Continued The Left Traffic Pattern Approach Until The Airplane “Got Too Low, And There Was No Place To Land”

Location: Centralia, IL Accident Number: DCA22FA157
Date & Time: July 23, 2022, 12:43 Local Registration: N8466A
Aircraft: Beech A35 Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Personal

On July 23, 2022, at 1243 central daylight time, a Beech A35, N8466A, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident in Centralia, Illinois. The pilot was seriously injured, the passenger was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight.
The pilot reported that he had recently purchased the airplane (April 2022), and the only recent maintenance had been the pre-buy inspection and subsequently a light bulb was replaced for the landing gear up indicator. A review of the pilot’s logbook revealed that he had completed 8 flights in the accident airplane for a total of 16.5 flight hours.

According to the pilot, on the day of the accident the flight departed Marshall County Airport (C75), Lacon, Illinois with full fuel tanks. He departed with the fuel selector set to the left tank. About 1 hour and 13 minutes into the flight, while at a cruising altitude of 6,500 ft above mean sea level and on a southerly heading, he switched the fuel selector to the right tank. Furthermore, he recalled that it was “hard to feel the detents” in the selector valve, and it was “possible that it was not fully engaged.” About 4-5 minutes later, the engine lost power. It did not “sputter” and there were no abnormal indications prior to the loss of power. The RPM reduced to 1,500, and the engine/propeller noise decreased. He knew he had just overflown an airport, Centralia Municipal Airport (ENL), Centralia, Illinois, and made a right turn to reverse course to land at ENL. With the RPM at 1,500, he believed the airplane had sufficient power to set up for a left traffic pattern to runway 18. He pumped the manual hand “wobble” fuel pump “fast” however the engine power was not restored. He continued the left traffic pattern approach until the airplane “got too low, and there was no place to land” when the engine power reduced further, and the airplane descended more rapidly until it impacted terrain. He did not recall if the propeller continued to rotate.

Examination of the accident scene revealed a 100 ft long debris path that began at a 50 ft tree and continued along a course of about 265° (true). The debris path contained broken tree branches leading to the main wreckage, which came to rest in a residential backyard above ground swimming pool. The fuselage was oriented about 100°, was located about ½ nautical mile north of the runway 18 threshold, and about 0.2 nautical mile left of an extended runway centerline.

The right wing sustained leading edge crush damage along most of its span. A semicircular shaped gouge about 2 ft inboard of the right wing tip contained leaves and small branches. The left wing sustained leading edge crush damage along most of its span, with paint transfer marks consistent with the color of the pool’s rim cap. The wing structure surrounding the bladder fuel tanks was largely intact. The fuel filler caps were secure and undamaged. About 15 gallons of fuel was recovered from the right wing. An estimated 3 gallons of fuel remained in the left tank. The fuselage was buckled on both sides near the roof, aft of the baggage door and aft  windows. The remainder of the empennage was largely undamaged. The lower forward section of the fuselage was crush damaged forward of the wings. Oil was present on the lower side of the empennage from the baggage area to the tip of the tail. Oil was present on the upper surface of the left wing, and in the remaining water in the pool. The flaps and landing gear were in the retracted positions.

The fuel selector handle, which doubled as the wobble pump handle, was found in the extended (pump operating) position. While in this position, the handle did not engage the fuel selector valve. Rotation of the handle in this position would not operate the fuel selector. The fuel selector valve was found in the LEFT fuel tank position. An electric switch mechanism, designed to illuminate a light on the instrument panel that would have indicated when the pump/fuel selector handle was disengaged from the fuel selector valve, was found unattached to the selector valve/pump mechanism and stored in a cockpit map pocket.

The airplane was recovered to a salvage facility for further examination. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit controls to all flight control surfaces, through recovery cuts in the ruddervator control cables and the aileron control push-pull tubes. The fuel selector valve/wobble pump assembly was removed. With the handle in the down/valve engaged position, it rotated smoothy in both directions through 360°, and each valve position (left, off, right, off) detent could be felt in the handle, and an audible click was heard for each detent. The valve operated normally when tested with compressed air. The wobble pump operated normally when tested with the input lines submersed in a container of fuel. The fuel filter screen was removed from the assembly housing and was absent of debris.

Both fuel tank bladders appeared to be intact. The fuel tank venting lines were intact except for some crushing damage to one line at the leading edge of the left wing. Compressed air passed through all portions of the vent lines except for the damaged line. The left fuel tank finger screen and attached fuel line was found pulled from the tank toward the fuselage. The screen was absent of debris. The right fuel tank finger screen was inaccessible.

The engine was found partially separated from the fuselage. All engine controls, propeller control, and fuel lines remained attached to their respective locations on the engine. The fuel line that ran from the firewall to the fuel pump inlet was found loose (hand tight, fully threaded) at the fuel pump inlet. Recovery personnel separated the engine from the fuselage for transport. The external oil sump was impact damaged and breached. The fuel pump was removed from the engine, fuel was found in the pump inlet line, and fuel dripped from the pump fittings when the lines were removed. The pump operated normally when rotated with an electric  drill. The carburetor inlet screen was unobstructed. Fuel drained from the opening when the screen plug was removed. The top sparkplugs were removed, and the electrodes appeared worn normal when compared to a Champion Check-A-Plug Chart.

The propeller was rotated through 360° of motion by hand. Thumb compression and suction was observed on all cylinders, with cylinder No. 4 being weaker than the other cylinders. All valve rocker arms moved, and crankshaft and valvetrain continuity was confirmed at the accessory section. Both magnetos were removed, rotated using an electric drill, and spark was observed on all towers. The air filter box and foam filter element were crushed. The element was clean and absent of debris. The remotely mounted spin on oil filter was removed and cut open. The filter pleats were unobstructed, and no metallic debris was found.

The propeller governor was partially removed from its mounting adapter. The filter screen could not be removed (the housing would not completely come apart). The portions of the screen visible through the open ports were unobstructed. Oil was present in the housing, the gears rotated smoothly by hand. One propeller blade was bent aft 45°, with the bend about 1/3 span from its root. No leading-edge gouging or chordwise scratches were observed on either blade.