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On December 20, 2002, at 2103 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-32R-301T, N8168G, was destroyed after it impacted terrain in Woodbury, Connecticut, shortly after the pilot reported an in-flight engine fire while in cruise flight. The certificated commercial pilot and the passenger were fatally injured. No flight plan was filed for the flight that originated at Rutland State Airport (RUT), Rutland, Vermont, about 2010, destined for Republic Airport (FRG), Farmingdale, New York. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
A review of air traffic control (ATC) communications revealed that the pilot contacted New York Terminal Approach Control (TRACON), at 2059:41, and reported that he was level at an altitude of 6,500 feet.
Less than a minute later, the pilot declared an emergency; and reported heavy smoke in the cockpit and an engine fire. The approach controller immediately directed the airplane to Waterbury-Oxford Airport (OXC), Waterbury, Connecticut. The approach controller then coordinated with the tower controller at Waterbury-Oxford, and reported that the airplane was 5 miles northwest of the airport, descending out of 5,500 feet.
The tower controller stated that he turned up the runway lights, and called airport emergency personnel. He then made visual contact with the airplane, and saw that all its lights were on, it was in a descent, and it appeared to be setting up for a left downwind entry to runway 36. The tower controller scanned the airplane with binoculars and noticed nothing unusual.
The tower controller then turned his attention away from the airplane to inform the approach controller that he had the airplane in sight, and was now ready to handle it. The approach controller responded that the he had cleared the airplane to land on any runway.
The tower controller again made visual contact with the airplane, which still appeared to be entering a close-in left downwind for runway 36. He noticed that the airplane was now engulfed in yellow flames around the engine area. The flames dissipated slightly, then the airplane began a "steep fall toward the east", about 2103. The tower controller never received any radio transmissions from the airplane.
According to a witness, a retired police officer, he was about to step out onto his back deck when a small airplane flew past him from left to right, in a fast, steep descent. The airplane was about 10 feet away, and 20-25 feet above him. The front of the airplane was on fire, and he observed a "red glow." He did not see smoke, and did not hear the engine running. He only heard the sound of rushing air as the airplane passed by. He lost sight of the airplane behind trees, then heard the sound of the impact.
A second witness, who lived next door to the first witness, reported that she was in her home when she heard an airplane flying "excessively" close to her home, and sounded like "it was sputtering maybe with engine problems." She ran to her back door, looked outside, and saw the airplane fly past her from left to right, then crash into her backyard and burst into flames. The witness observed flames near the front of the airplane prior to impact.
A third witness, who lived across the street from the other witnesses, stated that she was in her home when she heard a very loud swishing sound, and thought it was a speeding truck out of control. When she looked out her kitchen window, she saw what appeared to be a meteor pass by from left to right. The object was dark in the middle, with a red or orange glow around its edge. It was in a steep descent, and appeared to fall straight down before it impacted the ground. It wasn't until later that she learned that the object was an airplane.
The accident occurred during the hours of darkness approximately 41 degrees, 31 minutes north latitude, and 73 degrees, 10 minutes west longitude.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine and multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. He also held a certified flight instructor rating for airplane single engine land and instrument airplane. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first class medical certificate was issued on February 22, 2002. At that time, he reported a total of 1,200 flight hours.
The pilot's logbook was not made available for review.
The accident airplane, was a Piper Saratoga II, single-engine, low-wing airplane with retractable landing gear. The airplane was manufactured by Piper Aircraft Corporation in December 1992.
The engine was overhauled with new cylinders, as well as an overhauled starter, fuel pump, fuel servo, magneto, oil cooler, and turbocharger, on September 16, 2002. At the time of the overhaul, the engine was test-run without the turbocharger installed, and no leaks were noted.
The engine was reinstalled on the airplane on October 2, 2002. At that time, an annual inspection was performed at an aircraft total time of 2,504 hours, and the tachometer was replaced and set at zero hours. After the engine was installed, the engine was test-run under various power settings and lengths of time, both on the ground and in the air, and no leaks were noted.
On October 28, 2002, the oil filter was changed at an aircraft total time was 2,527.4 hours, and tachometer reading of 23.3 hours. After the filter was changed, the engine was test-run at various power settings and lengths of time, and no leaks were noted.
The Hobbs meter and tachometer were both destroyed in the accident. According to the registered owner, the airplane was flown approximately 17 hours after the oil filter was changed.
The airplane was fueled with 50 gallons of 100LL aviation fuel on the evening of the accident at Rutland Airport. According to line personnel, who serviced the airplane, it was dark that evening, but they didn't notice any pools or streaking of oil on or around the airplane. In addition, they did not add oil to the engine, nor did they see anyone add oil to the engine.
Weather at Waterbury-Oxford Airport, at 2055, included winds from 320 degrees at 6 knots, broken clouds at 12,000 feet, temperature 39 degrees F, dewpoint 33 degrees F, and the barometric pressure setting was 29.44 inches HG.
The airplane wreckage was examined at the accident site on December 21-22, 2002. All major components were accounted for at the scene. The airplane came to rest inverted, and was aligned in a general direction of 110 degrees magnetic. There was a post-impact fire.
