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N35073 accident description

Connecticut map... Connecticut list
Crash location 41.685277°N, 72.866667°W
Nearest city Plainville, CT
41.674821°N, 72.857045°W
0.9 miles away
Tail number N35073
Accident date 17 Aug 2002
Aircraft type Cessna 172S
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On August 17, 2002, at 1129 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172S, N35073, was destroyed when it impacted a parking lot shortly after takeoff from Robertson Field (4B8), Plainville, Connecticut. The certificated private pilot and the passenger were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, destined for Montauk Airport (MTP), Montauk, New York. The personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

According to a witness who was sitting outside the fixed base operator (FBO), he observed the accident pilot perform a preflight inspection of the airplane. As the pilot started the engine, the witness observed a "puff of gray smoke" coming out of the engine, "as if the pilot had over-primed it." The engine then "smoothed out," and sounded normal during the taxi and initial takeoff from runway 02. As the airplane reached an altitude of 50 feet, the engine noise "changed, as if it had experienced a power reduction." Shortly thereafter, the witness observed gray smoke trailing from the airplane, and it appeared that the pilot was having trouble maintaining altitude. When the airplane was about 300-400 feet above the ground, a left turn was initiated, at a 45-degree bank. As the airplane continued the turn, the left wing dropped to a "pretty steep angle," before descending below the tree line.

Another witness observed the airplane taxi to runway 02, then take off. His attention was drawn back to the airplane when he heard the airplane's engine "sputtering" during its initial climbout. He observed black smoke behind the airplane as it continued to climb, and the airplane then began a left turn and "banked steeply downward" until it impacted the ground.

A third witness was a certified flight instructor (CFI), who had just landed on runway 02. According to the CFI, he was taxiing to the ramp on a parallel taxiway, when he heard over the Unicom frequency, "Robertson traffic, Cessna zero seven three departing runway two." The CFI noticed the airplane when it was about half-way down the runway, at an altitude of 50 feet. He observed black smoke trailing from the airplane and announced over the Unicom frequency to the pilot that he was "trailing smoke." The CFI saw that the smoke continued to get heavier as the airplane climbed, and could tell the airplane was "losing speed." Again using the Unicom frequency, the CFI instructed the pilot to "lower the nose, lower the nose." He then observed the airplane initiate a steep, left turn with the nose of the airplane raised "at a fairly high angle." After about 90 degrees of turn, the nose of the airplane dropped sharply, and after 180 degrees of turn, the airplane rolled back to a wings level attitude. The airplane then descended at a 45-degree angle until it impacted the ground.

A fourth witness observed the airplane from a parking lot about 1,000 feet to the east of runway 02. He stated that he heard the engine "cut out," and noticed black smoke trailing off the "port side" of the airplane. The engine was restarted, and at an altitude of 400-600 feet, the engine "cut out again, completely." The airplane began a "sharp" left turn and the witness continued to observe smoke on the left side of the airplane, as well as a "small orange ball," just behind the propeller. The airplane then dropped at a 45-degree angle to the ground.

A fifth witness, a landscaper working in the parking lot, heard the airplane's engine "sputtering." He then observed the airplane in a left bank, "just about to hit the trees." The landscaper ran from where he was working, and heard an impact behind him. The airplane impacted a mulch pile, and a post-crash fire ensued.

The accident occurred during the hours of daylight, approximately 41 degrees, 41 minutes north longitude, 72 degrees, 52 minutes west latitude.


The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land and instrument airplane. His most recent FAA third class medical was issued on January 7, 2001. At that time, he reported 269 hours of total flight experience.

Remnants of the pilot's logbook were observed in the airplane, destroyed by the post-crash fire.

A printout of the pilot's rental history since February 2000, at the Robertson Field FBO, was examined. It indicated that the pilot had flown 53.7 hours, 43 hours of which were in make and model. The pilot's total flight experience in the accident airplane was 9 hours, all of which was accumulated since March 8, 2002.


The airplane was manufactured in 2001. Examination of the airplane and engine logbooks revealed that the airplane had accumulated 70 hours of total flight time since it was delivered to the owner, and 97 hours of total time. The last annual inspection was performed on June 27, 2002, and no maintenance had been conducted on the airplane since then. The airplane was last flown on June 10, 2002.


The weather reported at Hartford-Brainard Airport (HFD), Hartford, Connecticut, about 10 miles to the east, at 1053, included winds from 360 degrees at 4 knots, 10 miles visibility, clear skies, temperature 84 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 70 degrees Fahrenheit , and an altimeter setting of 30.01 inches Hg.


The wreckage site was located in a parking lot, about 1 mile southwest of Robertson Field, at an elevation of 256 feet.

