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On July 20, 2012, about 1215 Pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-32S-300, N5212S, veered of the runway during an aborted takeoff from Adelanto Airport (52CL), Adelanto, California. The pilot was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The private pilot/owner and two passengers were not injured. The airplane sustained substantial damage during the accident sequence. The personal flight departed Adelanto about 1215, with a planned destination of Hesperia Airport (L26), Hesperia, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed.
The intent of the flight was to pick up a passenger at Hesperia, then continue the flight to Idaho. The pilot serviced the airplane to capacity with fuel in Bakersfield, California, on the prior flight earlier that day. The airplane’s original configuration was for three rows of seats, but for the accident flight, the rear two seats were removed to make way for baggage. The pilot was positioned in the front left seat, with the passengers located in the front right, and middle right seats.
The pilot reported that the preflight check and engine run up was uneventful; however, when he turned on the electrical fuel pump, it did not make the usual sound he was accustomed to hearing, and that the fuel pressure reading was slightly lower than usual. The pressure was still within the green (normal) limit, and as such, he elected to continue with the departure.
He stated that the takeoff roll from the dirt airstrip was uneventful. Shortly after rotation, the engine emanated an unusual sound, and the airplane did not climb as expected. He checked the engine tachometer, which indicated 2,400 rpm, and observed the manifold pressure at 20 inches of mercury. With half the length (approximately 2,000 feet) of the runway remaining, he aborted the takeoff. The airplane touched down, bounced, and departed the runway to the left, where it dropped into a ditch and struck a pole. The nose landing gear collapsed, and the left wing and firewall sustained structural damage during the accident sequence.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
Engine and Airframe Examination
The airplane was recovered from the accident site, and examined by the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC) and a representative from Piper Aircraft.
The right tip tank, when examined through the filler neck, contained fuel to about half of its capacity. All other fuel tanks were full with fuel to their respective capacities. The fuel pump circuit breaker was in the closed position. The fuel lines were examined, and no leaks or loose fittings were noted. The electrically driven fuel pump was turned on, and initially made a metallic grinding sound, consistent with it being void of fuel. After about 5 seconds, the sound ceased as the pump became primed with fuel. The fuel line into the engine driven fuel pump was disconnected, and the fuel selector valve was cycled through each tank position with the pump on. Uninterrupted fuel flow was observed at the line output.
The electrical fuel pump was subsequently disassembled. The commutator and brushes were intact, along with the interconnect shear coupling. The electrical armature was intact, and rotated smoothly within the housing, with a slight squeaking sound noted. The fuel rotor rotated freely, and the pump vanes were intact. According to the Piper representative, the electrical pump is provided as a backup to the engine driven pump, and will provide positive fuel pressure in the event of an engine driven fuel pump failure.
The engine sustained minimal damage during the accident sequence. All engine controls were continuous from their respective control arms through to the cabin controls, and moved smoothly through full range of travel when operated. The oil sump contained about 12 quarts of oil when viewed utilizing the dipstick.
The top spark plugs were removed, and examined. Their electrodes remained mechanically undamaged, coated in light grey deposits, and displayed normal wear signatures when compared with the Champion Spark Plugs AV-27 Check-A-Plug chart. The exhaust pipes exhibited light grey deposits, and were free of oil residue. The crankshaft turned freely when rotated by hand utilizing the propeller, and cylinder compression was noted on all cylinders. Mechanical continuity was established throughout the rotating group, valve train, and accessory section. Sparks were observed at the termination of each top spark plug lead. Visual inspection of the combustion chambers was accomplished through the spark plug bores utilizing a borescope; there was no evidence of foreign object damage and all combustion surfaces exhibited light grey deposits consistent with normal operation.
Examination did not reveal any anomalies with the airframe or engine that would have precluded normal operation.
The airplane was equipped with a fuel drain lever located in the aft area of the footwell at the base of the right middle seat. The lever was connected to the combination fuel selector valve/fuel drain, located in the airframe belly. Examination of the belly revealed an expanding streak of skin discoloration, emanating from the drain output port. The streak ran the full length of the belly, and had partially removed dirt in its path. The pilot stated that he had cleaned the underside of the airplane a few days prior to the accident, and did not observe the streak at that time. No active fuel leak was noted at the time of the examination, and fuel flowed from the output port when the drain lever was activated.
Federal Aviation Administration Airworthiness Directive AD 78-23-01, applicable to the accident airplane, requires the addition of a fuel drain cover door, to prevent inadvertent drain lever actuation. The door had been installed, however, examination of the assembly revealed that the door was detached from the hinge, and was hanging loose, exposing the lever. A test was performed to determine if the condition of the door could allow for a passenger to inadvertently activate the lever. The test revealed that an occupant positioned in the middle right seat was able to operate the lever with the heel of his shoe, causing fuel to flow from the drain port at the belly. The pilot stated that the door had been inadvertently damaged by a passenger egressing the airplane about three flights prior, and he did not have the door repaired.
Adelanto Airport has two intersecting runways, and is located at an elevation of 3,075 feet mean sea level (msl). The pilot departed utilizing the southern dirt runway, which was 3,930-feet-long.
The closest aviation weather observation station was located at Southern California Logistics Airport, Victorville, California, which was located 6 miles northeast of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 2,885 feet msl. An aviation routine weather report (METAR) was recorded at 1215 PDT. It reported: wind from 110 degrees at 5 knots; visibility 10 miles; temperature 33 degrees C; dew point 08 degrees C; altimeter 30.06 inches of mercury. Based on these values, the calculated density altitude at Victorville was about 5,525 feet.