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N5556Q accident description

New Jersey map... New Jersey list
Crash location 39.665278°N, 74.308056°W
Nearest city West Creek, NJ
39.634563°N, 74.307088°W
2.1 miles away
Tail number N5556Q
Accident date 30 Sep 2002
Aircraft type Mooney M20E
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On September 30, 2002, about 1535 eastern daylight time, a Mooney M20E, N5556Q, was destroyed when it struck trees after takeoff from Eagles Nest Airport (31E), West Creek, New Jersey. The certificated private pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

Two witnesses were at the airport at the time of the accident. One witness was a helicopter pilot, and had landed at 31E prior to the accident. The helicopter pilot stated that he was standing outside the helicopter, conversing with a passenger. He observed the accident pilot walking around his airplane for several minutes, conducting a preflight inspection. However, the helicopter pilot did not pay much attention to the accident pilot, and could not recall if he sumped the fuel tanks during the inspection.

The helicopter pilot then observed the accident airplane taxi to runway 14, and heard the pilot perform a "run-up." During the takeoff roll, the helicopter pilot heard the engine suddenly quit, and the sounds of impact. The helicopter pilot added that the engine did not run rough, it simply stopped running.

The second witness stated that during the takeoff roll, she lost sight of the airplane as it passed behind trees. She did not see the airplane climb above the tree line, and believed it was still on the ground. The witness then heard a "sputter," followed by two "booms." Approximately 20 seconds later, she observed smoke rising from the trees.

As they approached the wreckage, the witnesses observed the wreckage resting in a near-vertical attitude, and engulfed in flames.

A third witness did not see the accident airplane takeoff, but heard the engine "racing full throttle," and then a few seconds later, heard the sound of a loud crash.

The accident occurred during the hours of daylight; located approximately 39 degrees, 39.87 minutes north longitude, 74 degrees, 18.34 minutes west latitude.


The pilot held a private pilot certificate, with a rating for airplane single engine land. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third class medical certificate was issued on July 2, 2002.

According to the pilot's flight instructor, the pilot had recently purchased the accident airplane, and received an approximate 1.5-hour familiarization flight from the previous owner. The pilot then hired the flight instructor to provide instrument instruction in the accident airplane. After two lessons, the flight instructor had provided 7.5 hours of dual instruction, and entered a complex aircraft endorsement into the pilot's logbook.

Review of the pilot's logbook revealed that he had a total flight experience of approximately 398 hours, of which, about 9 hours were in the accident airplane.


The airplane's most recent annual inspection was performed on September 3, 2002. At that time, the airplane had accumulated approximately 3,993 hours of flight time.

An engine overhaul had been completed on February 10, 2002. The engine had accumulated approximately 62 hours of operation between the overhaul and most recent annual inspection.

FAA Airworthiness Directive (AD) 85-24-03 was written to preclude fuel contamination and water entrapment in fuel tanks, and pertained to the make and model accident airplane. Review of the aircraft logbooks revealed that the AD was complied with in 1986. Further review of the aircraft logbooks revealed that the fuel cap O'rings were replaced in 1985 per a Mooney service bulletin.


Atlantic City International Airport (ACY) was located approximately 17 nautical miles southwest of the accident site. The reported weather at ACY, at 1554, was: wind from 070 degrees at 10 knots; visibility 10 miles; sky clear; temperature 69 degrees F; dew point 55 degrees F; altimeter 30.24 inches Hg.

On September 26, 2002, .53 inches of rain fell at ACY.


Runway 14 was 3,200 feet long, 60 feet wide, and consisted of asphalt. According to an FAA Airport Facility Directory, trees were located at the approach end of the runway, and a tree was located at the departure end of the runway.


The wreckage was examined at the accident site on September 30, and October 1, 2002. The cockpit and fuselage were destroyed by fire, but all major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene. The wreckage was situated in a wooded area, about 176 feet right of the runway centerline. The wreckage was approximately 2,000 feet from the approach end of runway 14, and 1,200 feet from the departure end of runway 14. It was inverted and oriented about a 150-degree heading.

There was no debris path, and only one tree in the vicinity of the wreckage exhibited impact damage. Near the damaged tree and wreckage, two freshly cut branches were recovered. The cuts were clean, and at an approximate 90-degree angle. One branch was about 1 inch in diameter, the other was about 3 inches in diameter.

Flight control continuity was established from the elevator and rudder to the rear section of the cabin. Control continuity was also established from the right aileron to the cockpit floor; however, continuity could not be established for the left aileron due to fire and impact damage. The elevator trim bolt was recovered, and the trim nut was observed in an approximate equidistance position between the two stops, which was consistent with a neutral elevator trim setting.

The right wing exhibited buckling and crushing damage at the leading edge. The wing root sustained fire damage; the inboard section of the flap had separated, and the flap was extended about 90 degrees. The right main gear was found retracted, and the right aileron was in the neutral position. The right wing fuel tank had ruptured, but still contained some fuel. Traces of water were found in the fuel tank; however, the fuel was subjected to firefighting agents and remained exposed overnight.

The left wing also exhibited buckling and crushing damage at the leading edge. The wing root sustained fire damage, and the inboard section of the flap had separated. The flap was found in the retracted position, the aileron was in the neutral position, and the left main gear had completely separated from the wing. The left fuel tank was destroyed.

Due to fire damage, cockpit instrumentation could not be documented. The nose gear was found partially separated. The empennage sustained little to no impact damage, but exhibited some fire damage. The elevator and rudder were in the approximate neutral position.

Prior to being examined, the engine had been subjected to heat, and remained at the accident site overnight. The engine was subsequently recovered from the wreckage. One propeller blade exhibited chord-wise scratching, and an approximate 4-inch section of the tip was missing from the other propeller blade. The spark plugs were removed for inspection. Except for the number one bottom plug that was oil-soaked, they were light gray in color, and all electrodes were intact. When the propeller was rotated by hand, crankshaft and camshaft continuity was confirmed. Valve train continuity was confirmed, and thumb compression was attained on all cylinders.

Oil was observed throughout the engine, and the oil suction and finger screens were absent of debris. Both magnetos sustained fire damaged and could not be tested. The fuel servo was recovered and the fuel screen was absent of debris. The use of water-finding paste revealed traces of water in the fuel servo. Additionally, a trace of water was found in the fuel manifold.

The wreckage was re-examined on October 24, 2002. All four cylinders were removed for inspection. The piston heads exhibited light carbon deposits, consistent with a recent overhaul. No discrepancies or evidence of detonation was noted.

The right wing fuel cap was recovered. Both O'rings on the right wing fuel cap were intact. When an FAA inspector poured water onto the top of the fuel cap, the water did not leak past the inner O'ring. The left wing fuel cap was not recovered.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot by personnel of the Ocean County Medical Examiners Office, Toms River, New Jersey.

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


The section of propeller blade, containing one side where the missing tip would have joined, was forwarded to the Safety Board's Materials Laboratory for further examination. The examination revealed that the blade section had been extensively melted, and there was no evidence of a fracture.


The previous owner of the accident airplane stated that he had not experience any problems with the engine in the past. The previous owner added that he always kept the airplane in a hangar, and the new owner did not.

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 attitude is attained 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."

The wreckage was released to the airport owner on October 1, 2002.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's inadequate preflight inspection which failed to detect water-contaminated fuel, and his failure to maintain airspeed.

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