Despite a major fuel leak, a history of defects with the aircraft and the refusal by three other pilots to fly the aircraft, the owner of a Piper Navajo elected to attempt a ferry flight and died in a crash a few seconds after takeoff. The NTSB’s preliminary report on the crash at Kearney, Missouri, on July 20 includes anecdotes from multiple witnesses who reported malfunctioning engines and fuel tanks that leaked “horribly” on the plane, which was last airworthy eight years prior. The lineman who fueled the plane that day took a video of avgas pouring from the aircraft onto the ramp.
The NTSB said numerous witnesses shot video and stills of the takeoff attempt that showed the airplane becoming briefly airborne before settling back on the runway. “The recordings showed the airplane become airborne near the runway end and yaw to the right before it climbed parallel with the rising terrain,” the report says. “The witnesses observed the airplane barely cleared a line of trees past the departure end of the runway and made a left turn before it disappeared behind trees.” The plane crashed in a field near the airport and caught fire.
The plane had been at Kearney for about six months, and the owner and a mechanic had been working on it over that period. About two weeks before the crash, witnesses told the NTSB an engine runup revealed a hard starting engine that wouldn’t make full power. The owner had obtained ferry permit to take it to Kingman, Kansas, for an annual inspection.