On February 14, 2012, about 0700 central standard time, a Piper PA-32-260, N3688W, operated by a private individual, was substantially damaged during a forced landing into a wooded area, following a total loss of engine power near Amory, Mississippi. The certificated commercial pilot was seriously injured. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed for the planned flight to Olive Branch Airport (OLV), Olive Branch, Mississippi. The flight departed Umatilla Municipal Airport (X23), Umatilla, Florida, about 0210. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
According to the pilot's written statement, he "topped off" the fuel tanks with 6 hours of fuel for the planned 4-hour flight. While cruising at 6,000 feet near Montgomery, Alabama, the engine began to run rough. The pilot enriched the fuel mixture, which alleviated the rough running engine and also resulted in an increase in the fuel burn rate. In addition, the flight took longer than planned due to turbulence and a headwind. While enroute, the pilot realized that the airplane would not have sufficient for to reach OLV, and he requested a deviation from air traffic control (ATC) to Tupelo Regional Airport (TUP), Tupelo, Mississippi. While being vectored to TUP by ATC, the airplane experienced a total loss of engine power and he had to perform a forced landing to a wooded area several miles short of the runway. The pilot was able to call emergency services via his mobile telephone and described the area surrounding the accident site. A National Guard helicopter located the accident site about 1200, which was situated approximately 15 miles southeast of TUP. The pilot further stated that after the accident, he learned there was icing in that area between 1,500 feet and 4,000 feet.
During a subsequent telephone conversation, the pilot stated that the richer mixture setting resulted in an approximate 18 gallon-per-hour (gph) fuel burn. The pilot also had to descend to a lower altitude due to icing. At the time of the total power loss, the fuel selector was positioned to a main tank, but he had been switching fuel tanks during the flight and could not remember which main tank. The pilot did not switch fuel tanks after the loss of engine power. When asked if he activated the carburetor heat during the flight, the pilot stated that he "did not know."
The pilot, age 49, held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, airplane multiengine land, and instrument airplane. He also held a flight instructor certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine. The pilot reported a total flight experience of 922 hours; of which 30 hours were in actual instrument conditions.
Review of data from Lockheed Martin Flight Service revealed that the pilot telephoned flight service at 0129 to file an IFR flight plan with a planned cruising altitude of 6,000 feet. After filing the flight plan, the briefer asked the pilot if he needed updates on the latest adverse weather conditions along the route of flight, and the pilot replied yes. The briefer advised of airmen's meteorological information (AIRMET) Zulu from the Florida panhandle along the route of flight to OLV, for moderate icing from the freezing level to flight level 200, and that the freezing level was between 3,000 and 10,000 feet. The briefer also advised of AIRMET Sierra, between Montgomery, Alabama, at OLV, for IFR conditions with ceilings below 1,000 feet and visibility less than 3 miles due to mist. The briefer further stated there was moderate precipitation through southwest Georgia and Alabama, to Columbia, Mississippi.
The recorded weather at TUP, at 0653, was: wind from 210 degrees at 6 knots; visibility 7 miles; overcast ceiling at 500 feet; temperature 6 degrees C; dew point 4 degrees C; altimeter 29.97 inches Hg.
Review of ATC radar and communication data revealed that at 0614, the pilot amended his destination with Columbus Approach, to TUP. At that time, the airplane was cruising at 4,000 feet. At 0641, the pilot requested a lower altitude and was approved to descend to 3,000 feet. At 0647, the pilot was transferred to Memphis Center and advised he wanted the instrument landing system (ILS) approach to runway 36 at TUP, which the controller acknowledged. At 0648, the controller advised the pilot that the airplane was 500 feet below his assigned altitude and provided a vector for the ILS (15-degree right turn to approximately 300 degrees), which the pilot acknowledged.
At 0650, the controller again queried the pilot about the airplane's altitude as it was 600 feet low and too low to be vectored on to the ILS approach. He also queried the pilot about the airplane's heading, as the airplane had made a left 270-degree turn to a heading of 030 degrees. When the pilot replied that the heading was 030 degrees, the controller instructed him to fly 270 degrees. The pilot then made a left 200-degree turn to approximately 180 degrees, before making a right turn back to 270 degrees. At 0653, the pilot requested direct to TUP as the airplane was getting low on fuel. The controller responded that he was doing the best he could to get the airplane vectored on to the ILS, but that the pilot needed to not turn off course and maintain the assigned heading. The controller also reminded the pilot again to maintain 3,000 feet as the flight was starting to descend again. At 0656, the pilot remarked again about a fuel problem, but did not declare an emergency. At 0658, the pilot stated a third time that the airplane was having fuel problems and that the engine had lost all power. The controller attempted to direct the pilot to a field and at 0659 the pilot reported that he saw something straight ahead. No further communications were received from the accident airplane. The last radar target was recorded at 0658:34, indicating an altitude of 1,400 feet.
Examination of the wreckage by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed that it had impacted a remote wooded area. During the impact sequence, all fuel tanks had ruptured and he recovered approximately 1 cup of fuel from the right main fuel tank fuel tank. He did not smell any fuel odor at the accident site. The inspector observed the fuel selector positioned to the right main fuel tank and the carburetor heat in the off position. The engine was subsequently examined by an NTSB investigator following its recovery. The propeller was rotated by hand and valve train continuity was established throughout the engine, including the fuel pump cam gear and plunger. Suction was also heard in the fuel pump diaphragm. Compression was observed on all cylinders except for the No. 2 cylinder, which was impact damaged. Both magnetos were rotated with a drill and spark was attained on all leads. No metal was found in the oil filter or the oil sump. No obstructions were found in the carburetor venturi. The carburetor bowl was removed and was dry, with no contamination noted. The carburetor floats moved freely with no sticking. The spark plug electrodes were intact and light gray in color, except for two that were oil soaked.
Review of a pilot's operating manual for the make and model accident airplane revealed that it held 84 gallons of fuel and burned about 14 gph at 75 percent power; however, the burn rate was based upon a best economy mixture setting. The airplane was not certified nor equipped for flight into known icing.