Water, snail sullied crashed plane’s fuel

Posted July 07, 2009, at 8:53 p.m.

ISLESBORO, Maine — The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary investigation of last month’s Penobscot Island Air Service plane crash indicated the presence of water and a snail in fuel drained from the aircraft.

The NTSB report filed June 29 offered no conclusions as to the cause of the crash as a detailed examination of the Cessna wreckage by the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to be completed. The plane crashed on takeoff June 15 after the engine lost power.

Pilot Victor Hall, 56, of Rockland suffered minor injuries in the crash. According to the report, Hall was taking off from the island airstrip for his fourth flight of the day when the plane began to lose power. He crashed in woods about 800 yards from the end of the runway.

“When I cleared the departure end of the runway, the power started to come back,” Hall told the investigators. “There was a slight stumble to it, and then the power started slowly coming off. The throttle was full, and nothing happened, the power kept coming down.”

Hall told the investigators that he estimated he was 200 or 300 feet above ground at the time when the engine lost power. He rejected attempting to land in a nearby open field because it lacked the needed glide distance. Instead he came down straight ahead into the woods, which resulted in substantial damage to the aircraft.

Hall exited the plane through the baggage door and later went back inside to turn off the fuel, throttle mixture and battery. He then used his cell phone to report the crash at 11:45 a.m.

Penobscot Island Air Service has a contract to deliver the island’s mail, and the crash occurred during takeoff after Hall dropped off the mail sacks.

The report noted that during his preflight ritual for his first flight of the day, Hall tested the fuel tanks and noticed the presence of water. He continued to pump the tanks until the fuel samples were free of water. The airplane recorded 50 minutes of flight time during the three flights before the crash.

The preliminary report gave no explanation for the presence of water and a snail (land mollusk) in fuel taken from the plane’s right header tank. The snail subsequently dissolved in a jar, but its remains were suspended in the water at the bottom of the jar. The sample was retained for testing by the fuel wholesaler.

When three FAA certified mechanics took the airplane apart on June 17, they drained approximately 21 gallons of fuel from the left wing with no obstructions noted. The right wing was separated from the airplane in the crash except for “one or two” control cables.

According to a report submitted by the recovery crew, the engine started immediately using the plane’s battery power and ran continuously, using the airplane’s own fuel system. An oil leak was noted due to impact damage.

The report noted that Hall held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for single-engine, multiengine and instrument airplanes. He also held a flight instructor certificate. Hall had 3,625 flight hours experience, of which 350 hours were in the same make and model Cessna he was flying that Monday morning.

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