Sunday, April 30, 2017

Wheeler Express, N564ER: Fatal accident occurred February 11, 2015 near Greeley-Weld County Airport (KGXY), Kersey, Colorado

John E. 'Jack' Burt

Richard LaCourse

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Denver, Colorado
Lycoming Engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania 

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Aviation Accident Data Summary - National Transportation Safety Board:

Richard LaCourse:

NTSB Identification: CEN15FA141
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, February 11, 2015 in Kersey, CO
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/16/2017
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

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.

The private pilot/owner of the experimental amateur-built airplane and an airline transport pilot-rated passenger arrived at an airport, and a mechanic heard the engine backfiring and "missing." The pilots subsequently stated to the mechanic that they had been experiencing problems with the engine. The mechanic offered that his boss could look at the engine, but the pilots did not want to wait. The mechanic accompanied the pilots to the airplane, and helped them start it with auxiliary power. They then realized the starter solenoid was not engaging the starter. About 10 minutes later, the pilot requested a jumper wire to bypass the the starter solenoid in order to start the engine. The engine started, and, as the airplane taxied for takeoff, the mechanic noted that the engine was still running rough.

A witness, who was located about 3/4 mile from the accident location, reported hearing the airplane's engine "sputtering." When the airplane flew over about 200-300 ft above ground level, the engine was running rough and occasionally "missing." He then heard the engine stop running and saw the airplane subsequently descend about 30° nose-low into an open field at high speed.

There was an immediate postimpact fire. An examination of the airplane, engine, and other airplane systems revealed no anomalies.

The pilot had not completed a flight review in over 7 years; had not logged any flight time in the 2 years before the accident; and his recency of flight experience, including the last time he may have practiced emergency procedures, could be determined. Although the reason for the loss of engine power could not be determined during postaccident examination, the high-speed, nose-low impact is consistent with a loss of airplane control.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

The pilot's failure to maintain airplane control during an off-airport forced landing following a total loss of engine power for reasons that could not be determined during postaccident examination of the engine. Contributing to the accident was the pilots' decision to conduct the flight with known mechanical deficiencies.


On February 11, 2015, about 1433 mountain standard time, an experimental, amateur-built Wheeler Express, N564ER, impacted terrain while performing an off-airport forced landing near Kersey, Colorado. The private pilot and airline transport pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured, and the airplane was destroyed. The airplane was privately owned and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The airplane departed from Greeley-Weld County Municipal Airport (GXY), Greeley, Colorado, and was en route to Front Range Airport (FTG), Watkins, Colorado.

An airframe and powerplant mechanic at GXY reported hearing the accident airplane's engine making odd noises as it taxied to the parking area. He stated that the engine was backfiring and sounded like one or more of the cylinders was misfiring. He went outside and saw the airplane taxi to the ramp in front of the airport terminal.

Later, the two pilots came into his shop and stated that they were experiencing difficulty with the airplane's engine. The mechanic stated that his boss would be more knowledgeable about the subject and that he would return in about 35 minutes. The pilots stated that they did not want to wait that long and planned to return to FTG. The mechanic offered to accompany them to the airplane and listen to the engine as they started it. The pilots proceeded to board the airplane without conducting a preflight inspection and attempted to start the engine; however, the engine would not start. The mechanic assisted the pilots in starting the engine with auxiliary power and found that the battery had a charge but that the starter solenoid "didn't click like it should" and was not engaging the starter. Both pilots disembarked the airplane, and the mechanic returned to his work.

About 10 minutes later, one of the pilots requested a "jumper wire" from the mechanic so that he could bypass the starter solenoid. A subsequent attempt to start the engine was successful. The mechanic stated that, as the airplane taxied out to the runway, the engine began to run rough; however, the pilots continued their taxi. The mechanic did not see the takeoff but was informed shortly thereafter that the airplane had crashed.

Another witness, who was standing outside his shop about 3/4 mile from the accident location, reported hearing an airplane's engine "sputtering." When the airplane flew over him about 200-300 ft. above ground level, the engine was running rough and occasionally "missing." The airplane proceeded southeast when he heard a backfire; he thought the engine stopped running. The airplane then descended and impacted the ground at high speed in an approximate 30° nose-down attitude. There was an immediate postimpact fire. The witness called 911, went to the accident location, and fought the fire with several handheld fire extinguishers until emergency responders arrived.


The 65-year-old pilot held a private pilot certificate with a single-engine land rating. He also held a repairman experimental amateur builder certificate. On February 25, 2013, he was issued a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third-class medical certificate with a limitation requiring corrective lenses. On the medical certificate application, the pilot reported 250 total hours of flight experience, and 20 hours in the preceding six months.

A review of the pilot's logbooks revealed that his most recent flight review was completed on September 22, 2007. Between the time of his flight review and the accident flight, the pilot's logbook showed two additional flights, one on February 15, 2013, where he performed takeoffs and landings, and the other on April 3, 2013, which was a high-speed taxi and flight test of the accident airplane. The two flights totaled 1.4 hours.

The passenger, age 79, held an airline transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, single-engine sea, multi-engine land, and instrument. He was also type-rated in several commercial and business aircraft. Additionally, he held a flight engineer certificate for turbojet aircraft. On April 2, 2014, he was issued a third-class medical certificate with a limitation that he must have glasses available for near vision. On the medical certificate application, the pilot reported he had flown 22,750 total hours, with 23.7 hours in the preceding 6 months.

