rpm continued to rise. He then throttled back in an
attempt to control the propeller overspeed, but he
heard a loud bang from the engine followed by smoke
in the cockpit and loss of engine power.
The pilot was now over Lopez Island and
attempted to reach a small airstrip but quickly determined he wouldn’t make it. He initiated a forced
landing on a nearby road, had to pull up at the last
minute to avoid a vehicle, then landed on the road.
The left wing struck a wooden fence post, resulting in
substantial structural damage and twisting and buckling of the empennage.
The pilot and passengers were treated for scrapes
and bruises by the Lopez Island Fire Department.
The sheriff was quoted by the newspaper as saying,
“The aircraft’s fortunate landing was due in great part
to the pilot’s composure and skill.”
WHAT WAS THE PILOT THINKING?
What possessed this pilot to conduct his initial post-maintenance test flight (immediately following an
extensive engine teardown and propeller overhaul)
on an overwater flight with a cabin full of passengers,
including children? Could he possibly have been
oblivious to the extremely high risk associated with
such a flight?
Unfortunately, the FARs aren’t particularly helpful:
§ 91.407(b) No person may carry any person (other
than crewmembers) in an aircraft that has been
maintained, rebuilt, or altered in a manner that may
have appreciably changed its flight characteristics or
substantially affected its operation in flight until an
appropriately rated pilot with at least a private pilot
certificate flies the aircraft, makes an operational check
of the maintenance performed or alteration made, and
logs the flight in the aircraft records.
This regulation requires a post-maintenance test
flight to be made (without passengers) and logged
after any maintenance to the aircraft “that may have
appreciably changed its flight characteristics or
The pilot and his three passengers walked away with only scrapes and
bruises, but the Bonanza was a total loss.
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