pilot announced that he "lost an engine." The controller then cleared the pilot to land on runway 5. Witnesses observed the airplane on final approach and noticed not hearing any engine noise. The airplane impacted sloping terrain on the approach end of runway 5, approximately 30 feet below the top of the mesa the airport was located on.
According to a flight log found in the airplane and the Hobbs meter, the accident flight was 4.9 hours long.
In a telephone interview, conducted by an NTSB investigator on April 2, 2002, the pilot stated that he completed his flight planning the night before the accident flight. The pilot expressed that he was concerned about the "high mountain ridge" between Amarillo and Farmington, because he had never flown that route or to that area before. During the accident flight, the airplane's ground speed was approximately 120 to 125 knots, due to a slight crosswind through the mountains. The pilot stated the typical ground speed of the airplane during cruise flight was 130 to 135 knots. Prior to their arrival at Farmington, the pilot reported that the fuel gauges indicated 1/4 tank of fuel in each tank. The pilot was unable to recall the final 10 minutes of the accident flight.
The pilot was issued a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating on July 6, 2001. Review of the pilot's logbook revealed that he had accumulated a total of 140 flight hours, of which 96 hours were in the accident airplane. According to the flight log found in the airplane, the pilot had accumulated 2.0 hours of flight time in the preceding 30 days. The pilot had logged a total of 70.6 hours of cross-country flight time. The pilot was issued a third class medical certificate with no limitations on March 1, 2001.
The 1968-model Cessna 177 Cardinal was equipped with a Lycoming O-320-E2D engine and a fixed-pitch 2-bladed McCauley propeller. The airplane was equipped with two integral wing fuel tanks, each containing 24 gallons of usable fuel, yielding a total usable fuel capacity of 48 gallons. The fuel tanks had an unusable fuel quantity of 0.5 gallons each.
Review of the aircraft's maintenance records revealed that the airplane underwent its last annual inspection on January 12, 2002, at an aircraft and engine total time of 2,179.3 hours. The engine was last overhauled on May 9, 1988, at an airframe and engine total time of 1,535.8 hours. The total time of the engine and airframe at the time of the accident was 2,185.7 hours.
A Garmin hand-held global positioning system (GPS) was mounted to the right side control column. The airplane was not equipped with shoulder harnesses, nor was it required to be.
At 0953, the weather observation facility located at Farmington reported the wind from 120 degrees at 7 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, sky clear, temperature 2 degrees Celsius, dew point -11 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 29.87 inches of mercury.
The Farmington Four Corners Regional Airport was built on top of a mesa. The approach end of runway 5, which is 6,500 feet long and 150 feet wide, has a 1,000-foot undeveloped level area prior to the runway threshold. The approach end of the undeveloped area descends approximately 300 feet at a 30-degree slope.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane came to rest upright, on a heading of approximately 10 degrees to the right of the centerline of runway 5, and approximately 10 degrees nose up. The airplane was approximately 1,000 feet short of the runway threshold on the mesa slope. The bottom side of the engine cowling and cockpit fuselage were crushed upward, and the nose landing gear was crushed aft. The wing carry-through structure was structurally damaged, and the right main landing gear was bent upward and aft, and its wheel was separated. The wings and empennage sustained minimal damage. The propeller remained attached to the engine, and the engine remained attached to the fuselage. The propeller blades displayed no rotational scoring, and both tips were bent slightly aft. The propeller spinner did not display evidence of rotational scoring and was crushed upward on the bottom side.
The cockpit was examined, and it was noted that the throttle was positioned approximately one inch aft of the full forward position, and the mixture control and carburetor heat controls were found in the full forward position. The fuel selector handle was broken off; however, its separated surfaces displayed 45-degree shear lips. When the two shear lips were mated, the fuel selector handle was positioned to the right fuel tank. The ignition switch, master switch, and auxiliary fuel pump switch were found in the OFF position; however, one of the first responders stated that they were in the ON position when he arrived, and he had turned them to the OFF position. The first responder added that they heard a humming noise, and when they turned the switches off, the noise went away immediately. The instrument panel sustained impact damage.
The FAA inspector removed the fuel caps upon his arrival to the accident site and noted that the fuel tanks were empty. The first responders added that they did not smell an odor of fuel or notice fuel leaking from the airplane when they arrived on scene.
The airplane was lifted by a crane to the top of the mesa and was transported to an airport ramp for further examination. The flap actuator was examined and it was found in the retracted position. The fuel tanks were examined on level ground and were again found to be empty and intact. The engine cowling was removed and the oil dipstick was removed. Oil coated the dipstick to the 6-quart quantity level. All eight spark plugs were removed from the four cylinders. The electrodes displayed an oval wear pattern and a "normal" combustion pattern when compared to the Champion Spark Plug Wear Guide. The spark plugs were reattached to their respective ignition leads, and the magnetos were removed. The left magneto drive gear was rotated by hand and a spark was noted on four of the spark plugs. The right magneto was rotated using a cordless drill and sparks were noted on the other four spark plugs. The carburetor was separated from its mounting flange, and its accelerator pump housing was fractured. The accelerator pump was intact and displayed a clean, new-appearing seal. The carburetor remained attached to its inlet lines, and was removed by the NTSB investigators. The carburetor inlet filter was removed, examined and was found to be clear of contaminants. The carburetor bowl was intact and the carburetor floats were in place and undamaged. A nominal amount of fluid, which contained brown soot, was found in the bottom of the bowl. Approximately 1/4 cup of blue fluid was drained from the gascolator. The auxiliary fuel pump was turned on and was heard operating; however, no fuel exited its output line. The propeller was rotated manually and crankshaft continuity, valve operation, and thumb compression were all verified.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The hand-held GPS was shipped to Garmin's manufacturing facility to check for non-volatile information. The GPS stored the accident flight along with 8 others in its database. The GPS started tracking the accident flight approximately 7.7 miles from Tradewind Airport at 0537 Mountain Standard Time. The start, taxi, and takeoff were not recorded on the GPS, indicating that it was not turned on until after departing the Tradewind Airport. The GPS recorded the remainder of the flight until 1009 Mountain Standard Time.
The wreckage was released to the owner's representative on January 29, 2002.