The morning of July 17th, 2011, Brian Hayes, 35, and his girlfriend Nicole Anderson, 32 landed at Lindbergh Regional Airport in Winslow, AZ. According to FlightAware, this was the first leg of their cross country flight from Colorado Springs.
The Mooney M20F was based in Chino, CA and owned collectively by Brian and his partners.
Brian and Nicole were police officers in Southern California and were on their way home in N3534X.
Loss of Engine Power – No Big Deal
Brian’s partners reported that he had issues with what he believed to be water in the fuel tanks. He had reported that previously he had a loss of engine power during takeoff but was able to restart the engine. Brian thought that if the problems continued, he would install new fuel cell bladders.
After adding 41 gallons of 100LL and stretching their legs, Brian and Nicole departed on runway 11 at about 10:20 AM, MST.
A witness said that a short time after taking off, Hayes transmitted that he was returning to the Winslow airport due to a rough running engine.
According to the NTSB report, witnesses on the ground saw the plane in a steep turn and then saw it descend in an uncontrolled spiral. No one saw the plane actually crash.
Inverted, the airplane impacted along the right side of the approach end of runway 29, killing Brian and Nicole.
The Effects of Water in the Tanks
The fuel injection servo was opened for examination. Investigators observed debris and corrosion within the servo fuel inlet filter screen, internal diaphragm cavities and mixture control mechanism bore, which appeared to be consistent with previous water contamination. The fuel injector servo was disassembled and examined. This confirmed the servo had rust and corrosion present throughout the unit.
How Can We Keep the Water Out? Perhaps We Can Comply With the Appropriate Service Bulletin
In 1986, Mooney published Service Bulletin M20-229A, “Fuel Filler Caps, Inspection and Adjustment. [See http://www.mooney.com/images/pdfs/sb-pdf/sbm20-229a.pdf ]
Exposure to fuel fumes, fuel and weather has a deteriorating effect on the fuel cap O rings. In addition to replacing the cap O rings annually, the mechanism and the O ring need to be lubricated occasionally with Tri-Flow oil. You can find this at a bicycle shop. This will keep the mechanism lubricated and prevent O ring cracking. M20-229A also has instructions for your mechanic to test the cap adjustment to ensure that moisture stays out of your tanks.
Did this Mooney have M20-229A accomplished at the last annual? I’m not privy to the logbooks, but if there was water in the fuel, there’s a good chance that the owners and or the mechanic were unaware of the Service Bulletin.
The Big Push and Straight Ahead!
We don’t know the altitude at which the engine roughness and subsequent failure occurred, but it was “a short time after takeoff” from the Winslow airport. Winslow’s field elevation is 4,941 feet MSL and even a t 10:00 am, the temperature was a hot 91oF (33oC), driving the density altitude to 8,180 feet. These conditions probably reduced their aircraft and engine performance during climbout.
What if it Happens to You? Forcing the Big Push
Logical thought would be screaming at you to pull back on the yoke to stop the descent. But you need to do the opposite! You need to immediately push the nose over! This forceful push forward on the controls reveals a frightening nose-low attitude in order to keep the airplane flying. However, if you don’t immediately do “THE BIG PUSH”, your nose up climb attitude will put you in an almost immediate stall/spin.
You’ve done “THE BIG PUSH”. Now what? The nose is very low but the airplane is still flying with at least a small margin above stall speed. If you were really low when the engine failed (at or below 300 feet), there is no question about what comes next. The airplane is descending rapidly and the ground is coming up equally fast, so the only option available is a slight turn if necessary to avoid any serious objects directly ahead of you, followed by a flare just before hitting the ground or at least try to cushion the force of the impact. While the landing gear may be damaged or even collapse, odds are that you and your passengers will have few if any injuries.
What if You are Higher than 300 Feet AGL?
Assuming you manage to avoid an immediate stall by getting the nose down quickly, you would typically start hearing little voices telling you to get it back on the runway. It seems so close!
Don’t Do It! It’s a Trick!
Trying to turn back to the runway is so dangerous that there have been many fatalities involving pilots who have tried it from 500 feet. Instructors and their students, with perfectly good engines, practicing the turn back to the runway, have had accidents.
Different Day – Same Stuff
The day after the Winslow accident, on July 18, 2011 in Augusta, GA, (KAGS), a pilot in a 1979 Mooney M20K, (N777CV), tried to turn back to the runway after experiencing a prop loss after takeoff. The flight was captured by a school’s webcam and I’ve included a link to the tragic video.
Watch it on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/26640491
You’ll see the Mooney appear just above the trees six seconds into the video. Eight seconds after that, the prop falls off and he initiates a left turn. Three seconds later, the pilot is in a steep left turn and has not lowered his attitude.
Two seconds later, the Mooney stalls and it only takes three more seconds to hit the ground. Eight seconds from prop loss to the crash site – still in the airport boundary. Fatal.
What if You Have a Few Thousand Feet to “Play With” and You Just Can’t Resist Going Back to the Airport?
As you make your turn to the departure airport, to keep the airplane from stalling, the nose has to be kept even lower, so what we are talking about is a steep turn just above the ground in a rapid descent of more than 1,000 fpm. This would be a difficult maneuver even for a pilot who has experience flying near the ground. For most pilots, seeing nothing but the earth rotating only a few hundred feet in front of the windshield while the stall warning is blaring would be terrifying. Few would have the willpower to avoid pulling back on the yoke, but to do so leads to an immediate accelerated stall.
Before every takeoff, prepare yourself for a possible engine failure with a short briefing stating out loud what you will do if the engine fails on the runway, below your minimum turnaround altitude and above that altitude. Then make a quick callout as you climb through your minimum turnaround altitude. That way, if the engine fails on takeoff, your decision is easy. If you haven’t made the minimum altitude call, you don’t even consider turning around. Your conditioned response, without thinking, must be:
- Get the nose down (The Big Push),
- Keep the airplane flying, and
- Look ahead within about a 60-degree arc for the best place to set the airplane down.
Someone will most certainly need to call the insurance company. However, the good news is that it probably won’t be your next of kin. That’s because you will have flown the aircraft all the way to the crash site and survived to make the call!
Now, raise your hand and repeat after me:
“I swear on my Mooney’s Operating Manual, that:
- “I’ll listen to my aircraft and get it fixed immediately”
- “I’ll fly enough to stay proficient”
- “When the engine quits, the airplane belongs to the insurance company.”
- “I’ll always put my life and the lives of my passengers first because the plane is always a distant second.”
Fly safe and stay out of trouble! JD http://jdpricecfi.com/
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