Fatal NASCAR C310 accident leads to SAIB

January 7, 2010

The FAA has issued recommendations designed to prevent a problem that NTSB investigators say may have led to the fatal crash of a Cessna 310 owned by NASCAR in June 2007.

The aircraft crashed in a residential area, killing both pilots and three people on the ground, after the breakout of an in-flight fire. In its findings, the NTSB ruled that the decision to fly without resolving a problem that had tripped a circuit breaker the previous day probably led to the accident. In a special airworthiness information bulletin (SAIB) in December 2009, the FAA recommended that pilots be more selective as to which circuit breakers they reset and when.

The day before the accident, a pilot had a weather radar failure and a burning smell in the airplane, so that pilot turned off the problem system and pulled its circuit breaker. The pilots who flew the next day likely reset the circuit breaker before flight and took off with a “known and unresolved discrepancy,” the NTSB said in its report.

The SAIB recommends that all pilots mark which circuit breakers are essential for flight and only reset essential circuit breakers once in flight—and then only after at least one minute, if there is no remaining smoke or “burning smell.” It further recommends that pilots do not reset nonessential circuit breakers in flight. Preflight checklists should be changed from “circuit breakers—in” to “Check circuit breakers and if a circuit breaker is not set, do not reset the circuit breaker if there is a related maintenance malfunction,” it recommends.

Previous guidance had recommended that no pilot reset any circuit breaker more than once. According to the NTSB’s analysis, resetting the circuit breaker on the accident airplane without fixing the problem—even once—may have made an in-flight fire possible.

While the FAA’s recommendations are based on the NTSB report and recommendations, NASCAR disputes the board’s conclusions. Read AOPA Air Safety Foundation President Bruce Landsberg’s discussion of the accident, the NTSB report, and NASCAR’s position in the May 2009 AOPA Pilot “Safety Pilot: Something's burning.”