|37000 Feet||Browse and search NASA's
Aviation Safety Reporting System
|Local Time Of Day||1801 To 2400|
|Locale Reference||atc facility : ocn|
|Altitude||msl bound lower : 6500|
msl bound upper : 6500
|Controlling Facilities||tracon : sna|
|Operator||general aviation : personal|
|Make Model Name||Small Aircraft, High Wing, 1 Eng, Fixed Gear|
|Flight Phase||cruise other|
|Function||flight crew : single pilot|
|Qualification||pilot : instrument|
pilot : private
|Experience||flight time last 90 days : 40|
flight time total : 850
flight time type : 300
|Affiliation||government : faa|
|Function||controller : approach|
|Qualification||controller : radar|
|Anomaly||aircraft equipment problem : critical|
other anomaly other
other anomaly other
|Independent Detector||aircraft equipment other aircraft equipment : unspecified|
|Resolutory Action||flight crew : declared emergency|
flight crew : overcame equipment problem
|Consequence||faa : reviewed incident with flight crew|
I was returning from a baja, ca, mexico vacation with my family -- 5 of us on board. We crossed the border rather late in the day, darkness began to fall as we left calexico international after clearing united states customs. I traveled in a nwesterly direction to within 3 or so mi of the julian VOR and intercepted the 285-290 degree radial and planned a direct path to the sli VOR which would then lead me to the VFR corridor across lax and into smo. I was about 25-35 NM out of julian, bound for sli. A solid deck below lie on top of the coastal range, and extended as far as I could see toward the coast. I was as yet unable to determine how far northwest these conditions existed. Flight watch had assured me things would be clear by long beach and sli. The phone at calexico is in the airport office, and since that was closed when we arrived there, I had not filed a flight plan, and had elected to go it alone. I know the route rather well, and though we make it a practice to almost never fly at night, I could foresee no real risk in this simple flight. Abruptly, a small but alarming amount of smoke was in the cockpit, and the very strong smell of burning wires was throughout the cabin. The kids were alarmed, but handled it well. My wife was frightened, but controled. I instinctively cut all electrical power -- master and alternator. This killed all lighting, and my transponder. As I used the flashlight to attempt to determine whether we were in for more trouble, or whether this would stop the smoke and smell, I had my head down for some mins, as my wife stabilized the yoke. At the same time I noticed the smoke and smell, I rolled the plane away from the cloud covered peaks and toward the more hospitable terrain toward oceanside. I was now out of transponder contact, had no one to talk to, as I was not using flight following, and I began to see other aircraft in the not so distant distance. As things seemed to come under better control, and the bothersome smoke and smell appeared to subside, I felt an urgency to get visible via transponder, and to communicate with a radar facility. I brought a radio back on line. No negative effects observed of doing that. Called FSS, got coast approach frequency, and requested radar contact. I was idented inside the restr area of either R2303 or R2533. I indicated why I had turned west when I had, and received an offer to land at the nearest airport up ahead. I responded that I would know shortly. After some 5 mins checking my electrical system, I elected to go on. Now more safely under radar control, I brought up my lights, and the other radio. The #2 communication had been killed by the wiring in my audio panel (I later learned) which is linked to the same circuit breaker as my navigation lights. I found my navigation light circuit breaker popped fairly early on and did some thinking about the wings, wiring, fuel tanks, etc. I deduced at the time that the problem was close in to the cockpit, and not out in the wings. When I informed coast that I would continue on, I mentioned that if the slightest additional problem appeared, I would want vectors to the nearest airport. There were many up ahead. Excellent is an inadequate term with which to characterize the handling I received -- not only from coast, but from lax and smo. It was the greatest comfort to me and my family to hear these choices, offers, and just the concerned, professional voices of these folks coming through the speaker that night. In the safety of my desk chair the next day, I began to conduct a critical self review. That process led to a number of obvious conclusions as to how to better conduct that flight, as well as to a concern over my incursion into the restr area. I eventually called the supervisor at coast to inquire about possible consequences. He assured me that they had cleared my presence in the area with longrifle, and I once again was treated to a level of consideration and professionalism which does not fit at all with the things one reads in many aviation pubs. I was pleased. What would I do differently? Mexico does not allow night flight in singleeng craft. The least I would suggest is that anyone with passenger should request flight following as soon after takeoff as practical. I wonder about the wisdom of linking the radio or audio panel into the navigation light breaker. Though the decision seemed a sound one at the time, I believe now that I should have elected to land at the nearest suitable airport, even though the problem had subsided or seemed to disappear. I say this because I had more than a popped circuit breaker -- I actually had smell and a wisp of smoke. In retrospect, there was at least the potential that 'things could have gotten worse,' even though I believed the crisis had passed. If the problem had returned with a vengeance, I would have had to again go 'no communication' and quite likely 'no transponder.' then, getting my family down would have been something left entirely to me -- and this time, it would have been more dangerous to bring things back on line. We had a hand- held, and my son had pulled it out on his own initiative, but it's harder to use, to say the least. I was tired after a long, long day of flying and checking in at different airports. The sense of security I felt after establishing communications and radar contact was deceptive, since I could have lost them again in an instant -- and that would have been the end of the special handling -- which had just provided that sense of security and safety. Since it was at night, the decision to get out of the air as soon as safely possible would have been best, I now believe. Fatigue must have played a role, as I look back now.
Original NASA ASRS Text
Title: SMA PLT HAS SMOKE AND ELECTRICAL BURNING SMELL IN COCKPIT.
Narrative: I WAS RETURNING FROM A BAJA, CA, MEXICO VACATION WITH MY FAMILY -- 5 OF US ON BOARD. WE CROSSED THE BORDER RATHER LATE IN THE DAY, DARKNESS BEGAN TO FALL AS WE LEFT CALEXICO INTL AFTER CLRING UNITED STATES CUSTOMS. I TRAVELED IN A NWESTERLY DIRECTION TO WITHIN 3 OR SO MI OF THE JULIAN VOR AND INTERCEPTED THE 285-290 DEG RADIAL AND PLANNED A DIRECT PATH TO THE SLI VOR WHICH WOULD THEN LEAD ME TO THE VFR CORRIDOR ACROSS LAX AND INTO SMO. I WAS ABOUT 25-35 NM OUT OF JULIAN, BOUND FOR SLI. A SOLID DECK BELOW LIE ON TOP OF THE COASTAL RANGE, AND EXTENDED AS FAR AS I COULD SEE TOWARD THE COAST. I WAS AS YET UNABLE TO DETERMINE HOW FAR NW THESE CONDITIONS EXISTED. FLT WATCH HAD ASSURED ME THINGS WOULD BE CLR BY LONG BEACH AND SLI. THE PHONE AT CALEXICO IS IN THE ARPT OFFICE, AND SINCE THAT WAS CLOSED WHEN WE ARRIVED THERE, I HAD NOT FILED A FLT PLAN, AND HAD ELECTED TO GO IT ALONE. I KNOW THE RTE RATHER WELL, AND THOUGH WE MAKE IT A PRACTICE TO ALMOST NEVER FLY AT NIGHT, I COULD FORESEE NO REAL RISK IN THIS SIMPLE FLT. ABRUPTLY, A SMALL BUT ALARMING AMOUNT OF SMOKE WAS IN THE COCKPIT, AND THE VERY STRONG SMELL OF BURNING WIRES WAS THROUGHOUT THE CABIN. THE KIDS WERE ALARMED, BUT HANDLED IT WELL. MY WIFE WAS FRIGHTENED, BUT CTLED. I INSTINCTIVELY CUT ALL ELECTRICAL PWR -- MASTER AND ALTERNATOR. THIS KILLED ALL LIGHTING, AND MY XPONDER. AS I USED THE FLASHLIGHT TO ATTEMPT TO DETERMINE WHETHER WE WERE IN FOR MORE TROUBLE, OR WHETHER THIS WOULD STOP THE SMOKE AND SMELL, I HAD MY HEAD DOWN FOR SOME MINS, AS MY WIFE STABILIZED THE YOKE. AT THE SAME TIME I NOTICED THE SMOKE AND SMELL, I ROLLED THE PLANE AWAY FROM THE CLOUD COVERED PEAKS AND TOWARD THE MORE HOSPITABLE TERRAIN TOWARD OCEANSIDE. I WAS NOW OUT OF XPONDER CONTACT, HAD NO ONE TO TALK TO, AS I WAS NOT USING FLT FOLLOWING, AND I BEGAN TO SEE OTHER ACFT IN THE NOT SO DISTANT DISTANCE. AS THINGS SEEMED TO COME UNDER BETTER CTL, AND THE BOTHERSOME SMOKE AND SMELL APPEARED TO SUBSIDE, I FELT AN URGENCY TO GET VISIBLE VIA XPONDER, AND TO COMMUNICATE WITH A RADAR FACILITY. I BROUGHT A RADIO BACK ON LINE. NO NEGATIVE EFFECTS OBSERVED OF DOING THAT. CALLED FSS, GOT COAST APCH FREQ, AND REQUESTED RADAR CONTACT. I WAS IDENTED INSIDE THE RESTR AREA OF EITHER R2303 OR R2533. I INDICATED WHY I HAD TURNED W WHEN I HAD, AND RECEIVED AN OFFER TO LAND AT THE NEAREST ARPT UP AHEAD. I RESPONDED THAT I WOULD KNOW SHORTLY. AFTER SOME 5 MINS CHKING MY ELECTRICAL SYS, I ELECTED TO GO ON. NOW MORE SAFELY UNDER RADAR CTL, I BROUGHT UP MY LIGHTS, AND THE OTHER RADIO. THE #2 COM HAD BEEN KILLED BY THE WIRING IN MY AUDIO PANEL (I LATER LEARNED) WHICH IS LINKED TO THE SAME CIRCUIT BREAKER AS MY NAV LIGHTS. I FOUND MY NAV LIGHT CIRCUIT BREAKER POPPED FAIRLY EARLY ON AND DID SOME THINKING ABOUT THE WINGS, WIRING, FUEL TANKS, ETC. I DEDUCED AT THE TIME THAT THE PROB WAS CLOSE IN TO THE COCKPIT, AND NOT OUT IN THE WINGS. WHEN I INFORMED COAST THAT I WOULD CONTINUE ON, I MENTIONED THAT IF THE SLIGHTEST ADDITIONAL PROB APPEARED, I WOULD WANT VECTORS TO THE NEAREST ARPT. THERE WERE MANY UP AHEAD. EXCELLENT IS AN INADEQUATE TERM WITH WHICH TO CHARACTERIZE THE HANDLING I RECEIVED -- NOT ONLY FROM COAST, BUT FROM LAX AND SMO. IT WAS THE GREATEST COMFORT TO ME AND MY FAMILY TO HEAR THESE CHOICES, OFFERS, AND JUST THE CONCERNED, PROFESSIONAL VOICES OF THESE FOLKS COMING THROUGH THE SPEAKER THAT NIGHT. IN THE SAFETY OF MY DESK CHAIR THE NEXT DAY, I BEGAN TO CONDUCT A CRITICAL SELF REVIEW. THAT PROCESS LED TO A NUMBER OF OBVIOUS CONCLUSIONS AS TO HOW TO BETTER CONDUCT THAT FLT, AS WELL AS TO A CONCERN OVER MY INCURSION INTO THE RESTR AREA. I EVENTUALLY CALLED THE SUPVR AT COAST TO INQUIRE ABOUT POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES. HE ASSURED ME THAT THEY HAD CLRED MY PRESENCE IN THE AREA WITH LONGRIFLE, AND I ONCE AGAIN WAS TREATED TO A LEVEL OF CONSIDERATION AND PROFESSIONALISM WHICH DOES NOT FIT AT ALL WITH THE THINGS ONE READS IN MANY AVIATION PUBS. I WAS PLEASED. WHAT WOULD I DO DIFFERENTLY? MEXICO DOES NOT ALLOW NIGHT FLT IN SINGLEENG CRAFT. THE LEAST I WOULD SUGGEST IS THAT ANYONE WITH PAX SHOULD REQUEST FLT FOLLOWING AS SOON AFTER TKOF AS PRACTICAL. I WONDER ABOUT THE WISDOM OF LINKING THE RADIO OR AUDIO PANEL INTO THE NAV LIGHT BREAKER. THOUGH THE DECISION SEEMED A SOUND ONE AT THE TIME, I BELIEVE NOW THAT I SHOULD HAVE ELECTED TO LAND AT THE NEAREST SUITABLE ARPT, EVEN THOUGH THE PROB HAD SUBSIDED OR SEEMED TO DISAPPEAR. I SAY THIS BECAUSE I HAD MORE THAN A POPPED CIRCUIT BREAKER -- I ACTUALLY HAD SMELL AND A WISP OF SMOKE. IN RETROSPECT, THERE WAS AT LEAST THE POTENTIAL THAT 'THINGS COULD HAVE GOTTEN WORSE,' EVEN THOUGH I BELIEVED THE CRISIS HAD PASSED. IF THE PROB HAD RETURNED WITH A VENGEANCE, I WOULD HAVE HAD TO AGAIN GO 'NO COM' AND QUITE LIKELY 'NO XPONDER.' THEN, GETTING MY FAMILY DOWN WOULD HAVE BEEN SOMETHING LEFT ENTIRELY TO ME -- AND THIS TIME, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE DANGEROUS TO BRING THINGS BACK ON LINE. WE HAD A HAND- HELD, AND MY SON HAD PULLED IT OUT ON HIS OWN INITIATIVE, BUT IT'S HARDER TO USE, TO SAY THE LEAST. I WAS TIRED AFTER A LONG, LONG DAY OF FLYING AND CHKING IN AT DIFFERENT ARPTS. THE SENSE OF SECURITY I FELT AFTER ESTABLISHING COMS AND RADAR CONTACT WAS DECEPTIVE, SINCE I COULD HAVE LOST THEM AGAIN IN AN INSTANT -- AND THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE END OF THE SPECIAL HANDLING -- WHICH HAD JUST PROVIDED THAT SENSE OF SECURITY AND SAFETY. SINCE IT WAS AT NIGHT, THE DECISION TO GET OUT OF THE AIR AS SOON AS SAFELY POSSIBLE WOULD HAVE BEEN BEST, I NOW BELIEVE. FATIGUE MUST HAVE PLAYED A ROLE, AS I LOOK BACK NOW.
Data retrieved from NASA's ASRS site as of July 2007 and automatically converted to unabbreviated mixed upper/lowercase text. This report is for informational purposes with no guarantee of accuracy. See NASA's ASRS site for official report.