burned tri-pacer A few weeks ago this story caught my eye and I've been meaning to write about it ever since. A pilot (William Supan) flying his Piper Tri-Pacer from the Modesto Airport was taking a passenger (Jinhua Lin) for a first airplane ride. He had to make an emergency landing due to smoke coming out of the engine.

Upon landing, he apparently found a problematic hose clamp and went to the nearby Wal-Mart (not Wal-Mart Aviation Supply!) to get a replacement. He '"fixed" the problem himself, didn't get a mechanic to double-check his work, and went up again. As you might expect, the cockpit started to fill with smoke again, so he declared an emergency and landed a second time.

He checked and found that the hose had a cut in it. Apparently he replaced the hose (who knows what he used for that), because he took off a third time. But this time the engine caught fire and he made a third (and very bad) emergency landing. His passenger was spooked enough that she jumped from the plane on the runway and ended up in the hospital. That third landing cause substantial damage to the airplane (he bounced a few times and went off the runway), but the ensuing fire pretty much finished off the job.


In aviation safety training, it's often said that every accident is the result of a series of bad decisions, not just a single one. In this case, it's almost painful to read the story--seeing one bad decision after another, you can't help but to wonder what the guy was thinking.

I think The Modesto Bee story had a great line in it:

Ian Gregor of the FAA indicated that officials were surprised that pilot Wil-liam Supan, 52, of Pleasanton would try to take off a third time after having been forced to land twice because of smoke in the cockpit.

Hell, anyone with the smallest shred of common sense should have been surprised by that!

See Also: AVweb coverage

Posted by jzawodn at September 28, 2007 10:50 AM

Reader Comments
# Joe Hunkins said:

Ha - he just figured the third time would be a charm?

on September 28, 2007 11:07 AM
# Phil Aaronson said:

Which begs the question, how do you get clearance to take off the third time after two previous emergency landings in the last couple hours?

on September 28, 2007 01:00 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Good point. Modesto is a controlled airport.

Hmm. Lazy controllers?

on September 28, 2007 01:01 PM
# optional said:

i am not sure what to make of the comment that the passenger jumped out of the moving plane during the third landing because the floor board was too hot for her to endure - it must have been really hot for her to decide road rash was better than the extreme heat she was feeling on her feet - if this story were not true i would have a hard time believing it

on September 28, 2007 06:35 PM
# Dave Smith said:

I'm not sure ATC has the legal authority to deny clearance based on airworthiness. That said I would expect tower to "advise" the pilot he's about to win a Darwin Award...or give a call to the local FAA inspector after the 2nd emergency landing to "check in" on things down at the ramp...

on September 28, 2007 11:59 PM
# Darryl Ramm said:

Then there was the Cessna 210 at Hayward that a passenger (a pilot) exited and walked into the running propeller and was killed. A few hours later the owner having "checked out" the propeller and engine had an engine failure after take off while trying to fly the aircraft back to Livermore. Search for NTSB case number LAX06LA214. I was at a regional airport in Australia when medical staff walked into the propeller of a Cessna 210 while unloading a patient from. No having wings struts is an issue, shut the damn thing down.

The NTSB report is inconclusive about cause. Techncially that engine should have had an internal/crakshaft inspection. A pity that the pilot was not able to flick the fuel pump to EMERG. Check fuel selector, fuel pump to EMERG, ... still he was low.

on September 29, 2007 01:38 AM
# Charles said:

Regarding accidents being the result of a series of bad decisions.. I can just hear what a friend of mine would say, he's in Alcoholics Anonymous, he told me one of their slogans, "it's the FIRST drink that gets you drunk, not the LAST one."

It's always the first bad decision that puts you on the road to disaster.

on September 29, 2007 09:19 PM
# Gordon R. Vaughan said:

Hi Jeremy, just found your blog via Twitter. I'm an aerospace engineer and private pilot, though haven't flown in many years.

This story is pretty disturbing. I really can't understand why he would take off the second and third times with a passenger. He must be a pretty persuasive guy, managing to not only persuade himself he had it fixed, but also convince the passenger to go back up with him!

They're very fortunate to both make it out alive ... in-flight fire has got to be about the worst mechanical problem you can have. Judging from the photo, there's not much left aft of the firewall.

Also, I thought you might be interested in my blog AeroGo:


on October 1, 2007 10:31 PM
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