Report: Electrical Short Caused Fire That Forced Down Small Plane In West Tulsa

Monday, February 7th 2011, 1:01 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma --  An unprotected electrical connection caused a short which apparently sparked a fire that forced an instructor and his student pilot to make a crash landing last September.

The two men walked away from the landing which happened near the Oaks Country Club on September 28th, 2010, but the report illustrates what a harrowing experience they had getting the burning plane on the ground.

The instructor, 28-year-old Jade Schiewe, suffered second- and third-degree burns to his lower right leg.  The student pilot, 26-year-old Zachary Pfaff, received only minor injuries. 

9/28/2010:  Related story: Instructor And Student Pilot Survive Fiery Emergency Landing Near Jones Riverside Airport

They were flying a single-engine Cessna 172RG that belonged to Spartan School of Aeronautics.

After reading the National Transportation Safety Board's Factual Report on the incident, it's clear the men are lucky to be alive.

According to the report, Pfaff was training to become a certified flight instructor.  The two men took off that morning from Jones Riverside Airport for what they thought would be a routine training flight.

They lowered the Cessna 172RG's landing gear once and practiced "slow flight in the landing configuration" without incident.  The trouble began after they returned to the airport and lowered the landing gear again to prepare for landing.

According to Schiewe, "Within seconds of lowering the gear, flames started pouring out from under the instrument panel and up the front of the panel. The carpet on the floor also caught fire quickly."

Schiewe declared an emergency and then the radio failed.  The two men tried to completely shut off the fuel, but flames prevented it.

The cabin then filled with smoke, making the instruments unreadable and choking the pilots, so Schiewe opened his door.  The drag caused by the door caused the plane to turn to the left, so Schiewe put his foot on the right rudder pedal, catching his shoe on fire.

Pfaff removed Schiewe's shoe but Schiewe's calf was on fire by then.

With the plane burning the two men were able to avoid power lines but hit a fence and landed abruptly.  They got out of the cabin and the fire destroyed the plane.

According to the NTSB, the Federal Aviation Administration inspector who responded to the accident site found evidence that the electrical connector on the hydraulic pump was improperly installed and had shorted.

The FAA inspector said there was no evidence that the exposed "lug" had been properly covered.

According to the report, the inspector "examined six other Cessna 172RG's at the airport and found two airplanes had exposed terminal lugs, three airplanes had a rubber boot installed to cover the lug, and only one airplane was equipped with the proper cover.

The inspector said he discovered that the installation procedures for the hydraulic power package did not specifically mention the cover.  He said only the Cessna 172RG Illustrated Parts Catalog showed how to properly install the cover.

Calls to both Cessna and Spartan seeking comments on the report have not been returned.

The next and final report from the NTSB on the incident will be the Probable Cause report, which could take months or even years to release.