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Crash report points to engine trouble

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The single-engine plane had been in the air for about 30 minutes and a student pilot had taken control when the engine suddenly lost power.

The student pilot, Brent Abshier, 38, of Indianapolis, and instructor Dennis Rumley, 65, of Greenwood, were about 3,000 feet in the air over a Greenwood field. They had just been practicing what to do when a plane’s engine shuts down and how to recover. Then the real emergency began on March 18.

Abshier had about 30 hours of flight experience from previous training but hadn’t flown in years. He had practiced some turns and was heading back to the Greenwood Airport when the 37-year-old Cessna plane began losing power. He tried to give the engine full power, but it didn’t respond. His teacher, Rumley, took control and tried to restore power again.

When that didn’t work, Rumley began preparing for a crash landing in the field. As the engine continued to lose power, the entire plane began vibrating, Abshier told investigators.

Their account of the accident is included in the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report on the accident.

About 30 feet above the ground, the engine power came back, causing the plane to stall in the air before striking the ground.

The accident happened at 10:43 a.m. in a field near Combs and County Line roads in Greenwood. Investigators looked over the wreckage, talked to airport officials and a mechanic and interviewed both Abshier and Rumley, who were injured in the crash.

The preliminary report contains the facts of what happened without any analysis and will be updated during the next 12 to 18 months with what investigators determine is the cause of the crash, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said.

The report also includes details about the plane, which had a problem losing engine power the month before, and weather conditions that day.

The temperature was 39 degrees, and visibility was 10 miles.

A mechanic at the airport said another plane had a problem maintaining engine speed because of ice forming on the carburetor. When certain conditions make carburetor-icing more common, pilots are to take certain steps.

Abshier and Rumley took off from the airport at 10:15 a.m. and did not file a flight plan before taking off, nor were they required to. Pilots are encouraged to file flight plans, but that isn’t mandatory unless they’re carrying paying passengers, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro said.

After taking off, Rumley and Abshier went southeast of the airport to practice basic flight maneuvers at 2,500 to 3,000 feet. Abshier performed two approach-to-landing stalls and one takeoff/departure stall, according to the report.

A stall means that a plane’s engine has shut down, stopped working or isn’t receiving power, and pilots regularly practice recovering from stalls, Holloway said.

After recovering from one of the stalls, Abshier turned back toward the airport, which is when the plane started losing engine power, causing drops in altitude and air speed.

Abshier and Rumley both tried giving the plane full power, but nothing happened. Rumley took control of the plane and tried to glide the underpowered plane while simultaneously restoring engine speed. Shortly before hitting the ground, the engine power suddenly increased, causing the aircraft to pitch up before it crashed, heavily damaging the front and rear ends of the aircraft.

Fuel was spilling out of the plane after the crash, and Abshier turned certain switches in the aircraft off, the report said. Rumley talked police through how to operate the plane’s fuel shut off valve and stop more fuel from spilling out. Rumley and Abshier were taken to area hospitals and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Investigators looked over the wreckage of the plane, which showed no problems that would have led to a crash, according to the report.

But they did learn from Rumley that, about a month earlier, he had a similar experience while flying the plane. The engine lost power because of the aircraft’s throttle setting, according to the report.

An FAA information bulletin showed that there was a risk of ice accumulating on the carburetor at the cruise and descent engine power settings.

A mechanic at the airport also told investigators he had experienced an issue with another Cessna 150, where he noticed the carburetor showed signs of icing when the engine speed dropped below 1,800 rpm. He increased heat to the carburetor, and the engine recovered. That same issue happened at least two other times, according to the report.

According to an FAA pilot handbook, if conditions could lead to carburetor icing, then carburetor heat needs to be increased and left on until the pilot is sure all of the ice has been removed, the report said.

Rumley told investigators that carburetor heat hadn’t been used during Abshier’s training, the report said.

Rumley also said he had not had an issue with carburetor icing in the plane that crashed, the report said.

Holloway said the safety board will continue to add facts and analysis to the report before issuing its final conclusions.

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