Eddyville, KY

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Fuel starvation cited in fatal 2015 plane crash

Tuesday, December 06, 2016 - Updated: 3:29 PM
By Jody Norwood jnorwood@heraldledger.com

Federal officials have released a new report after reviewing data from the 2015 plane crash in Lyon County that killed four and left one survivor.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators have spent nearly two years sifting through wreckage and reviewing debris left behind from the January 2015 crash of a Piper PA-34 Seneca in a wooded part of Suwanee. The report, released Thursday through the agency's web site, cites the cause of the crash as "fuel starvation."

Reports by responders on scene in the hours after the crash indicate there was some fuel in the plane when it went down. That seems to be supported by the NTSB's report.

The cause of the loss of fuel is not listed, although the report notes that pilot Marty Gutzler, 48, filled the plane before leaving Key West, Florida, where the family had been vacationing. The family — wife Kimberly Gutzler, 46; daughters, Piper Gutzler, 9, and Sailor Gutzler; and, a cousin, Sierra Wilder, 14 — were returning home to Nashville, Illinois, heading to Mount Vernon Airport in Illinois. All died in the crash, save for Sailor, who made her way through about a mile of overgrown woods before finding a home and help.

Marty Gutzler's final radio call was also released as part of the report.

"I've got problems," Gutzler radioed at 5:52 p.m. "I don't know what's wrong... both engines are malfunctioning. Everything's forward. It was running perfect. I have fuel. I just don't know. The right engine is out.

Two minutes later, Gutzler radioed again, the situation becoming more dire.

"Engines are not producing power. I don’t know what’s up."

According to the report, an airport lineman said fuel tanks were topped off. A fuel receipt shows the plane received 67.7 gallons of fuel prior to departing.

Gutzler was about 11 miles west of Kentucky Dam Village Airport when he reported the plane's right engine had failed. He was cleared for approach by Memphis Air Traffic Control, but Gutzler said he had lost visual of the landing strip. Moments later he said the other engine was malfunctioning. Controllers lost contact with the plane shortly after.

NTSB calculations found the flight should have exhausted about 20 gallons per hour. The Gutzler's flight lasted just under three hours from departure until radio silence, which included fuel estimations for taxing and takeoff.

The loss of fuel causing the crash was not cited in the report.

Investigators recovered the plane and transported pieces to a testing site in Springfield, Tennessee. Both engines were inspected at Motors Inc., in Mobile, Alabama. While the left engine was damaged on impact, the right engine "was functionally checked in a test cell where it started immediately, accelerated smoothly, and ran continuously without interruption."

Fuel tanks were damaged in the crash and responders on scene during recovery efforts reported signs of a post-crash fire on one wing. The NTSB report noted "an undetermined amount of fuel was noted flowing out of the inboard section of the left wing."

The reason for the "fuel starvation" is not noted in the report, which is available online at the NTSB's web site. A final report will be released at a later date.

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