NTSB releases preliminary report of fatal Venice, FL plane crash - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

NTSB releases preliminary report of fatal Venice, FL plane crash

On July 27, 2014, about 1445 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-181, N8826C, was substantially damaged during a forced landing to a shoreline in Venice, Florida. The private pilot and the pilot-rated passenger were not injured; however, a father and his daughter in shallow water near the shoreline were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for the personal flight between Buchan Airport (X36), Englewood, Florida, and Venice Municipal Airport (VNC), Venice, Florida, conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

In an interview with the responding Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, the pilot indicated that it was the first time the airplane had flown in the preceding 3 ½ months. The left fuel tank was ¾ full and the right fuel tank was ½ full. The engine started "right away;" however, when the pilot performed a magneto check, one of the magnetos had a 300-rpm drop. A second magneto check had the left magneto running roughly, but during a third magneto check, both magnetos were smooth and within limits. The carburetor heat check resulted in a smaller than usual drop of engine rpm.

The takeoff was "normal" and the airplane climbed to about 1,000 feet, then turned south toward Englewood. It subsequently turned north toward Venice, still at 1,000 feet, with the pilot listening on the local airport traffic frequency to enter the landing pattern. Approaching Venice, the engine began to run roughly, and the pilot checked different positions of the ignition switch and changed fuel tanks, but the engine lost power and propeller began windmilling. Total flight time was 10 to 15 minutes.

The pilot declared an emergency on the radio and began the forced landing descent. The airplane was over the water at the time, and the pilot was concerned that if he landed in deep water, the fixed landing gear airplane would flip over. The pilot saw groups of people along the beach, and attempted navigated around them. He then aimed for a spot where he thought there were no people, and landed in the water near the shoreline.

After the pilot and passenger got out of the airplane, a lady shouted to them that she needed a cell phone. The pilot thought she wanted to call on their behalf, and it was only then that he learned that the airplane had hit the father and his daughter.

According to an employee at VNC, about 1445, the pilot made an announcement on the common airport frequency, "to the effect of – emergency can't make the airport." After two requests, the pilot provided the registration number, but when asked about location, he did not respond. The witness called 911 and asked the pilot of another airplane departing the airport to provide the location, which he responded was on the beach about 1 mile south of VNC.

Venice Police provided transcripts from interviews with six witnesses. Witnesses were generally consistent as to what they saw and heard. One witness stated that he was standing in waist deep water about 10 to 15 feet from the shore and about 50 yards south of the family. He saw the airplane descend and it passed directly over his head about 30 feet above him. There was no noise from the engine and the propeller was "kinda moving." He watched the airplane descend toward a group of people. It cleared half of the group, but apparently did not clear all of them. The witness further stated that he thought the airplane was "drifting in because I was far enough out in the water that if he had continued on a straight course he probably would have just hit the water."

Several other witnesses also noted that the engine was not running and that the propeller was turning; some noted the sound of a "thump" in conjunction with the landing. One witness stated that when the airplane hit the water, it "kind of kicked over to the right," then went up onto the beach.

Several days after the accident, the family asked the FAA inspector to speak with them. During the visit, the wife indicated that the family, consisting of herself, her husband, his son and daughter from a previous marriage, and their daughter, arrived at the beach around mid-day. About ½ hour later, the husband's mother and another couple joined them. The family then moved farther up the beach to avoid new beach goers, leaving the husband's mother at the original location.

According to the wife, she was facing north, close to her stepdaughter, when she saw the airplane in her peripheral vision pass by very low. She did not see her family struck. Her stepson, who was coming out of the water when the airplane passed by, told her that he had ducked when the airplane went over his head, but did not indicate if he saw either his father or his sister hit. The airplane came to a stop about 200 feet beyond the victims, who were in about 4 feet of water and very close to each other. The wife ran to pull her stepdaughter out of the water and a friend pulled her husband out of the water. Both victims were unresponsive and not breathing. A man arrived with knowledge of CPR and gave assistance to her husband while the wife administered to her stepdaughter.

On-scene photographs showed the airplane upright, nose-down at the waterline, angled slightly towards the beach, with the magnetic compass indicating 350 degrees magnetic. The nose landing gear was separated from the airframe, while both fixed main landing gear remained attached. The left wing, which was extended over the water, had about 4 feet of leading edge crushing on the outboard portion of the wing, and the wingtip undamaged. The two-bladed propeller exhibited no damage to one blade, while the other was bent aft about 60 degrees, beginning mid-span, consistent with a lack of power at touchdown.

Photographs of the cockpit showed the fuel off, the magnetos off, the mixture rich, throttle forward and the carburetor heat off.

The wing fuel tanks were subsequently defueled, the wings were removed, and the airplane was transported to a storage facility. There, NTSB, FAA, Piper Aircraft and Lycoming Engine investigators further documented the airplane and engine.

Each wing fuel tank's fuel supply line from the tank to its disconnect point in the cockpit was checked via air flow to be clear, and each tank's vent system was also checked via air flow to be clear. Engine compression, magneto spark, fuel quality and engine crankshaft continuity checks were also accomplished with no anomalies noted.

The fuselage with engine still attached was then strapped down to a trailer and original onboard fuel was supplied to the fuel selector valve via a portable external tank. The engine started on the second attempt; however, with the bent propeller, it could only safely be operated to about 900 rpm. The propeller was then removed and partially straightened to available capability, then reattached. The engine was subsequently restarted and was able to be run throughout throttle range up to 2,000 rpm safely. Magneto checks at that rpm yielded about a 100-rpm drop for both the left and the right magneto.

After the engine run-ups, the carburetor was removed, disassembled and examined, with nothing found that would have precluded normal operation.

Research of engine electrical, air induction and fuel delivery systems continues.

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