Plane crash map Locate crash sites, wreckage and more

N31794 accident description

New Mexico map... New Mexico list
Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Moriarty, NM
34.990050°N, 106.049189°W
Tail number N31794
Accident date 03 Feb 1997
Aircraft type Aeronca 65-TC
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On February 3, 1997, at 1630 mountain standard time, an Aeronca 65-TC, N31794, registered to and operated by a private owner under Title 14 CFR Part 91, impacted terrain following a loss of control during the takeoff initial climb near Moriarty, New Mexico. The private pilot and the passenger received fatal injuries and the airplane sustained substantial damage. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the planned cross country flight and a flight plan was not filed. The flight originated from the Moriarty Airport at the time of the accident.

Local authorities, airport personnel, and acquaintances of the pilot and passenger reported to the NTSB investigator-in-charge that the pilot and passenger arrived at Columbus, New Mexico, on February 2, 1997, to complete the purchase of N31794. On February 3, 1997, at Columbus, New Mexico, the pilot made two local flights in the airplane for approximately 45 minutes during which he performed some flight maneuvers and several takeoffs and landings. The Columbus Airport winds were from the west at 10 knots with a temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit when the flight departed Columbus (elevation 4,024 feet) at 0915 with en route refueling stops planned for Truth or Consequences (elevation 4,850 feet), New Mexico, and Socorro, (elevation 4,850 feet) New Mexico. The airplane was topped with 10.2 gallon of fuel at Truth or Consequences and 4.9 gallons at Socorro. Subsequently, the pilot changed the next refueling stop from Santa Rosa (elevation 4,782 feet) to Moriarty (elevation 6,201 feet).

Between 1530 and 1600, the airplane was observed executing a 45 degree entry to the downwind pattern for runway 26 at Moriarty and subsequently a 40 degree bank angle turn onto final approach to the runway. During the refueling (6.7 gallons), the pilot stated that they wanted to make Tucumcari (elevation 4,064 feet), New Mexico, by sunset. At Moriarty, the winds were from the west/northwest at 10 knots with gusts to 15 or 20 knots with occasional light to moderate turbulence in the area, and a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The airplane was observed taxiing to intersection Delta and beginning the initial takeoff roll on runway 26. Runway length available from intersection Delta is 5,100 feet.

The takeoff roll was the last observation of the airplane until the next morning. During a glider instructional flight on February 4, 1996, at approximately 1045, the instructor spotted the accident site approximately 1/2 mile south of the Moriarty Airport. The glider instructor returned to the airport where he called 911. The New Mexico State Police logged the call at 1130, and the Torrance County Dispatch Center logged the 911 call at 1136. There were no reported witnesses to this accident.


Review of the FAA records, aircraft flight records, and the pilot logbook by the investigator-in-charge revealed the pilot obtained the private pilot certificate with the single engine land rating on July 14, 1983. The last third class medical certificate was issued to the pilot on June 13, 1994. The pilot's first flight logged in a tailwheel airplane was in May 1994 in the Sonerai experimental category aircraft with 74.5 hours logged in the aircraft by June 1995. The pilot logbook indicated 80.5 hours in the Thorp T-18 from September 1995 through December 1996. The pilot's total flight time logged was 949 hours. On July 5, 1996, the pilot logbook showed a 0.5 hour check out in an Aeronca. An aircraft flight card (copy enclosed) was found in the aircraft. For February 3, 1997, the card indicated 4.04 hours of flight time (tachometer 340.00 to 344.04) for N31794 from Columbus to Moriarty.

A review of FAA records by the investigator-in-charge revealed that the passenger was issued a student pilot certificate and a third class medical certificate on September 8, 1995. Acquaintances reported to the investigator-in-charge that the student pilot was part owner in the airplane; however, he was a passenger during the flight and had not communicated any intentions of flying the airplane en route to Wisconsin.


The airplane's date of manufacture was December 4, 1940. A review of the maintenance records, by the investigator-in-charge, revealed that the engine was overhauled and returned to service in December 1985. The entire airframe was recovered with fabric in September 1978. The Sensenich propeller, Model W72CK42, Serial Number AA7896, was installed on May 17, 1986. On May 29, 1995, the ailerons were re-rigged, the elevator trim tab arm was re-bushed, the clevis pin replaced, the impulse coupling was replaced in the left magneto, and the ignition leads were changed. The carburetor was replaced on July 21, 1995, with a serviceable Bendix NAS-3A1. The operation of all controls was checked on December 20, 1996, when the last annual inspection was performed and the airplane returned to service.

The aircraft type certification data sheet list the maximum gross weight of the airplane as 1,150 pounds and the fuel capacity as 12 gallons (10 gallons main tank, 2 gallons in header tank) with a fuel weight of 6 lbs per gallon. Maintenance records listed the basic empty weight as 725 pounds. FAA medical certificates listed the weight of the passenger as 140 pounds and the pilot as 169 pounds. Baggage weighed at the site, under the surveillance of the investigator-in-charge, was 28 lbs 6 ounces. Total payload at the time of the accident was calculated by the investigator-in-charge as 409 lbs 6 ounces (useful load 425 lbs).


