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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: WPR15FA163
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, May 17, 2015 in Laughlin, NV
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/07/2017
Aircraft: ROCKWELL COMMANDER 114, registration: N4775W
Injuries: 3 Fatal, 1 Serious.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The private pilot/owner reported that, during the climb to between about 300 and 400 ft above the ground, the engine started running roughly, and the airplane was not accelerating or climbing. The terrain ahead was rising, so the pilot turned right. Due to the low altitude and reduced engine power, the pilot chose to conduct an off-airport landing, during which he attempted to troubleshoot the engine issue without success. As the airplane continued to descend, the pilot saw houses and bushes ahead; he aimed the airplane away from the houses, and the airplane eventually hit trees and terrain about 4.6 nautical miles from the airport. A postimpact engine fire ensued.

Postaccident examination of the engine revealed that the turbocharger was seized and that the exhaust side of the turbowheel was severely eroded, which led to the engine running rough. A review of the airplane's maintenance records revealed that a turbocharger normalization system had been installed on the airplane under a supplemental type certificate (STC) 13 years before the accident. The STC's instructions for continued airworthiness required that the turbocharger normalization system be inspected every 100 hours. However, a review of the airplane's maintenance records revealed that the system had only been inspected once since its installation and that the inspection was completed 6 years before the accident. No other abnormalities were noted with the airframe or engine that would have precluded normal operation. It is likely that the eroded turbowheel would have been detected if the turbocharger normalization system had been inspected as required.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • A partial loss of engine power due to the turbocharger's seizure as a result of a severely worn turbowheel. Contributing to the accident was the failure of the pilot/owner to have the turbo normalization system inspected every 100 hours as required, which allowed erosion on the exhaust side of the turbowheel to go undetected.