On May 31, 2002, at 1730 central daylight time, a Piper PA-24-250, N5360P, piloted by a private pilot, was substantially damaged when the landing gear collapsed during a forced landing on a wheat field following a total loss of engine power. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 and was not on a flight plan. The pilot and three passengers were uninjured. The flight originated from the Sparta Community-Hunter Field Airport (SAR), Sparta, Illinois at 1700 and was en route to the Eldon Model Airpark Airport, Eldon, Missouri.

A witness reported that he observed the accident airplane during run-up and he stated that the airplane was idling very well prior to departure.

The pilot stated in his written statement that 15 minutes after departing SAR, at 6,500 feet, the engine, "...acted over-lean adjustments didn't seem to help. I then turned around to return to SAR. Lost electronics after turn around near Red Bud IL. I was holding 6,500 over Red Bud IL. Engine started running worst. But was still running somewhat. Over Ballwin IL I was down to around 4,000 ft. [and] preparing for landing and thought I located a good field, I then engaged landing gear manually, turned fuel off, master-switched to off and landed safely, however landing gear collapsed."

The pilot reported that when the engine started to run rough, the airplane was over the Festus Memorial Airport (FES), Festus, Missouri. FES is served by runway 18/36 (2,202 feet by 49 feet, asphalt) and is approximately 35 nautical miles to the west of SAR.

The Federal Aviation Administration inspector's examination of the Lycoming O-540-AID5 engine, serial number L-3749-40, revealed that the number five cylinder had separated from the engine, and the number two cylinder was loose. The number five cylinder's studs had remaining threads while the number two cylinder's studs were sheared.

The number three cylinder was replaced during its last annual inspection on October 5, 2001. No recorded maintenance on the number five cylinder had been done since the engine was installed on the accident airplane five years prior to the accident. Torque checks on all the cylinder studs were found to be within tolerances four years prior to the accident. The engine was last overhauled on November 1, 1988 and installed on the accident airplane approximately 10 years later with an accumulated time of approximately 100 hours since overhaul. At the time of the accident, the engine had a total of 526 hours since overhaul.

According to the Textron Lycoming Service Instruction number 1009AQ, Recommended Time Between Overhaul Periods:
"Engine deterioration in the form of corrosion (rust) and the drying out and hardening of composition materials such as gaskets, seals, flexible houses and fuel pump diaphragms can occur if an engine is out of service for an extended period of time. Due to the loss of a protective oil film after an extended period of inactivity, abnormal wear on soft metal bearing surfaces can occur during engine start. Therefore, all engines that do not accumulate the hourly period of time between overhauls specified in this publication are recommended to be overhauled in the twelfth year."

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