WPR09LA082
WPR09LA082

On January 14, 2009, about 1425 Pacific standard time, a Stits Flut-R-Bug, SA6B, N3129, experienced a partial loss of engine power during initial climb from a public road about 2 miles north of Los Olivos, California. After being airborne less than 1 minute, the experimental category airplane collided with an oak tree that was adjacent to the road. The airplane was substantially damaged during the emergency descent. The private pilot, who owned and operated the airplane, sustained minor injuries during the personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time, and no flight plan had been filed. The flight was performed under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

The pilot indicated to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator and Santa Barbara County Sheriff deputies that about 1228 he had departed from the Santa Ynez Airport, about 7 miles southeast of the accident site. The engine "started to sputter" during the flight. The pilot stated that he checked the engine gauges, and they did not indicate anything abnormal. He also switched fuel tanks, applied carburetor heat, and checked the magnetos. None of these actions decreased the sputtering, and finally all engine power was lost. At the time, the airplane was about 2,500 feet mean sea level. The pilot made a forced landing on the Figueroa Mountain Road, elevation about 1,100 feet mean sea level.

The pilot stated that he is not a mechanic, but that he spoke with a mechanic at his home base Santa Ynez airport. The pilot opined that following departure from Santa Ynez, the carburetor-equipped airplane engine may have encountered vapor lock. However, he recognized that the power loss may have resulted from other problems. The pilot opted to wait until the engine cooled off, and then he would try to restart the engine. If successful, he would run up the engine and take off from the road.

According to the pilot, he had the airplane towed by car to a better location on the road where, in preparation for takeoff, he performed a prolonged engine run-up. The engine appeared to operate normally. The airplane's fuel tank was over 1/2 full, and the pilot took off from the road.

Seconds after becoming airborne and climbing between 40 and 50 feet above the ground, the engine started sputtering and nearly quit. Landing on the road was no longer an option because it curved, and the pilot was unable to see ahead for possible vehicular traffic.

The pilot stated that he turned his airplane a few degrees right toward an open plowed field. However, he chose not to land there because of the likelihood that the airplane would nose over, thus making egress difficult. The pilot opted to stall the airplane into a nearby tree, which would absorb the impact energy. The airplane came to rest suspended by tree branches about 25 feet above ground level.

A responding deputy sheriff reported that the pilot had not received law enforcement permission to depart from the two-lane public road. The approximate distance between the pilot's takeoff location and the crash site is 2,700 feet.

The airplane was recovered from the accident site and examined under the supervision of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) personnel. The FAA coordinator reported, in part, that no debris was found in the carburetor, which contained fuel. The magnetos produced spark upon rotation. The spark plugs exhibited normal wear signatures, and the engine's compression was satisfactory. No external evidence of a preimpact engine malfunction or anomaly was noted. The FAA coordinator indicated that the engine lost power for undetermined non-mechanical reasons.

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