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N3261 accident description

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Crash location 39.467223°N, 78.957778°W
Nearest city Rawlings, MD
39.534535°N, 78.883356°W
6.1 miles away
Tail number N3261
Accident date 09 Sep 2012
Aircraft type Pitcairn PA-4
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report

On September 9, 2012, at 0945 eastern daylight time, N3261, a Pitcairn PA-4, sustained substantial damaged when it impacted terrain after departing from a private airstrip in Rawlings, Maryland. The airline transport pilot was seriously injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by an individual under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the local flight. The flight was originating at the time of the accident.

According to a witness, who helped start the engine of the accident airplane, the pilot fueled the airplane and sampled the fuel from each of the fuel sumps under the engine with no contamination noted. The engine was primed with fuel, started, idled for approximately 10 minutes, and ran "smoothly" prior to takeoff.

According to the pilot, after takeoff, the airplane was about 150 to 200 feet above ground level when the engine began to gradually lose power. The pilot noted that the engine did not experience any roughness or surging prior to the total loss of engine power. He elected to land in a nearby pasture and initiated a slight left turn to align the airplane with the field. As the airplane continued to descend, the pilot initiated another shallow left turn to avoid striking trees as well as further align the airplane with the field. However, before he was able to level the wings, the airplane struck the ground with the left wing. After ground impact, the airplane turned about 180 degrees and came to rest on the right side of the fuselage, which resulted in substantial damage to the wings and fuselage.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the airplane was manufactured in 1927, and was registered to the pilot in 1998. The airplane was a three-place, metal and fabric design, single-engine, biplane with conventional landing gear. It was equipped with a Wright Curtiss OX5, 90-horsepower engine. In addition, the airplane was equipped with a 32 gallon aluminum fuel tank. The most recent annual inspection was performed on September 3, 2012, and at that time it had accumulated 2877.7 hours of total time in service. According to FAA Form 337 for major repairs and alterations of the airplane, it underwent restoration and major repairs in April 1990. The mechanic stated on the form that it was disassembled, inspected, and cleaned. In the description of maintenance, it noted “fuel tank cleaned, checked for leaks and sealed with Randolph Sloshing Sealer.”

According to a Maryland Department of State Police report, a local fire department responded to the accident site for a small fuel spill. The fuel tank was about one-half full.

A postaccident examination of the engine revealed that engine continuity was confirmed. The exhaust valves functioned with no anomalies. The spark plugs were examined with no abnormalities noted. The fuel cap was inspected and was secure on the fuel tank. The fuel strainer was removed, with no debris noted. The carburetor bowl was removed from the engine and it contained a few drops of fuel. The fuel lines contained a trace amount of fuel. The fuel tank was void of fuel as a result of how the wreckage came to rest on the right side of the fuselage and partially inverted. Further examination of the fuel tank with a light and borescope revealed debris in the tank and large sections of a material peeling from the tank walls. In addition, there were rust areas throughout the interior of the fuel tank. The outlet of the fuel tank did not contain a fuel screen for fuel to travel through when exiting the tank.

In February 2009, Piper Aircraft Inc. released a mandatory service bulletin, Service Bulletin No. 251D, concerning Randolph Products Company Sloshing Sealer. The service bulletin stated “the use of Randolph Products Company 802 Sloshing Sealer was authorized at one time to repair aluminum wing tanks that develop leaks in service. It has been discovered that over time, the cured sealer can separate and detach from the inner walls of the tank and become an obstruction in fuel lines and fuel filters, resulting in a loss of engine power.”

In April 2009, the FAA released a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB) for several Piper Aircraft models regarding Randolph 802 sealer. The bulletin stated that the “purpose of this SAIB is to highlight the potential of engine fuel starvation from the environmental deterioration of a sloshing compound.” In addition, the “sloshing compound can peel from the wall of the fuel tank and block the fuel tank outlet, which can starve the engine of fuel.” The SAIB recommended that if the sloshing compound was found to be separating from the inner walls of the fuel tank, the fuel tank should be replaced.

Then, in October 2010, an Advisory Circular 43-16A “Aviation Maintenance Alerts Number 387”was distributed concerning sloshing compound that resulted in fuel starvation of a Bird CK airplane. The airframe and powerplant mechanic stated that the airplane was fully restored and Randolph sloshing compound was used to seal the fuel tank. About ten months after the restoration was complete, the airplane experienced a total loss of engine power just after takeoff. An FAA inspector who examined that airplane discovered material in the fuel and large portions of sloshing compound was missing from the sides of the fuel tank.

NTSB Probable Cause

A total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation, which resulted from a fuel outlet in the fuel tank that was blocked by peeled debris from a previously approved fuel tank sealer.

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