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Author Topic: Lessons from John Denver's Crash  (Read 17197 times)

Gary LaPook

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Lessons from John Denver's Crash
« on: December 29, 2011, 03:37:15 AM »

I like Gary's proposed experiment - it is interesting, and perhaps might be valuable.  He and I probably do share similar curiosities in how we like to 'discover' such stuff, admittedly.

Trouble is I don't know how practical it is to construct and transport all the stuff there to do it - and I'm not sure it would really yield definitive results.  NR16020 has a 75 year head start, wherever she lies.  The money may be better spent supporting direct search of reasonable places.


But reality kills me.

It just seems like such a 'hardware taphonomy' experiment would take a bigger effort than most of us would think of in terms of dollars and logistics.  Just constructing the articles and then getting them into place is pretty big. 


Aircraft Spruce sells 2x2 foot sheets of, .032 inch thick 2024-0 aluminum  for $12.00 a sheet. If 2024 is too close to the aluminum used on the Electra, so as to cause confusion, then they sell other alloys for a bit more. So, buy 20 sheets for $240.00. Stack them up, total about 2/3rds of an inch thick stack of 2 foot by 2 foot sheets weighting a little over 9 pounds. Put them in somebody's suitcase on the next expedition.  Looks pretty doable to me.

BTW, we represented Aircraft Spruce in the lawsuit brought by John Denver's heirs after he ran his plane (a Long-Ez) out of gas and then lost control of the plane and crashed it into Monterey Bay going straight down at high speed, his body was in three big chunks when they brought it up from the bottom of the ocean. They claimed that the fuel valve sold by Aircraft Spruce to the home builder who constructed the Long-Ez was defectively designed causing the accident. (The same fuel valve is in every one of the more than 30,000 Piper Cherokee PA-28s built and in many other types of planes.)  The only cause of the accident was that John Denver decided to not put fuel in his plane prior to takeoff and then he lost control of the plane after the engine quit due to fuel starvation. He didn't add fuel because he was only going to take a short flight, that is what he told the guy who brought the fuel truck to the plane and who had recommended refueling. Denver took off with only about 30 minutes of fuel and the regulations require a minimum 30 minute reserve on top of the planned flight time.  These are the types of B.S. lawsuits I have had to deal with for over twenty years. So a portion of the cost of those aluminum sheets is to pay for these types of insurance and litigation costs.

gl
« Last Edit: December 29, 2011, 04:22:23 AM by Gary LaPook »
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: Re: aircraft parts villagers had?
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2011, 08:32:06 AM »

I loved much of his music - and was horrified at his apparent lack of acumen as a pilot at the time of that crash.  Nuts. 

Same here.  R.I.P.  Not only did he fail to fuel up, but he was new to the aircraft and probably hadn't practiced changing tanks.  This was his second flight in the newly-purchased aircraft, and he was flying without a valid license due to two DUI's.

So sad.  Stupidity is a renewable resource.   :-\
LTM,

           Marty
           TIGHAR #2359A
 
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Irvine John Donald

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Re: Re: aircraft parts villagers had?
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2011, 08:39:19 AM »

Ditto all. My late teens were filled with his music. A real shame.
Respectfully Submitted;

Irv
 
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Gary LaPook

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Re: Re: aircraft parts villagers had?
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2012, 02:53:59 AM »

I loved much of his music - and was horrified at his apparent lack of acumen as a pilot at the time of that crash.  Nuts. 

Same here.  R.I.P.  Not only did he fail to fuel up, but he was new to the aircraft and probably hadn't practiced changing tanks.  This was his second flight in the newly-purchased aircraft, and he was flying without a valid license due to two DUI's.

So sad.  Stupidity is a renewable resource.   
It is illegal to exercise the privileges of a pilot's license without a valid medical certificate which are only valid for two years. (This is for Denver's type of operation. ATP's (Airline Transport Pilots) flying airliners must get a new medical certificate every six months and there are other variations.) Denver had a drinking problem so he required a "special issuance" medical certificate a condition of which was that he never drank again. When Denver went to his Aviation Medical Examiner for the flight physical for the issuance of his last medical certificate he told the AME that he only drank occasionally, socially. The AME issued him a medical certificate in error. When the exam report reached the Federal Air Surgeon in Oklahoma City his office noticed that Denver's statement showed that he was not complying with the condition of the special issuance medical certificate, that he never drank, period! The FAA then sent a certified letter to Denver telling him his medical certificate was not valid and that he had to send it to the Federal Air surgeon.

