Investigators cite mechanical problems in fatal plane crash

PRESCOTT – The National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report of the Dec. 5 plane crash near Prescott's Ernest A. Love Field that took two lives indicates that the pilot may have used automobile fuel in his plane.

On the morning of Dec. 5, a Cessna-182 crashed shortly after takeoff from the airport. The pilot, Phillip Larson, 48, of Prescott, and a passenger, Lincoln Bryce, 26, also of Prescott, both died at the scene of the crash.

Two other passengers, Shelly and Steven Snow, both of Prescott, survived the crash but suffered severe burns. Medical helicopters took them to Phoenix hospitals.

The debris from the plane spread along a 100-foot line. Investigators took a fuel sample from the left wing of the plane. The report indicates that the fuel was yellow and smelled like automobile fuel.

The report includes a statement from a witness who said he saw Larson refuel his plane with automobile fuel the day before the accident.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Ted Lopatkiewicz said that most planes do not operate well with automobile fuel.

"A lot of small general aviation planes use 100-octane low lead aviation gasoline," Lopatkiewicz said. "There's a difference between that (aviation fuel) and the low lead gas you're going to get at the pump."

He said some planes can operate on automobile fuel. Before pilots can use automobile fuel they must get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration, however. The FAA inspects planes before authorizing the use of automobile fuel.

He added that if automobile fuel was in the plane investigators will look into whether the FAA approved Larson's plane to operate with that type of fuel.

According to the report, witnesses said the plane did not climb as well as it should have at takeoff and that it "suddenly dropped," as if it stalled.

Witnesses also said that snow and ice covered many of the planes and the runway. One witness said he had half an inch of ice on the wings of his own plane that morning.

The accident is still under investigation. NTSB officials estimate that the final report will be ready in nine months to a year.

Contact C. Murphy Hebert at mhebert@prescottaz.com