Weather reports reviewed by the investigator-in-charge revealed that local weather in the vicinity of the route was reporting surface winds from the west/northwest at 10 knots variable to 15 knots with gust to 25 knots with the winds aloft forecasted from 330 degrees at 17 knots. The Area Forecast outlook for New Mexico included wind gust to 30 knots. Airmet Tango was valid until 2000 for occasional moderate turbulence. Several PIREPS were issued for light to moderate turbulence. The temperature in Moriarty at 1630 was 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Density altitude was determined to be 7,000 feet MSL.


A search of ATC facility data did not reveal any preflight or en route communications with said aircraft.


The airplane came to rest on a measured magnetic heading of 185 degrees in a nose low attitude approximately 1/2 mile south of runway 26 at the Moriarty Airport. The level terrain was dry desert grassland. The right wing leading edge ribs were crushed aft and the right wing fabric was buckled, crushed and wrinkled toward the trailing edge. The empennage was folded and twisted toward the right wing and the outboard tip of the right horizontal stabilizer rested against the ground aft of the right wing trailing edge. Portions of the windshield plexiglass were found on the ground forward and aft of the right wing.

The engine was intact, the crankshaft rotated and there was continuity to all the cylinders and the rear of the engine. Hand compression was noted at all the cylinders. The oil screen contained a small amount of debris; however, the screen was clear for oil passage. The top spark plugs exhibited light wear and light deposits in the electrode areas. The carburetor was separated from the engine at the throttle valve area. The carburetor fuel screen was clear of debris and no pre-impact discrepancies were found with the carburetor components. The carburetor heat was in the cold position. Both magnetos rotated; however, impact damage precluded operational sparking of the magnetos. One of the wood propeller blades shattered and separated from the engine. The opposite propeller blade exhibited scratches and remained attached to the engine. There were no preimpact discrepancies found that would preclude engine and propeller operation.

The integrity of the fuel system was compromised; however, the fuel cap was secure and there was no evidence of fuel leakage at the filler cap. The fuel primer was extended out 1.25 inches and the lock tab was separated from the shaft and found inside the primer. The fuel selector was in the "ON" position, the cockpit throttle control was forward, and the fuel screen at the header tank and the gascolator were clear of debris. Tachometer reading was 344.11. The elevator trim indicator in the cockpit was toward the "nose up" position. The aft control stick was positioned to the full right stop and the stick was bent to the right and forward. Flight control rods were intact and flight control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit to the rudder and ailerons. The elevator bellcrank exhibited a crack from the forward edge of the flange through a bolt hole to the aft area of the bellcrank. The bellcrank was within 1/8 inch of total separation. The elevator pushrod was jammed from the bellcrank to the attachment point at the aft control stick, and the elevator was jammed in the full down position. The elevator bellcrank separation surfaces aft of the flange were clean and exhibited surface roughness and deformation indicative of overstress. The elevator bellcrank was forwarded to the NTSB Metallurgical Laboratory for examination of the separation surfaces at the forward edge of the flange.


The autopsies were performed by the Office of the Medical Examiner, University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Aviation toxicological testing was performed by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The CAMI toxicological findings for the private pilot were positive for drugs in the following concentration: 0.293 ug/ml Fluoxetine (antidepressant) detected in the blood; 0.333 ug/ml Norfluoxetine (Fluoxetine metabolite) detected in the blood; 1.170 ug/ml Fluoxetine detected in the liver fluid; 1.790 ug/ml Norfluoxetine detected in the liver fluid; 0.046 ug/ml Nordiazepam detected in the liver fluid; 0.031 ug/ml Nordiazepam detected in the urine; and 69.800 ug/ml Salicylate detected in the liver fluid. The CAMI non quantified findings were positive for Nordiazepam in the blood and Oxazepam and Temazepam in the urine. According to Dr. Canfield, CAMI, "the drugs found in this case are capable of impairing ability of the pilot to perform safety related duties." Dr. Canfield further stated an "opinion that these drugs would cause impairment of the pilot and could contribute to the cause of an aviation accident." None of the drugs are approved by the FAA for use while flying. See the enclosed toxicological report for additional details.


NTSB Metallurgists reported that on the fracture line of the bellcrank crack, there was a weld bead on the outside of the bend forming the flange. Scanning electron microscope examination disclosed "characteristics indicative of overstress in the areas of the weld fracture." An "unoxidized clean sharp 'V' shaped notch" was noted adjacent to the flange and extended toward the aft part of the bellcrank.

Analysis (copy enclosed) of fuel samples from the Moriarty Airport revealed that the fuel was within the manufacturer specifications for the aviation 100LL grade.

The airplane was released to the owner's representative.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's failure to maitain airspeed resulting in an inadvertent stall/spin. Factors were gusty winds, turbulence, a high density altitude, and the pilot's lack of total experience in the make and model of aircraft.

© 2009-2020 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.