Rough-Running Bonanza Crashed On Third Takeoff Attempt


There’s probably a reason the term “third time’s the charm” isn’t used much in aviation circles and the NTSB is now probing whether its application played a role in a fatal crash in Florida earlier this month. A preliminary report into the crash of a Bonanza near Land O Lakes on May 12 cites witness reports that say the pilot aborted two takeoff attempts at Tampa North Aero Park (X39) because of a rough-running engine. He went through with the last attempt even though the engine clearly wasn’t behaving normally. After the Beech staggered into the air, barely clearing trees at the end of the runway, the prelim says another pilot radioed the pilot to tell him he had a rough-running engine. “The pilot said ‘ya, returning … going down,” the report says. The plane crashed in the yard of a vacant house and was mostly consumed by fire.

Before the final attempt, the NTSB said witnesses told them the aircraft did a runup that sounded normal before lining up on Runway 32. When the engine reached takeoff power, it ran roughly. The pilot taxied to the other end and did another runup, which also sounded normal to the witnesses. At full power for takeoff, the engine ran roughly again. The pilot taxied back to the start of 32 and went through the same procedure. This time, however, he went through with the takeoff with the rough engine and crashed immediately after takeoff. The NTSB didn’t do an onsite investigation but it has secured the wreckage for examination.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Unlike the airline’s, general aviation commonly lacks the critical point for “Reject”.. It appears that another avoidable accident has happened..

    • “Commonly lacks” is the operative word here. Yes Tom I agree with you regarding single engine general aviation community. Certainly the professionally flown turbojet general aviation community does have “the critical point for Reject” and trains it regularly. Even some professionally flown single engine operations, particularly unimproved airstrip operations have critical reject points but that is probably a rarity. In this case it sounds like the reject point possibly should have been prior to takeoff initiation..

      • I’ve had roughness on run-up, and taxi back to check for water, etc. and call the shop if I don’t find something obvious. Who would try to take off with an engine that couldn’t run smoothly? It boggles my mind, and yet it happens all too frequently.

  2. I agree John, that the “3 attempts” were excessive, and 1, should have been the Red Flag..!

  3. Well, seems like it was his decision to risk his own life, but the possibility for others also? Ughhh

  4. To make it clear to all that don’t bother with reading the FAA and NTSB or know the actual facts first hand and the pilot as I did. In this case my Father who I have flown with since I was 4yrs old, and who was the Sr Quality Engineer on many Boeing projects that were and still are very successful as well as many other aerospace platforms across his career. His pilot method were as stringent as his high quality standards where in one case he was forced to become a whistleblower on a major company utilizing outdated materials trying to force product into production that was high potentially faulty.

    To the point.

    1. There was not 3 “attempted or aborted takeoffs”

    2. The plane was just out of annual with less than 45 min on it as he had just flown it from CLearwater to Tampa North.

    3. My father had thousands of hours, commercial rated, flew jumpers out of Zephyrhills very often, IFR, pontoon/water rated, and many others.

    4. Let’s get specific… he did perform a run up as we all do and noticed a rough sound and decided to get out of the way of traffic and taxied to the other runway as he most likely thought “just out of annual, possibly need to clear it out a bit and if 2nd run up was faulty then he would have grounded it”. I 100% believe this to be the case. Never a rush and never push an issue that’s safety related.

    4.1 when he performed the second run up it was flawless and thus he felt as though he had cleared the issue and it was possibly an airpocket in the newly renovated fuel system done in addition to the annual. He never cut corners and specifically went overboard when it came to safety.
    4.2 when he performed the run up the 3rd time it also performed flawlessly.. the information in this article is completely and patently false and it was written because I called this writer out due to his clear and blatant initial knee jerk claim of “corrosion and claiming most FLA based planes have this issue”. When I corrected him he had zero evidence and I was standing with the FAA amd NTSB when they specifically eliminated this as a part of the potential issues stating “to their eyes this was one of the best maintained planes they had seen”

    Wanna make that clear to other pilots as there is a pattern of discrediting pilots before knowing facts

    4.3. It was only when my father was past the point of return on takeoff where lift was achieved that the plane started running roughly again and he had no choice but to attempt to gain altitude and then attempt to go around and land as there are nothing but 3 miles of trees and homes leaving the end of this runway

    Unfortunately, my father was unable to achieve an altitude greater than 300ft when that plane lost total power.

    He was in contact with tower stating “rough running plane coming back, followed immediately by going down”.

    Upon attempting to put it down on Grand Oaks Bld, the only entrance and exit and only possible roadway canopied by trees, when he dipped down to put it on the road he must have seen a car/people and pulled it up through the trees. The image in this article doesn’t show that. It doesn’t show the right wing hitting trees first, then the left more severely which turned the plane full of fuel sideways and plunged the right wing into the ground and into the fuselage thus creating tremendous explosion and fire and the death of my father and luckily sparing anyone else

    Critical as I look at this objectively as a pilot, a Veteran and a person who has built many aerospace components from Mfg, to Quality and Executive management, I look for the root cause, without excluding error, the facts have to be vetted by the experts before anything is determined.

    Especially a 2 bit writing in a society who is in a rush to the next news cycle and not the real truth that will keep this from happening again.

    What I have found is in the US alone we have had over 9 out of 11 crashes with many fatalities in multiple bonanza models over the past year alone are all COMPLETE POWER OFF ENGINE FAILURES ON TAKEOFF.

    9 crashes many of them fatal all due to the same overriding issue seems that we would have ALL HANDS ON DECK TO FIND THE REAL ROOT CAUSE.

    Let’s really look at this and get the right folks involved in order to get this corrected and save some lives.

    I personally believe there is no coincidence here and it’s not all pilot error. I have seen far too many manufacturing and supply chain issues where they claim parts are 1 thing and they are not. There is a claim that parts and systems have been tested and or are the same as they have always been but at a closer look it becomes clear that it’s not the same and that someone in the Mfg process and supply chain tried to save some money and you see catastrophic failure and early wear creating failures which in turn are manifesting into the same failure.

    While it may be people wanting and caring about aviation replying we need to consider where the information is coming from.

    I pray that for all of the families of the Bonanza crashes due to this failure that the FAA and NTSB and whatever other independent company or people can find this issue and solve it.