Airplane debris and wreckage were scattered primarily over two residential backyards, in a general direction of 147 degrees magnetic.
The main wreckage was located in the first backyard, at the base of some pine trees separating the two properties. The lower portion of the forward cargo door and 11 empty and partially empty containers of aviation oil were also located in the first backyard.
All eleven containers of oil exhibited heat deformation signatures, which included bubbling and stretching of the plastic along the top, angular area of the bottle neck. Some of the containers exhibited more heat damage than the others, and were coated with oil.
All three landing gear, a section of fuel tank, a burned rudder pedal, a burned interior section of nose gear landing door panel, and smaller sections of aircraft structure were located in the second backyard.
The main wreckage consisted of the engine, fuselage, tail section, and both wings. Three-quarters of the engine was buried in the muddy ground.
The fuselage was pushed aft, toward the tail section, and both wings sustained leading edge compression damage. The tail section remained intact, and exhibited impact and fire damage.
The airplane wreckage was examined on January 7-9, 2003, and again on January 29-30, 2003. Examination of the wreckage revealed that the majority of in-flight fire damage was located on the right side of the airplane, from the engine cowling, back to the right passenger door.
The aft cargo doors (left side) and the main cabin door (right side) were separated from the airplane and located near the main wreckage. The cargo doors were both found in the latched position. The main cabin door top latch was found latched, and the bottom latch was found unlatched.
The main cabin door had extensive impact and fire damage. The paint on the lower portion of the door was discolored black/brown along the entire lower edge, and extended 5-inches up from the bottom of the door. Along the trailing edge of the door, the paint discoloration extended up to 9-inches from the bottom of the door. There was soot and aluminum splatter found on the outer surface of the door in a pattern, consistent with airflow over the surface of the door.
The top portion of the main cabin door was separated from the rest of the door, and was heavily fire damaged. The paint was missing over most of the surface, and the aluminum was brittle. The inside of the door had some paint and metal discolorations on the rear portion of the door lower edge. The lining was missing over most of the inner door surface. The remaining portion of lining and insulation were heavily sooted and fire damaged.
Examination of the lower portion of the forward cargo door (right side) revealed soot, and what appeared to be aluminum splatter on the exterior side of the door in the direction of the slip stream. The latch was in the locked position, and soot stains were noted exiting the right side of the latch and swept aft. The top portion of the door, an approximately 6-inch by 3-inch section, which included the hinge, was never located. The top edge the door was melted.
The leading edge of the right wing exhibited sooting and aluminum splatter, consistent with the airflow over the wing during flight. Soot and aluminum splatter were also noted on the right horizontal stabilizer.
Several pieces of the top engine cowling, which were made of fiberglass, were identified. Some of the pieces exhibited sooting.
Two pieces of the lower right portion of the engine cowling, outboard of the turbocharger, were recovered. One of the larger pieces had two burn spots on the interior side, and light soot deposits on the exterior. Almost no other recognizable portions of the lower left cowling were recovered.
There were two top louvers installed on the top left and right of the engine cowling, which were made of aluminum. The right louver was never recovered. The left louver exhibited discoloring, paint blistering and sooting to several of the aft-positioned fins, where it vented the accessory section. The forward-positioned fins, which vented the area over the engine cylinders, was not discolored.
There were two bottom louvers installed near the rearmost section of the lower engine cowling; one the right side and one on the left side. The purpose of these louvers was to vent the accessory section. The right side louver was not recovered, and the left side louver exhibited paint blistering and soot.
Continuity of the fuel system, from the firewall forward, was established except for the right side fuel block, which was never located.
Each of the fuel injector nozzles were blocked or partially blocked with dirt and water.
Examination of some of the fuel line fittings on the left side of the engine revealed they were loose.
The fuel pump remained attached to the engine, but the top adjustment housing was separated from impact. The top section of each of the four fillister-head screws that secured the cap to the pump were separated near the top of the fuel pump housing spacer, and were never located. The fuel pump was examined at the Safety Board's Materials Laboratory, Washington DC. Examination of the fractured surfaces of the remaining portion of the fractured screws was consistent with overload.
In addition, visual examination of the fracture surface on the fuel pump top adjustment housing revealed that it also had features consistent with overstress. The lack of discoloration of the fracture surface was consistent with damage occurring during/following impact, at low temperatures. The surface where the four fillister-head screws contacted the housing did not reveal fretting damage.
All components of the oil system were accounted for. The oil filter was crushed, exhibited heat damage and the paint was discolored brown/black. The painted area of the engine case forward and to the left of the oil filter was not heat damaged.
The engine suction screen was absent of debris.
All major components of the exhaust system were accounted for, and no mechanical deficiencies were noted.
The turbocharger was impact- and heat-damaged, but there were no indications of staining or coking on any of its surfaces. The turbocharger was disassembled at the Safety Board Materials Laboratory, and no mechanical deficiencies or damage from reduced or insufficient oil supply were noted.
