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Mon, Aug 16, 2010

NTSB Looks At Gel-Cell Battery In Glider Accident

Pilot Suffered Only Minor Injuries Following In-Flight Fire

There has been a lot of discussion about the safety of batteries used in aircraft in recent months, and this incident is almost certain to be added to the cases being studied in that regard. The good news here is that the pilot was able to get his glider on the ground and escape with only minor injuries when faced with a cockpit fire in flight.

NTSB Identification: ERA10LA387
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, July 30, 2010 in Windsor, VA
Aircraft: SCHWEIZER SGS 2-33AK, registration: N17965
Injuries: 1 Minor.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On July 30, 2010 about 1450 eastern daylight time, a Schweizer 2-33A glider, N17965, was destroyed when it collided with trees and terrain following an in-flight fire and forced landing near Windsor, Virginia. The certificated private pilot suffered minor injuries. The glider was consumed in the subsequent post-crash fire. Visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local instructional flight which departed Garner Gliderport (3VA8), Windsor Virginia, about 1435 and was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

In both a telephone interview and a written statement the pilot said that he had stopped flying airplanes several years earlier, but recently began training to add a glider rating to his certificate. On the morning of the accident, the pilot arrived at the gliderport to practice for a "check ride" that was scheduled for 1600 that afternoon. The pilot selected and installed a "Gel-cell" battery behind the forward pilot seat during the preflight inspection of the glider. The battery was used to power the radio in the instrument panel.

The pilot completed a low-level, traffic pattern flight and was then towed to 3,000 feet msl for a second flight. The glider climbed to 3,400 feet about 5 miles from the gliderport where the pilot "smelled something." The pilot said the odor got stronger, he felt heat, looked behind him, and "saw fire in the back seat."

The pilot then "put out all spoilers" to complete an emergency descent. During the descent, the cockpit filled with smoke, and the pilot opened the canopy to clear the smoke. The smoke cleared, but the increased airflow "caused the fire to worsen."

The pilot completed a forced landing to trees short of the gliderport, and egressed the glider with only minor burns to the back of his head.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. He reported 180 total hours of flight experience; 140 hours of which were in single engine airplanes, and 40 hours of which were in gliders. The pilot did not hold a current FAA medical certificate, but neither was he required to for glider flights.

According to FAA and maintenance records, the glider was manufactured in 1973 and had accrued 1,545 total aircraft hours as of December 2, 2009, when the last annual inspection was completed.

At 1853, the weather conditions reported at Suffolk County Airport (SFQ), 12 miles south of the accident site, included clear skies, 10 miles visibility, and winds from 040 degrees at 9 knots. The temperature was 30 degrees Celsius (C), the dewpoint 19 degrees C, and the altimeter setting was 29.91 inches of mercury.

The glider was examined at the site on July 30, 2010, by FAA inspectors and all major components were accounted for at the scene. The glider rested upright in trees close to the ground, and the metal wings remained largely intact, though impact damaged. The fabric and wood-covered tubular metal frame was severely fire damaged. The battery and any recognizable electrical wiring was harvested and forwarded to the NTSB Materials Laboratory in Washington, DC, for examination at a later date.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov

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