FARMINGTON — Three years after the plane crash that killed former Aztec Mayor Michael Arnold, a final report issued in June by the National Transportation Safety Board did not pinpoint why Arnold lost control of his aircraft.
"The pilot’s loss of airplane control during takeoff for reasons that could not be determined because post-accident fire damage precluded a complete examination of the airplane," according to the June 16 report.
Arnold, 62, died May 18, 2013, when he lost control of his single-engine plane and crashed shortly after takeoff from the Aztec Airport.
Just after the plane became airborne, it struck a berm on the right side of the runway, spun 180 degrees and was engulfed in flames, according to the report.
The report indicates there is a possibility that Arnold became distracted during takeoff.
"The circumstances of the accident are consistent with the pilot becoming distracted during takeoff, possibly by a fuel leak or onboard fire," the report states. "However, neither scenario could be verified. Therefore, the reason that the pilot did not maintain airplane control during takeoff could not be determined."
Arnold bought the plane about six months prior to the crash and had complained that on a previous flight about a week earlier, fuel had been pooling on the floor of the cockpit. NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration investigators were unable to determine a possible leak source.
Arnold's body was taken the day of the crash to Albuquerque for an autopsy. Results showed that Arnold had carbon monoxide in his blood and antihistamine in his urine. No other drugs were present. The cause of death was determined "to be inhalation of products of combustion and thermal injuries," according to the report.
Visibility was clear, and the wind was light, according to the report.
NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said about 1,300 investigations are handled by about 50 investigators across the U.S. each year, and investigations into fatal accidents like Arnold's typically take one year to 18 months to complete.
In 1988, Arnold became the airport manager and lived at the small, twin-runway airport with his wife, Patricia Arnold.
His son, Mike Arnold Jr., said in a phone interview that despite the report's lack of certainty over the cause of the crash, he is glad it was completed.
"It’s a relief to hear it's concluded and to get closure," he said.
Mike Arnold Jr., a commercial pilot who lives in Farmington, said the length of time taken to complete the report didn't surprise him.
Arnold's son said he still hears from people who share fond memories of his dad.
"He was a jack-of-all-trades, and he’s been missed in the community," he said. "I’ve heard from people in the local and aviation communities a lot since the accident. I still get people who make the correlation with our names and tell me about what he meant to them. His passing was a big vacuum in the area, for sure."
NTSB Identification: CEN13LA299
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, May 18, 2013 in Aztec, NM
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/16/2016
Aircraft: PECK NORMAN O PECK P-1, registration: N16NM
Injuries: 1 Fatal.
NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
The private pilot was conducting a personal flight in the amateur-built airplane. A witness reported that he saw the pilot start up the airplane and take off. Just after becoming airborne, the airplane impacted a berm on the right side of the runway, spun 180 degrees, and then came to rest. A postcrash fire ensued, which consumed a majority of the airplane.
Examination of the airplane wreckage did not reveal any anomalies that would have precluded normal operation; however, a complete examination could not be conducted due to extensive fire damage. The left side of the engine did exhibit more fire damage than other areas, which may indicate that a fuel leak occurred or that the fire started at that location from another source. Further, someone who knew the pilot reported that, after the previous flight, the pilot had indicated that fuel had pooled on the cockpit floor. The circumstances of the accident are consistent with the pilot becoming distracted during takeoff, possibly by a fuel leak or onboard fire; however, neither scenario could be verified. Therefore, the reason that the pilot did not maintain airplane control during takeoff could not be determined.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot’s loss of airplane control during takeoff for reasons that could not be determined because postaccident fire damage precluded a complete examination of the airplane.
HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On May 18, 2013, about 1050 mountain daylight time, an amateur built Peck P-1 airplane, N16NM, was destroyed after it impacted the ground during takeoff from Aztec Municipal Airport (N16), Aztec, New Mexico. The private pilot, who was the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. The airplane was registered to and operated by a private individual under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and the flight was being conducted without a flight plan. The flight was departing at the time of the accident.
A witness to the accident stated that he saw the pilot start up the airplane and takeoff on runway 26. Just after becoming airborne, the airplane impacted a berm on the right side of the runway, spun 180 degrees, and was engulfed in fire.
A person who knew the pilot provided information that indicated that the pilot had purchased the airplane about 6 months prior to the accident. He also stated that the pilot had complained about 7-10 days prior to the accident that fuel had been pooling on the floor of the cockpit.
The 62 year old pilot held a private pilot certificate (airplane, single-engine land). He reported 2,500 total hours and 50 hours in the last six months on his last application for a medical certificate. He was last issued a Class-3 medical certificate on June 29, 2012. No pilot logbooks were located during the course of the investigation.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane impacted a berm on the right side of runway 26, turned 180 degrees and came to rest. Fire consumed the majority of the airplane. A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector examined the wreckage and determined there was more fire damage to the left side of the engine, but he could not determine if there was a fuel leak there due to the fire damage. He did not identify any pre-impact anomalies with the engine or flight controls.
At 1153 MDT, the weather station at Farmington, New Mexico (FMN), located 11 miles southwest of the accident site, reported wind from 240 at 3 knots, 10 miles visibility, few clouds at 10,000 ft, temperature 69 degrees F, dew point 25 degrees F, and altimeter setting 29.99 inches of mercury.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Office of the Medical Examiner, Albuquerque, New Mexico. The cause of death was determined to be inhalation of products of combustion and thermal injuries.
Forensic toxicology was performed on specimens from the pilot by the FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Diphenhydramine was detected in urine samples. Diphenhydramine was not detected in blood samples.