Australia Whyalla Crash Probe Reopened

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Australia’s Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) announced last week that it will reopen the investigation into the May 2000 crash of a Whyalla Airlines Piper Chieftain, a development which could tie directly to Lycoming’s massive recall of potentially defective crankshafts. The Whyalla Chieftain plunged into Spencer Gulf north of Adelaide after a dual engine failure, killing all seven passengers and the pilot. The ATSB’s report on the crash of VH-MZK, released in December of 2001,  concluded that the Chieftain’s two Lycoming TSIO-JT2B engines failed “dependently,” meaning that the failure of the left engine caused the pilot to select a higher power setting on the right engine, which subsequently failed. The ATSB’s investigation blamed the use of anti-galling compound between the rod bearing and end cap for the failure of the left engine, whose crankshaft broke. Further, it claimed that Whyalla’s engine-leaning practices contributed to the failure of both engines. The ATSB’s theory, which has been roundly criticized in the U.S., is that Whyalla’s leaning methods caused a build-up of lead oxybromide deposits on pistons. These deposits, according to the ATSB, caused pre-ignition and the failure of the right engine at high power. The ATSB came under fire this fall when South Australian Coroner Wayne Chivell opened his own investigation into the crash, which brought him to the U.S. to depose General Aviation Modifications Inc. chief engineer George Braly. The Whyalla engines are in the U.S. and the ATSB has asked the U.S. NTSB to assist in further analysis of the wreckage, especially the crankshaft in the left engine. According to the ATSB, one reason the probe was reopened is that the Chieftain’s left crankshaft serial number was among those recalled by Lycoming in September because of improper manufacturing procedures. Not surprisingly, a number of lawsuits are pending as a result of the Whyalla crash.

NOTE: For more on the Whyalla crash, see the ATSB's media release and, on AVweb, John Deakin’s detailed analysis of the ATSB report.