…Sputtered A Third Time Before It Experienced A Total Loss Of Power
Location: St. Augustine, FL Accident Number: ERA23LA066
Date & Time: November 14, 2022, 11:34 Local Registration: N9858P
Aircraft: Piper PA-18-150 Injuries: 1 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Aerial observation
On November 14, 2022, about 1134 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-18-150, N9858P, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near St. Augustine, Florida. The pilot was not injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 aerial observation flight.
The purpose of the flight was to map erosion from Hurricane Nicole. The flight departed Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB), Daytona Beach, Florida at 0910, destined for Northeast Florida Regional Airport (SGJ), St. Augustine, Florida. According to the pilot, before departure he performed his normal preflight inspection of the airplane in which he checked the flight controls, oil level, and fuel level. He also checked the fuel quality by sampling the fuel tanks and gascolator (fuel strainer). The fuel tanks had been topped-off with fuel on the day prior per the operator’s normal procedures.
After takeoff from DAB the pilot flew north and then began mapping the coastline from around Palm Coast, Florida to St. Augustine, Florida. He contacted the SGJ air traffic control tower and stayed on frequency for traffic advisories as he was flying a north-south grid and kept entering and exiting the airspace surrounding SGJ. Shortly thereafter, about 1130, the engine “sputtered” for 30 to 60 seconds twice, and then sputtered a third time before it experienced a total loss of power. The airplane was in a glide in between the St. Augustine Inlet to the north and the St. Augustine Beach Pier to the south. The pilot elected to land to the north which was the direction of the headwind and had fewer people walking along St. Augustine beach.
The pilot began his “troubleshoot checklist” followed by the “shutdown checklist” as he spiraled the airplane down over St. Augustine Beach. In the process of his final spiraling maneuver as he was facing south, the airplane began sinking rapidly and faster than he had anticipated. He immediately leveled the wings, and then pitched down further to keep the airplane gliding to the south. On short approach to the beach, he began to see people on the beach and decided to sidestep away from the beach and glide the airplane into the shore break to avoid them.
The landing was a smooth three-point landing with a smooth initial rollout. During rollout as the weight fully transferred to the main landing gear, the main landing gear dug into the sand, the airplane nosed over, and then came to rest inverted. The pilot then unlatched his seatbelt and egressed. The pilot advised that afterward, bystanders ran up to assist and several mentioned that they could smell fuel leaking out of the back of the wings. He also smelled “ avgas.” During the recovery of the wreckage, the pilot observed that both the left and right fuel tank caps were missing.
Examination of the airplane revealed that the airplane had incurred substantial damage to the engine mounts, vertical stabilizer, and rudder. Examination of the engine revealed that thumb compression was attained on all four cylinders, all the exhaust and intake valves were functional, and the top sparkplug’s electrodes were normal gray in color. Internal examination of the cylinders by borescope did not reveal any anomalies. Both magnetos produced spark at all towers, oil was in the rocker boxes and galleries, and drive train continuity was confirmed from the front of the engine to the rear gears.
Examination of the fuel system revealed that only trace amounts of fuel were present in the system which upon testing with water finding paste did not indicate the presence of water. The gascolator displayed a small amount of debris in the bottom of the bowl (external to the screen). The carburetor float bowl was clean and was devoid of fuel; the float valve and accelerator pump were both functional, and the floats did not exhibit any indications of leakage. Further examination of the fuel system did not reveal any indication of pull-out or impact damage to the tops of the filler necks or fuel cap locking slots.