The initial impact point was a tree strike, about 35 feet above the ground. A portion of the left wingtip was observed at the base of the tree, along with several 45-degree angular cut tree branches. A second impact point was an approximately 2-foot-wide indentation in the asphalt pavement, about 5 feet from the first tree strike, along the wreckage path. The wreckage path was oriented along a heading of 230 degrees magnetic and extended 68 feet to the main wreckage.

The main wreckage was consumed by the post-crash fire. The fuselage was oriented on a heading of 040 degrees, and all major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene.

The left wing was separated from the main fuselage, and located inverted and adjacent to the nose of the airplane. The left aileron was attached to the wing, and both the wing and the aileron displayed severe fire damage.

The right wing, cockpit, and main fuselage area remained attached, and were consumed by the post-crash fire. The empennage section was separated from the fuselage aft of the rear cabin seats, and remained intact.

Flight control continuity was established from the cockpit area to all flight control surfaces. The aileron control cables exhibited "broomstrawed" ends, consistent with tension overload. Examination of the flap actuator revealed that the flaps were in the retracted position.

The engine remained attached to the fuselage at the firewall. The propeller was separated from the engine, and located about 50 feet in front of it. The spinner displayed a concave dent, and pavement transfer scrapes were observed across both propeller blades and the spinner. Both propeller blades displayed some chordwise scratching and leading edge nicks, without severe blade bending. A 1-foot section of tree branch was located near the propeller, displaying 45-degree angular cuts and black paint transfer marks.

The engine was removed from the airplane and examined. The crankshaft was rotated at the vacuum pump drive, and compression and valve train continuity was confirmed to all cylinders. Borescope examination of the cylinders revealed no anomalies.

The top and bottom spark plugs were removed and examined. They were black in color, and their electrodes were intact. Both the left and right magnetos could be rotated; however, spark could not be obtained due to the fire damage. The fuel injector was separated at its flange, and the fuel injector screen displayed no contamination.

Severe fire damage was noted to the lower portion of the engine, including the exterior of the oil sump and the lower engine mounts. Examination of the engine-driven fuel pump revealed its base plate had melted away; and the threads of the outflow port were melted in a downward direction. The fuel hose, which attaches to the outflow port of the engine-driven fuel pump, had cleanly separated from its swedged fitting, and the fitting displayed severe discoloration and fire damage.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot by personnel of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Farmington, Connecticut.

Toxicological testing was conducted on the pilot at the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


The fuel injector and fuel flow divider were examined under the supervision of the Safety Board. Severe fire damage to both components was noted; however, no mechanical anomalies were observed. The fuel nozzles were flow-checked and no obstructions were noted.

The engine driven fuel pump and fuel lines were sent to the Safety Board Materials Laboratory in Washington, D.C. for further examination. According to the Materials Laboratory Factual Report:

"The aluminum lower end cap of the fuel pump was melted away, and the diaphragm was thermally damaged. The aluminum pump body was heavily distorted, and exhibited incipient melting and metal flow. The inlet and outlet ports were distorted, and areas of each were missing. The distortion was consistent with the presence of fittings in the ports during high temperature exposure.

The fuel lines were severely damaged by exposure to high temperature with only charred remnants of the outer fire sleeve and the inner Teflon liners remaining. The outlet line of the fuel pump was separated at the crimped end connector adjacent to the fuel pump fitting.

A visually-magnified examination of the separation found the wire braid of the outlet line pulled out of the crimped end fitting. The wire braid was intact and not distorted, and would easily push into the end fitting. Close examinations found a slight change in coloration around the outer surface of the braid approximately 0.6 inch from the free end. When fully assembled into the end fitting, the edge of the discoloration corresponded to the end of the deformed area within the crimping collar.

The outer (crimped) diameter of the deformed area of the crimping collar, on the separated end fitting, measured between 0.505 and 0.512 inch with most measurements either 0.505 or 0.506 inch. The crimp diameter at the intact end measured between 0.506 and 0.511 inch. Teleflex assemble procedure "TFS-115" specifies the crimp diameter for a #6 hose (3/8 inch nominal diameter) as 0.500 to 0.505 inch with the crimped area along the full length of the collar."


A review of FAA-H-8083-3, Airplane Flying Handbook, revealed:

"...If an actual engine failure should occur immediately after takeoff and before a safe maneuvering altitude is attained, it is usually inadvisable to attempt to turn back to the field from where the takeoff was made. Instead, it is safer to immediately establish the proper glide attitude, and select a field directly ahead or slightly to either side of the takeoff path."

There were several non-populated clear areas/fields on either side of the departure path, but none directly ahead.

The wreckage was released to a representative of the owner's insurance company on July 31, 2003.

NTSB Probable Cause

An in-flight engine compartment fire of unknown origin, and a loss of engine power for undetermined reasons. Also causal, was the pilot's failure to maintain airspeed during a turn back to the airfield, which resulted in an inadvertent stall and subsequent impact with the ground.

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