Serendipity is a weird thing. Having read The Honourable Schoolboy, I wanted to see if there was any factual basis for Charlie Marshall flying round South-East Asia in a Carvair. I looked at Wikipedia and found that an Australian Carvair had been abandoned at Pnomh Penh in 1975. I also read this:
"Perhaps the best-known Carvair crash was the one at Griffin in April 1997, where on its takeoff run the (fifth production) Carvair suffered catastrophic engine failure, failed to become properly airborne, and crashed into a vacant Piggly Wiggly supermarket past the airport perimeter, killing both pilots.”
I don’t know why this caught my imagination but it did. I know next to nothing about Griffin, Georgia. But something made me want to follow up just a little.
The accident happened on Friday, April 4, 1997 at 00:16. The aircraft was registered as N83FA. It was originally built in 1944 as a C-54A and was the fifth Carvair to be converted by Aviation Traders in 1961. The crew had filed a flight plan from Griffin-Spalding County Airport to Americus, Georgia apparently to pick up a load of car parts for onward transportation to Rockford, Illinois. 12 miles from Rockford is the Chrysler Belvidere Assembly Plant, which was producing the Dodge Neon at the time.
What happened that night, according to the NTSB reports, is this:
"During the airplane's takeoff roll, about 3/4 down the 3,700 foot runway, a witness reported that the color of the #1 exhaust flame changed from blue to yellow, accompanied by an audible change in the engine power level. The nose of the airplane yawed left and the left wing dipped. Directional control was regained and the takeoff continued. Skid marks were found about 650 feet before the departure end of the runway that continued about 1360 feet to an abandoned grocery store impacted by the plane. About 315 feet before the building, the left wing contacted a privacy fence, and a utility pole, resulting in a fire at the disrupted left wing main fuel tank. A pilot/mechanic who helped dispatch the airplane observed that the elevator was free as it taxied. Fire damage to all engines precluded a detailed post crash examination of essential fuel and ignition systems"
The reports from the NTSB (incident number ATL97FA057) are available from the NTSB website (PDF format)
Factual Report http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/GenPDF.aspx?id=ATL97FA057&rpt=fa
Probable Cause Report http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/GenPDF.aspx?id=ATL97FA057&rpt=fi
Griffin – Spalding County Aiport
The aircraft was using runway 14, which runs diagonally from top left to bottom right of the map. From the descriptions and statements in the NTSB report, the crew apparently decided to try and abort the take-off when the number 1 (port outer) engine failed.
The pilot who flew the aircraft two days previously (with the co-pilot who was killed on this night) knew the procedure for an engine failure on take-off and reported that a braking manoeuvre in this event was not part of the aircraft operations manual. The previous pilot and co-pilot agreed that the most dangerous element of the flight was the take-off from Griffin-Spalding County. For whatever reason the crew on the 4th April flight attempted to abort the take-off. The toxicology report on the co-pilot indicated a level of a substance found in over-the counter antihistamines in the bloodstream very much in excess of the normal dose, which may have lead to his inability to react appropriately. The fact was noted in the NTSB’s probable cause report.
The Carvair then skidded off the end of the runway, crossed the road which runs past the end of the runway and ended up crashing into the abandoned supermarket. If you look closely at the map , there is a small shopping centre on the opposite side of Zebulon Road, and on zooming in, you can see that the retail unit on the north side of the shopping centre has been demolished, leaving an empty pad. The Google image was taken in 2008, 1o years after the crash.
It’s a very sad story and any loss of life is regrettable. Looking at the map it is fortunate that the Carvair did not swerve further on the aborted take-off run since there is clearly a residential area to the east of the airfield. That the supermarket was empty and abandoned also prevented further loss of life that night.