A Liberty University flight-school plane that crashed in a Gladys field during a training exercise early this year didn’t have enough fuel for the flight, according to documents from the Federal Aviation Administration obtained by The News & Advance.
The crash happened in the late afternoon of February 4 while the plane was en route to Lynchburg Regional Airport from the Brookneal/Campbell County Airport.
Student Jonathan K. Bass, 22, of Chesapeake, and instructor Bruce Lee Barnhart, 52, of Gladys, said in handwritten statements to the Federal Aviation Administration they were forced to crash-land the plane after it lost power twice.
The two-seat, single-engine Piper PA-18 Super Cub hit a tree line and flipped over, finally coming to a stop in a wooded area behind a farm field at 6250 Brookneal Highway. Photos from the scene included in the Federal Aviation Administration documents show the upside-down plane pierced by trees and stained with bloody handprints.
Authorities have said Bass received minor injuries during the incident, and Barnhart was unscathed.
The cause of the crash was investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, which still is investigating.
Documents from the Federal Aviation Administration show it found Barnhart violated at least one federal aviation regulation in connection with the crash, but the specific regulation was redacted under a public records law exemption.
“The flight was operated without having adequate fuel on board. Operations of this type may be contrary to Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations,” a February 20 letter from the FAA’s Richmond Flight Standards District Office said.
The Federal Aviation Administration closed its investigation April 1, Eastern Region Spokesman Jim Peters said in a phone interview Wednesday. Barnhart completed a “letter of correction” agreeing he won’t violate the same regulation in the future.
“It doesn’t affect the pilot’s license or trigger a fine,” Peters said of the violation.
Andrew Walton, the flight school’s safety director, wouldn’t comment Wednesday on whether the pilots knew they ran out of fuel, or if the plane’s fuel level display was working properly.
“The NTSB investigation is not yet completed, therefore we are not authorized to share certain details. However, I can say that we have worked closely giving our full cooperation to both the NTSB and the FAA. Together, we very quickly identify contributing factors and ensured that LU had the right measures in place to prevent this type of accident from recurring,” Walton said in an email.
He confirmed the school keeps records of how much fuel a plane has before a flight, but, citing the investigation, he refused to say how much fuel was recorded in the Piper Super Cub when it initially took off from the Lynchburg Regional Airport on February 4.
Flight students and instructors typically spend at least 45 minutes preparing for flights, including a 15-minute walk-around inspection of the plane. That inspection would include making sure there is enough fuel and oil for a flight, Walton said.
Each airplane is inspected after every 100 hours of flight by Freedom Aviation, one of Lynchburg Regional’s fixed-base operators.
A Freedom Aviation employee wrote in an email to a Federal Aviation Administration investigator that he and other employees went to the crash site Feb. 5 to plan how to remove the aircraft from the trees. The employee, Randy Tucker, wrote there was no fuel, fuel odor or fuel stains near the tanks or on the ground beneath the plane where it crashed.
“Upon removing the wings from the aircraft and transporting them from the crash site to the staging area I witnessed approx. 1 pint of residual fuel leaking from either wing,” Tucker wrote in the February 10 email. He declined to comment when he was reached by phone Wednesday.
Walton wouldn’t disclose whether Barnhart still instructs at the flight school, but said Bass graduated in May. Walton said neither pilot was available for comment Wednesday.
The plane, which was part of the school’s 32-aircraft fleet based in Lynchburg, is “wrecked beyond repair,” Walton said.
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LIBERTY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF AERONAUTICS: http://registry.faa.gov/N619GB