The outlet side of the turbocharger oil supply line, with a partially intact check-valve and B-nut, were also examined at the Safety Board's Material's Laboratory. The outlet side of the oil supply line was fractured at the check-valve, and the mating half of the check-valve was still contained in the turbocharger inlet adapter. The fracture propagated at a 45-degree angle to the surface with rough features, consistent with overstress. The threads adjacent to the fracture of the check-valve were elongated on one side and compressed on the other side, indicative of bending loads. The bending axis was in a similar orientation as the bend in the line.
The section of oil supply line with the check-valve and B-nut was exposed to heat. The B-nut was finger loose and appeared to be fully engaged with the check valve.
Visual and scanning electron microscope (SEM) examination of the external threads of the check-valve revealed that they were cross-threaded, and the tip of the valve contained a region of smearing from non-uniform contact. The damage to the threads increased near the ferrule side. When the B-nut was re-assembled, only the last few threads would fully engaged. The interfacing threads of the B-nut did not reveal corresponding damage.
Examination of the surface of the oil line ferrule that contacted the tip of the check valve showed a non-uniform spiral pattern that was non-concentric. The pattern varied from approximately 0.025-inches from the inner diameter to 0.055-inches from the inner diameter with an approximate radius between 0.33-0.36-inches, which was close in diameter to the check-valve inner chamfer (approximately 0.31-inches). The ferrule also contained several deep gouges near the outer diameter in a circumferential pattern at a diameter of approximately 0.426-inches. The check-valve outer chamfer diameter near the threads was approximately 0.474-inches, which was much larger than the area of circumferential damage.
Comparison of the inlet and exit ferrule on the oil line by visual examination and optical comparator revealed that the outer diameter surface at the exit ferrule was not flat, but was deformed up near the face where contact was made with the B-nut. The B-nut contact face itself was also rubbed all the way around, but was much heavier on one side. SEM examination of the B-nut contact face of the exit ferrule revealed that two locations on opposite sides of the ferrule exhibited evidence of rubbing in the circumferential direction, consistent with torquing the B-nut on the ferrule.
The inlet ferrule outer diameter and B-nut contact face were relatively undamaged.
The oil supply line had been replaced during the engine overhaul, and the check-valve was not. There was no record of it ever having been replaced.
The engine was disassembled on March 11, 2003, under the supervision of the Safety Board. The entire engine sustained extensive impact and fire damage, and could not be rotated.
The interior of the engine was coated with a light-colored oil. However, no bearing damage analogous to a lack of lubrication was noted in any part of the engine.
The magnesium oil sump was partially melted, and only a small portion of the sump remained.
The dual magneto and harness sustained impact and fire damage, and could not be tested.
Examination of the spark plugs revealed that each plug exhibited exterior heat damage, and the #1 and #2 top plugs were broken. In addition, the #2, #3, and #5 bottom plugs were also broken.
The propeller hub assembly was separated from the engine and exhibited extensive impact damage. One blade remained attached, was loose in the hub, bent aft, with leading edge and trailing edge nicks along the entire length of the blade. The second blade was relatively straight, with some damage near the tip. The third blade was bent slightly aft, with leading edge and trailing edge damage on the outboard section of the blade. All three blades exhibited some exposure to heat.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Autopsies were performed on the pilot and the passenger, on December 22, 2002, by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Farmington, Connecticut.
Toxicological testing was performed by the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The airplane was severely damaged due to impact with the ground and the subsequent post crash fire. In addition to the post crash fire, magnesium engine parts were exposed to water during fire fighting efforts, which caused additional damage to portions of the engine and accessories.
The airplane wreckage was released on August 22, 2003, to a representative of the owner's insurance company.
At the time of the accident, airworthiness directive (AD) 98-18-12, was in effect, and concerned Textron Lycoming reciprocating engines with certain Crane/Lear Romec "AN" rotary fuel pumps installed. It addressed the torque of the screws on the plate of the fuel pump. The action required initial and repetitive torque check inspections of pump relief valve attaching screws. In addition, if the torque remained within acceptable values after two inspections, the repetitive torque check inspections could have been terminated. The amendment was prompted by reports of in-flight engine fires caused by leaking rotary fuel pumps. The actions specified in the AD were intended to prevent rotary fuel pump leaks, which could have resulted in an engine failure, engine fire, and damage to or loss of the aircraft.
An examination of the maintenance records revealed that AD 98-18-12 had been complied with.
In June 2003, the FAA issued AD 2003-14-03, which superceded AD-98-18-12. That AD required initial and follow-up torque check inspections of pump relief valve attaching screws. The amendment required the same initial and follow-up torque check inspections of relief valve attaching screws and added, as a terminating action, replacement of the affected fuel pump at or before the overhaul interval, with a fuel pump having a new design valve housing. The amendment was prompted by the introduction of a new design pump relief valve housing and associated parts that provided enhanced resistance to fuel leakage, and the need for clarification of the requirements of the current AD. The actions specified by the AD were intended to prevent rotary fuel pump leaks, which could have resulted in an engine failure, engine fire, and damage to or loss of aircraft.