LAX05LA012
LAX05LA012

On October 21, 2004, at 1730 Pacific daylight time, a Beech C24R, N18942, impacted vineyard crops during a forced landing following a loss of engine power while in cruise flight near Cloverdale, California. The airplane was registered to, and operated by, the pilot under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 as a personal flight. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The private pilot and his pilot-rated passenger were not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan had not been filed. The cross-country flight departed Healdsburg, California (O31), at 1720, and was destined for Little River, California (O48).

According to the pilot's written statement, the flight was expected to last 30 minutes. Five minutes after departing Healdsburg, at 2,600 feet, the engine lost power. The pilot established the best glide speed and headed toward Cloverdale. With the assistance of his pilot-rated passenger, he attempted to determine the cause of the power loss. The pilot attempted to restart the engine and was able to obtain a momentary surge of engine power, but nothing else. The pilot then concentrated on the ensuing forced landing.

The pilot attempted to land at the Cloverdale airport, but the glide ratio fell short. The airplane neared a vineyard, and the pilot maintained a wings level attitude avoiding power lines where necessary and maintaining an airspeed above stall. The airplane set down in the vineyard and was halted by trellis wires.

The airplane sustained substantial damage to the wings and horizontal stabilizer. The propeller blades were bent aft. The Sonoma County Sheriff Department personnel, who responded to the accident site, indicated that there was no fuel leak at the accident site. The sheriff department officer visually inspected the fuel tanks upon request from the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC), and reported observing no fuel in the left fuel tank and a nearly full right fuel tank. He also indicated that the airplane was resting nose low and he could not see if there was additional fuel toward the leading edge of the left fuel tank. While at the accident site, the pilot informed the officer that the engine began to run rough and abruptly stopped. The pilot attempted to restart the engine, and switched the fuel selector from the left to the right fuel tank, but the engine would not restart.

The airplane was transported to Lakefront, California. A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector and mechanic examined the airplane, and noted that 1 gallon of fuel remained in the left fuel tank and 11 gallons remained in the right. The FAA inspector reported that the left fuel quantity gage depicted the fuel quantity in the red range past its "E" (empty) point. The right fuel quantity gage depicted the fuel quantity in the yellow range, which was below ½ a tank. The Safety Board IIC asked the mechanic to conduct an inspection of the engine to determine whether there were any problems with the engine's internal mechanisms. The crankshaft was rotated by manually rotating the propeller. The mechanic was able to obtain thumb compression on each cylinder confirming the integrity of the crankshaft, camshaft, connecting rods, pushrods, rocker arms, valves, and accessory section.

The mechanic removed the J.P. Instruments (JPI) engine monitoring unit at the request of the Safety Board IIC and shipped it to the manufacturer to download the non-volatile information. According to the data provided by JPI, the engine's exhaust gas temperature (EGT) and cylinder head temperatures (CHT) remained relatively constant until the EGT decreased drastically near the end of the flight. The EGT spiked up to near the cruise setting twice prior to dropping off entirely. According to JPI, the EGT spikes could be associated with the engine surges noted by the pilot after the loss of engine power.

The fuel system utilizes two 29.9-gallon tanks for a total fuel quantity of 59.8 gallons. The unusable fuel quantity is 1.3 gallons in each tank.

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