This was not the only regulation that Denver violated on the way to the scene of the accident. First, and most significant, he took off without the required 30 minute minimum fuel reserve in addition to the planned flight time. About 30 minutes after takeoff the engine stopped making noise. He then also violated the minimum altitude regulation, he was flying at only 500 feet over the city of Monterey where regulations require a minimum of 1,000 feet. He did this because he was buzzing his friend's house, Clint Eastwood's. Had he been higher he might have been able to regain control of the plane.

gl
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Gary LaPook

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Re: Re: aircraft parts villagers had?
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2012, 03:40:38 AM »

Very interesting about poor John Denver, Gary.  I'll try to let the body graphics fade though...
I've got the video if you want to see it.

Quote

I loved much of his music - and was horrified at his apparent lack of acumen as a pilot at the time of that crash.  Nuts. 

I thought there was something about J.D. having to reach far behind him with a pair of pliers to attempt changing tanks. Even if that were so (I don't know that it really was) - he was responsible for there being fuel (or not being fuel) in the tanks, and for being familiar with that particular homebuilt's own peculiar details and fuel management requirements (I would not have flown with such an arrangement).  Someone like Spruce certainly cannot control how an individual builder might finally execute the final build anyway - 'amateur built' is stated for a reason.  Nor can they keep a fool from his task... 

I'm glad to know you defended Spruce, and well - I can empathize with their plight.  It helps keep the industry more sane for us all to have strong defenses like that - thanks and kudos!

LTM -
I took the deposition of the pilot who checked Denver out in the plane at Santa Maria. The check pilot told him that the fuel valve had become hard to turn and that he should have a mechanic take it apart and lube it with the special lube that does not dissolve in gasoline and he had Denver manipulate the valve and Denver agreed that it was stiff. He said he would have it taken care of next week when he was out of town. Anybody who has flown a Piper Cherokee, which has the same fuel valve, is familiar with this situation, "eeern--eennch- EERNCH" as you turn the fuel selector valve. This is a standard maintenance issue and is usually done at the annual inspection.

The check pilot then told Denver that he had one and a half hours of fuel in the tanks and that it should take about one hour for him to fly to Monterey so he had the required thirty minute reserve. Denver took off and flew to Monterey and it took an hour.

When Denver next flew the plane he had a mechanic help him push the plane out of the hanger. I took the mechanic's deposition. He testified that he had brought the fuel truck over and suggested Denver get some gas but Denver said he was going to have the valve disassembled while he was out of town and didn't want too much fuel in the tanks when that was done. The plans for the plane specified that the valve be installed on the floor in front of the pilot's seat. The builder testified that he didn't like that arrangement since it meant leading all the fuel lines into the bottom of the cockpit. He was afraid that if he ever made a belly landing that the belly of the plane would be ripped up and the fuel lines would be torn loose filling the cockpit with fuel and possibly causing his to be killed in the resulting fire. So he mounted the fuel valve handle over his left shoulder and to switch tanks he took his right hand off the side control stick, which was mounted only on the right side of the cockpit, reach over his left shoulder with his right hand and turn the valve handle. The actual valve was mounted behind the firewall which is where the engine is mounted in this type of plane, at the rear of the fuselage and the handle was mounted at the end of a torque tube which was then attached to the fuel valve itself.

Denver was shorter than the guy who constructed the plane and the seats are not adjustable so Denver had placed a cushion behind his back so that he was moved further forward so he could reach the rudder pedals with his feet. This placed the fuel handle further away, making it hard for Denver to reach it. He asked the mechanic if he could borrow a set of vice-grips which he then clamped to the valve handle so he could turn the handles of the vice-grips which then turned the valve. The mechanic looked at this and said "why don't you just let me put some gas in and you won't have to worry about it" but Denver again refused. The mechanic testified, "I looked at the arrangement of the vice-grips and I didn't like how it looked so I made Denver give me my vice-grips back." That was the smartest thing the mechanic ever did because if he had left those vice-grips in the plane then he would have been sued too.

So Denver took off, did a few touch and goes and then flew off to buzz Clint Eastwood's house. All together now class, if you have been paying attention, how much gas did Denver have left in the plane when he took off for his last flight? Apparently Denver couldn't figure that out for himself. When the engine stopped, because of fuel starvation, Denver attempted to switch fuel tanks, in the process he had to take his right hand off the side stick and twist his body around to the left to reach the fuel valve handle. Since it was far behind his shoulder he pushed on the right rudder pedal to help twist his body to the left and the airplane rolled over to the right and dove into the bay.

I have attached some photos showing what it is like flying this type of plane. In the first photo you can see where the fuel valve handle was supposed to be, on the floor between the pilot's knees. The owner of the  plane I was flying set an altitude record with it, only 135 hp and naturally aspirated! We were up at 17,500 feet so we had to suck oxygen.

gl

« Last Edit: January 01, 2012, 04:02:23 AM by Gary LaPook »
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richie conroy

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Re: Lessons from John Denver's Crash
« Reply #5 on: March 17, 2012, 05:16:49 PM »

i was in local car booty today an came across a few john denver singles 45s

never thought anythink of it till i seen this post  :o
We are an echo of the past


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