The crash-landing of a small plane on Carlsbad State Beach that injured a 12-year-old boy was most likely due to pilot error and an empty fuel tank, according to a report released by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Piper PA18, registered to Air Ads Inc., out of Gillespie Field in El Cajon, lost engine power while towing an advertising banner on the Fourth of July. It crashed on the crowded beach near Cannon Road, then flipped over by the waterline.
According to the report, which includes factual findings and a probable cause determined by NTSB officials, the pilot of the single-engine plane, Luke William Kanagy, most likely failed to “manage the fuel system properly,” and the lack of fuel resulted in engine failure.
Previous reports suggested that the engine malfunctioned during flight.
Kanagy was not injured in the accident, but the plane struck Nicholas Baer, 12, who was on the beach at the time. Baer suffered a concussion, a sizable gash to his head and a damaged skull. He underwent emergency brain surgery at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. Doctors later reported that the surgery was successful.
The report, which was released last week, comes in the midst of a lawsuit, filed by Nicholas’ family in San Diego Superior Court, against Kanagy, the banner advertising company Air Ads, and its owner James Oakley.
Attorney David S. Casey Jr., who is representing Nicholas’ family in the suit, said the final report helps prove that the boy’s injuries are directly due to Kanagy’s negligence.
“He just ran out of gas. It’s something that should never have occurred,” Casey said. “It’s a clear error on behalf of the pilot.”
NTSB investigator Howard Plagens, whose analysis of the plane and crash site was used to compile the report, said the aircraft had two fuel tanks, one on the left and right. The plane was also equipped with a fuel selector valve, which allows the pilot to switch fuel tanks when one is running low during flight.
Plagens said there was fuel in the right tank, but the plane’s selector valve was pointing to the left tank, which was empty.
The Carlsbad crash is one of more than 25 accidents involving banner planes in California over the past two decades, based on a San Diego Union-Tribune review of Federal Aviation Administration and NTSB records in August.
The cause of the California accidents vary. About a quarter were due to engine failure. More than half occurred while cruising or maneuvering the aircraft, records show, and 62 percent resulted in injury or death.
Aviation experts say banner flying isn’t necessarily dangerous, but planes do fly at low altitudes — usually above crowded areas.
Casey said Nicholas is still recovering from the accident, but he’s able to participate in sports again, which is “a step in a positive direction.”
Oakley, owner of Air Ads, said he could not comment on the accident or the report because of the pending lawsuit, but confirmed that Kanagy is no longer an employee with the company.
According to the most recent FAA Airmen Certification Database, Kanagy is licensed to fly commercially and is a certified flight instructor of single-engine planes.
Messages to Kanagy seeking comment went unanswered.
AIR ADS INC: http://registry.faa.gov/N8075P
NTSB Identification: WPR15CA207
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, July 04, 2015 in Carlsbad, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 12/17/2015
Aircraft: PIPER PA 18-150, registration: N8075P
Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 Uninjured.
NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.
The pilot stated that he was towing a banner along a beach when the engine gradually lost power, and applying carburetor heat had no effect. A forced landing was initiated on the beach, and during the landing roll the airplane struck a person before it nosed over into the surf. The engine mount, right wing, and right rear lift strut were substantially damaged.
Postaccident examination on site revealed that the fuel selector valve was in the left tank position. A follow up examination determined that no fuel was visible in the left fuel tank site gauge inside the cockpit area. The right wing filler cap was removed, and fuel was observed in the right tank. Fuel drained from the sump at the rear of the right tank, but nothing drained from the sump at the rear of the left tank. No fuel drained from the gascolator on the firewall. The operator reported that there were no mechanical malfunctions or failures of the airframe or engine that would have precluded normal operation.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot's failure to manage the fuel system properly during a banner tow operation resulting in a loss of engine power due to fuel starvation.
FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA San Diego FSDO-09