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Wrong Fuel Led to Doctor's Fatal Plane Crash

Jet fuel was put in aircraft designed to run on standard aviation gas
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 26, 2021 12:42 PM CDT
Updated Aug 29, 2021 1:00 PM CDT
Wrong Fuel Led to Doctor's Fatal Plane Crash
The worker said he thought the aircraft, a Piper Aerostar like this one, was a jet.   (Wikipedia)

(Newser) – Because putting jet fuel in the wrong kind of plane can have catastrophic consequences, the filler nozzles are designed not to fit into tanks that take standard aviation fuel. But that didn't prevent the basic error that led to a deadly crash in 2019, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report. The report found that a worker at the Kokomo Municipal Airport in Indiana put the wrong kind of fuel in Florida surgeon Glenn Greenwald's plane, a twin-engine Piper Aerostar 602P that runs on standard aviation gasoline, the Kokomo Tribune reports. The worker told investigators that after he asked Greenwald if he wanted jet fuel and the doctor said yes, he positioned the nozzle at different angles over the filler necks, spilling about a gallon in the process.

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  • The crash. Greenwald, the plane's only occupant, was killed when both engines failed and he crashed into a bean field shortly after takeoff. The NTSB report quotes the Airplane Flying Handbook: "Jet fuel has disastrous consequences when introduced into AVGAS burning reciprocating airplane engines. A reciprocating engine operating on jet fuel may start, run, and power the airplane for a time long enough for the airplane to become airborne only to have the engine fail catastrophically after takeoff."
  • NTSB says pilot was also at fault. The report says Greenwald failed to adequately supervise the refueling. It quoted the handbook as saying pilots are advised to "witness the refueling to ensure that the correct fuel and quantity is dispensed into the airplane." The NTSB said it confirmed that the truck used to refuel Greenwald's aircraft had the required "JET A" markings.

  • Another pilot error. The NTSB said the main cause was the pilot's "exceedance of the airplane’s critical angle of attack," which caused loss of control after the engine failure. Flight instructor Robert Katz tells the Tampa Bay Times that Greenwald could have lowered the plane's nose and glided to a landing in one of the numerous open fields nearby. Instead, he stalled after apparently trying to turn back to the airport. "Yes, the wrong fuel was delivered to the airplane and the fueler is responsible for his actions but NOT the result," Katz says.
  • Wife has settled with airport. The city of Kokomo settled a lawsuit from Greenwald's widow, Julia Greenwald, for $700,000 earlier this year, the maximum allowed under Indiana's tort laws, the Tribune reports. Her lawsuit accused the city of failing to properly train the airport worker.
(Read more plane crash stories.)

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