On November 14, 2004, at 1437 eastern standard time, a Cessna 172, N75776, registered to pending applicant Chicken Hawk, LLC, and operated by the student pilot, nosed over during a precautionary landing in Wilmington, North Carolina. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 with no flight plan filed. Visual meteorological prevailed. The student pilot reported no injuries, and the airplane sustained substantial damage. The local flight departed Wilmington International Airport, Wilmington, North Carolina, about 1400 on November 14, 2004.

According to the student pilot, she flew the airplane at 2000 feet mean sea level (MSL) toward Wrightsville Beach with the intention of practicing ground-reference maneuvers and turns. During cruise flight, the student pilot detected an odor in the cockpit, then she saw smoke coming from a seam in the top of the instrument panel. She stated, "I reviewed the emergency procedures in my POH" [Pilot's Operating Handbook] and notified the Wilmington International Airport, "Mayday, mayday, mayday. I have smoke filling the cockpit." The student pilot stated the tower controller advised her she was 10 miles from the airport, and the controller cleared the flight to land on runway 35. The student pilot proceeded toward the airport. She stated, "The smoke continued to fill the cockpit, and I began preparations for landing and then for an emergency landing. When I realized I would not make the airfield, I went through the emergency procedures for an off-field landing." She located a field for landing and turned the airplane's master switch "off," positioned the fuel selector "off," and turned off the airplane's engine. The student pilot landed the airplane in the field, and during landing roll, the airplane rolled into a drainage ditch and nosed over.

Examination of the airplane revealed it came to rest inverted. The nosewheel was separated, both wing spars were damaged, the vertical stabilizer was crushed, and the horizontal stabilizer was damaged. The "audio amp" circuit breaker was found popped. Examination of the wiring behind the instrument panel revealed no visible evidence of burning. The circuit breaker was reset and the electrical master and avionics were turned on, and the ARC MX-300 radio in the Comm 2 position did not function. No smoke was observed and no odor was detected. The radio was removed for examination, and no evidence of burning was observed inside the radio case.

A review of the Pilot's Operating Handbook for the Cessna 172N revealed no specific procedures for smoke in the cockpit. In Section 3, "Emergency Procedures, Fires," the handbook states, "The initial indication of an electrical fire is usually the odor of burning insulation. The checklist for this problem should result in elimination of the fire." According to the handbook, the checklist procedures for "Electrical Fire In Flight" are: "(1) Master Switch -- OFF. (2) All Other Switches (except ignition switch) -- OFF. (3) Vents/Cabin Air/Heat -- CLOSED. (4) Fire Extinguisher -- ACTIVATE (if available). If the fire appears out and electrical power is necessary for continuance of flight: (5) Master Switch -- ON. (6) Circuit Breakers -- CHECK for faulty circuit, do not reset. (7) Radio/Electrical Switches -- ON one at a time, with delay after each until short circuit is localized. (8) Vents/Cabin Air/Heat -- OPEN when it is ascertained that fire is completely extinguished."

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