TRENTON, S.C. – Federal investigators probing the deadly crash of a twin-engine airplane in the woods near Twin Lakes Airport northeast of Augusta, Ga., said mechanical failure was likely to blame.
On Nov. 25, Richard Showalter,56, of Graniteville, S.C., had just taken off in a Piper Apache airplane that he had purchased just weeks before when the aircraft sputtered and lost engine power. The airplane crashed just after 6 p.m., killing Mr. Showalter, the sole occupant.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials said in a preliminary Dec. 5 report that at first the wreckage yielded no evidence of “pre-impact malfunction or failure of either engine” but that further analysis determined that the left engine was not running at the time of impact.
The NTSB report also said that Mr. Showalter had flown the Piper Apache to Pennsylvania a few weeks before to visit relatives. Upon returning, he consulted with a mechanic about the airplane’s fuel delivery system, complaining that the fuel selectors were stiff and difficult to move.
According to the report, the mechanic advised Mr. Showalter to have the airplane inspected and to lubricate the troublesome parts. However, Mr. Showalter didn’t call the mechanic back before his Dec. 5 flight, NTSB investigators noted.
The report also said that some parts of the airplane’s fuel shutoff valve were missing.
Witnesses who were in a hangar near the crash scene on Nov. 25 told NTSB investigators they saw the airplane pass behind the hangar making a sound as though it were “possibly running on one engine.” One person who saw the airplane descending said it looked as if the pilot were trying to land the plane on a nearby residential taxiway.
NTSB records show that in 2012, 1,471 general aviation crashes occurred, resulting in 432 fatalities. Despite an 85-percent decline in commercial aviation crashes, the crash rate of private-pilot flights has risen 20 percent since 2000. According to the joint private and federal government research, many general aviation crashes result from pilots’ inattention to basics or inadequate/improper response to mechanical problems in air.