A review of the passenger's logbook revealed that he successfully completed a flight review on April 23, 2014.


The composite construction airplane was a four-place, low-wing, tricycle landing gear monoplane. It was built from a kit by the pilot/owner and completed in 2013. It was equipped with two 46-gallon fuel tanks located in the wings and powered by a Lycoming IO-540-S1A5 engine, rated at 300 hp at 2,800 rpm, which drove a Hartzell HC-C2YR-1BF two-bladed constant-speed propeller.

A review of the airplane's maintenance logbooks revealed that the pilot completed a condition inspection on March 3, 2014. The recorded tachometer time at the annual inspection was 5.0 hours. The airframe hours (Hobbs) meter was recovered at the accident site. The time on the meter read 14.4 hours.


The 1435 automated weather observation at GXY, about 6 statute miles northwest of the accident site, recorded wind from 190° at 5 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, clear skies, temperature 52°F, dew point 27°F, and an altimeter setting of 30.34 inches of mercury.


The accident site was located about 2 statute miles south of the town of Kersey in a field at the corner of two county roads. The main wreckage consisted of the airplane's separated propeller, separated engine, cabin area, baggage compartment, left and right wings, nose and main landing gear, aft fuselage, and the separated empennage.

The accident scene began with a 20-ft-long impact crater and ground scar that extended on a southeast heading. The impact crater at the northwest end of the ground scar was about 3 ft. wide and 12 inches deep. Impressions perpendicular to the left and right of the impact crater corresponded with the leading edges of the left and right wings and the left main landing gear. The propeller was embedded in the impact crater and broken torsionally at the phalange. The blades showed torsional bending, leading edge bends and gouges, and chordwise scratches. Along the ground scar and proceeding into the subsequent debris field were pieces of broken cowling, the nose gear, portions of the forward fuselage, and the fuel selector.

The debris field extended about 75 ft. southeast from the ground scar. Within the debris field were broken pieces from the wings, forward fuselage and windscreen, broken cabin interior and instrument panel pieces, avionics, radios, and navigation and flight instruments. The empennage came to rest inverted at the end of the debris field and was broken at the fuselage just forward of the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer. The vertical stabilizer and rudder were intact. The left horizontal stabilizer was broken aft at the outboard end and the left elevator was separated. The right horizontal stabilizer was crushed and broken aft along the leading edge. About 10 ft. beyond the empennage were broken parts of the aft fuselage and the left elevator.

About 30 ft. southeast of the empennage was a burned area of grass and dirt that ran along the north side of an east-west oriented dirt road. The burned area was about 50 ft. long and 10 ft. wide. The burned area contained the remainder of the airplane's cabin, the left and right wings, fuel tanks, and the main landing gear. These components were charred and consumed by the postimpact fire.

The intact engine, with the engine mounts and the airplane's firewall, came to rest upright on the road east of the burned area. The forward fuselage around the firewall was crushed inward and aft. The engine mounts were bent downward.

Flight control continuity to the elevator, rudder, and ailerons was established at the accident scene.


Autopsies of both pilots were conducted by the Weld County, Colorado Coroner at Loveland, Colorado,. Both pilots' cause of death was attributed to multiple force injuries suffered in an airplane crash.

Toxicology testing on the pilot, performed by the FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, identified 0.010 gm/dl of ethanol in muscle, but no ethanol in liver. In addition, losartan, a prescription blood pressure medication, was identified in the liver but not in blood. Ethanol is the alcohol found in beer, wine, and liquor and federal regulation limits pilots to no more than 0.04 gm/dl when flying. Ethanol may also be produced in body tissue after death.

Toxicology testing performed on the pilot-rated passenger identified diphenhydramine in liver and blood. The level of diphenhydramine in the blood was below the level of quantification.


The airplane was examined in further detail at a salvage facility in Greeley, Colorado. The fuel selector was found to be on the left tank.

The engine was separated from the cowling and engine mounts, and the valve covers, accessories, and top spark plugs were removed; the engine was suspended from a forklift for the examination. The crankshaft was rotated by hand, and thumb compression was established on all cylinders. Engine drive train continuity was established throughout. Borescope examination of the cylinders revealed no anomalies. The right magneto was separated from the engine, and the left magneto remained partially attached. Both magnetos were impact-damaged and would not produce spark. The fuel servo was found attached to the sump. The brass plug was found tight and properly safetied. The fuel inlet screen and injectors were free of debris. The oil pick-up screen was also found free of debris. The examination showed no indication of any pre-impact anomalies.

Fuel receipts obtained from FTG showed that the pilot fueled the airplane with 20 gallons of 100 low lead aviation gasoline on February 6, 2015.

A review of the engine logbooks showed the engine was last overhauled on July 1, 1994.

According to Lycoming Service Instruction 100.9AW, engine overhauls should be performed every 12 years or 1,800 hours of operation, whichever occurs first.

The handheld GPS unit that was recovered with the airplane was examined at the NTSB Vehicle Performance Laboratory in Washington, DC, on October 6, 2015. The unit was powered up and data was extracted. The accident flight was not recorded.

No comments: