NTSB: Loss of fuel pumps may have caused deadly Tuscaloosa County plane crash

Northport Police and other agencies work the scene of a plane crash, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, near the Tuscaloosa airport in Northport, Ala. Vasha Hunt/vhunt@al.com

Northport Police and other agencies work the scene of a plane crash, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, near the Tuscaloosa airport in Northport, Ala. Vasha Hunt/vhunt@al.com

TUSCALOOSA COUNTY, Ala. – The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report on an airplane crash that killed six people. It happened Sunday, August 14 in Northport.

The report says the pilot first reported a fuel pump failure and requested a diversion to the nearest airport at 11:11 a.m. A short time later, the pilot then reported the airplane lost the other fuel pump.

The airplane hit some trees approximately 1,650 feet before the approach to the end of the runway.

Federal Aviation Administration records show the pilot held a private pilot certification for single-engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplanes. A flight log shows he had accumulated 48.7 hours of flight time in that airplane since march 2016. The aircraft had last been inspected in November of 2015.

Jason Farese and Lea Farese; dentist Michael Perry and his wife, Kim Perry, a nurse practitioner at the University of Mississippi; and dentist Austin Poole and his wife, Angie Poole all died in the crash. They left behind a total of 11 children.

The complete preliminary report reads in full: 

NTSB Identification: ERA16FA289
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, August 14, 2016 in Northport, AL
Aircraft: PIPER PA 31-325, registration: N447SA
Injuries: 6 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On August 14, 2016, about 1120 central daylight time, a Piper PA-31-325, N447SA, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain near Northport, Alabama, while diverting to Tuscaloosa Regional Airport (TCL), Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The private pilot and five passengers were fatally injured. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight plan was filed for the personal flight. The flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The flight departed Kissimmee Gateway Airport (ISM), Orlando, Florida, around 0855, with an intended destination of Oxford University Airport (UOX), Oxford, Mississippi.

According to fuel receipts, the airplane’s fuel tanks were “topped off” with 134 gallons of fuel prior to departing ISM.

According to preliminary air traffic control data, the pilot reported a failure of a fuel pump and requested a diversion to the nearest airport around 1111. The controller the provided radar vectors toward runway 30 at TCL. When the airplane was approximately 10 miles from TCL, the pilot reported that the airplane lost “the other fuel pump.” The airplane continued to descend until it impacted trees approximately 1,650 feet prior to the approach end of runway 30.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplane. His most recent third-class medical certificate was issued in August 2014. According to a flight log found in the airplane, the pilot had accumulated 48.7 hours of flight time in the accident airplane since March 2016.

According to FAA records, the airplane was manufactured in 1984, and issued an airworthiness certificate in 1998. It was equipped with two Lycoming TIO-540-series, 350- horsepower, engines. It was also equipped with two 4-bladed Hartzell controllable pitch propellers. The most recent annual inspection was performed on November 13, 2015, and at that time the airplane had accumulated 3,260.8 total hours of time in service.

The airplane impacted trees, the ground, and came to rest in an upright position. The wreckage was oriented on a 011 degree magnetic heading, the debris path was oriented on a 300 degree magnetic heading, and was approximately 250 feet in length. All major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene.

The fuselage was separated prior to the aft bulkhead and was heavily damaged by impact and a post impact fire. Flight control continuity was confirmed from all flight control surfaces to the cockpit through multiple overload fractures. Examination of the cockpit and cabin areas revealed that both control yokes were attached to their respective columns at the time of impact and that the throttle, mixture, and propeller levers were intact in the throttle quadrant, and in the full forward position.

The left engine was separated from the nacelle and remained attached to the engine mounts. The left engine turbocharger was removed from the engine and examined. The turbocharger vanes rotated without resistance. There was no rotational scoring on the housing unit. The left propeller remained attached to the left engine, was in the unfeathered position, and was rotated by hand. Crankshaft continuity was confirmed from the propeller to the accessory section of the engine. Thumb compression and suction were observed on all cylinders when the propeller was rotated.

The right engine remained attached to all engine mounts but was separated from the right nacelle. All major components remained attached to the engine. The right engine turbocharger was removed and examined. The right turbocharger vanes rotated without resistance. There was no rotational scoring on the housing unit. The right propeller remained attached to the right engine, in the unfeathered position, and was rotated by hand. Crankshaft continuity was confirmed from the propeller to the accessory section of the engine. Thumb compression and suction were observed on Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 6, cylinders. The No. 5 cylinder was impact damaged. The No. 3 cylinder was removed from the engine and no anomalies were noted with the cylinder, piston, or piston rings.

An engine data monitor and fuel flow meter gauge were found in the main wreckage area, retained for further examination. The left engine gear driven fuel pump, the right engine gear driven fuel pump, the right boost pump, and the right emergency pump were also retained for further examination.

The 1121 recorded weather observation at TCL included wind from 170 at 10 knots, gusting to 14 knots, visibility 10 miles, scattered clouds at 2,600 feet above ground level, broken clouds at 3,600 feet above ground level, temperature 30 degrees C, dew point 25 degrees C, and a barometric altimeter setting of 30.09 inches of mercury.