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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: CEN15FA316
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, July 26, 2015 in Colbert, OK
Probable Cause Approval Date: 07/12/2017
Aircraft: BEECH V35B, registration: N252G
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

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 airplane was in level cruise flight on the second leg of a cross-country flight when the engine lost power. The pilot declared an emergency with air traffic control (ATC) and requested the nearest airport. As the airplane was descending through 8,360 ft mean sea level (msl), the ATC controller told him that there was an airport (Airport A) at his 12-o'clock position and about 15 nautical miles (nm) away. However, there was another airport (Airport B) that was about 7.5 nm away that the controller did not tell the pilot about at this time.

The pilot responded that he had partial power and would see if he could make it to Airport A. He then asked for and received a vector to Airport A. About 2 minutes later, as the airplane descended through 6,023 ft msl, the pilot asked the controller if there was something closer, and the controller told him that there was another airport (Airport B) at his 3- to 4-o'clock position and 10 nm away. The pilot requested a turn toward Airport B, the controller told the pilot to turn right and proceed direct, and the airplane turned 90° right toward Airport B. Airport B was actually about 8.2 nm away.

About 2 minutes later, as the airplane descended through 4,260 ft msl, the controller advised the pilot that there was a private airstrip about 1 mile behind him. The airstrip was actually 10 nm away. The pilot replied, "wish I knew where that was ..." The controller then provided the pilot with runway information for Airport B. The pilot responded, "where's that private strip?" The controller responded, "it's not close enough for you to get to." As the airplane descended through 3,370 ft msl, the controller then gave the pilot his position and distance to Airports A and B. There were no further transmissions from the pilot.

Radar data showed that the airplane made a 180° right turn to the south. About 2 minutes later, the airplane made a 270° left turn and rolled out on a westerly heading. At the last radar contact, the airplane was westbound at 700 ft msl. The terrain elevation in the area was about 660 ft msl. The airplane impacted trees and then the ground. The site was surrounded by fields suitable for a forced landing, and it is likely that if the pilot had selected one of these fields as his landing site, the damage to the airplane and severity of injuries to the occupants would have been minimized.

Postaccident examination revealed that the left fuel tank was full, and the fuel quantity in the right tank could not be determined due to impact damage. The fuel selector valve handle was positioned between the left and right tank detent positions. Fuel selector continuity was established for each detent by blowing air through the valve. No air flowed through the valve when the fuel selector was positioned as found between the right and left tank detents. No preimpact failures or malfunctions with the airframe or engine were found that would have precluded normal operation.

The pilot's autopsy revealed that he had severe coronary heart disease including atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries. The posterior descending coronary artery was found to have about 90% stenosis and the left main, left anterior descending, and right coronary arteries had about 25% stenosis. Given that there was active radio contact between the pilot and ATC and no mention by the pilot of chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, or palpitations, it is unlikely that his heart disease contributed to the accident.

Toxicology tests showed the pilot used rosuvastatin, a prescription medication in the class of medications called statin antilipemic agents that is used to reduce blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The rosuvastatin was found in the pilot's urine but not in his blood.

It is likely that while switching tanks during cruise flight, the pilot inadvertently moved the fuel selector to the as-found intermediate position such that it blocked fuel to the engine, which resulted in fuel starvation and a loss of engine power. The Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) listed "Fuel Selector Valve – SELECT OTHER TANK (Check to feel detent)" as the first item in the emergency procedure for an engine failure. Thus, it is likely that, when the engine lost power, the pilot failed to properly position the selector so that fuel could be restored and a restart possible.

At the time that the pilot reported the engine failure to ATC, the airplane was 15.8 nm from Airport A, 7.5 nm from Airport B, and 6.2 nm from the private airstrip. According to radar data, the airplane traveled a total distance of about 7.9 nm from the point at which the pilot reported the engine failure to the accident site. The POH states that, with the landing gear and flaps retracted, cowl flaps closed, propeller at low rpm, and maintaining an airspeed of 105 kts, the airplane's glide distance is about 1.7 nm per 1,000 ft of altitude above the terrain. If the controller had provided accurate information to the pilot about the location of the nearest airports as required by Federal Aviation Administration ATC procedures and if the pilot had immediately acted on that information, based on the radar data, the pilot might have been able to glide to and land at Airport B or the private airstrip.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The pilot's failure to properly position the fuel selector, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the pilot's failure to select an appropriate location for a forced landing, which resulted in the airplane impacting trees. Contributing to the accident was the air traffic controller's failure to provide the pilot accurate information on nearby emergency airport and airfields and the pilot's failure to properly follow the airplane's emergency procedures in the Pilot's Operating Handbook that would have led him to properly position the fuel selector and restore fuel flow to the engine.