An NTSB report says a quickie repair job led to the engine failure and subsequent crash landing of a Piper PA-28 on a freeway in Concord, Calif., in April of 2004. While the pilot and his son walked away, the plane’s propeller sliced through a minivan and almost severed the leg of an 11-year-old girl. According to the report, the pilot, Curt Hatch, noticed the engine running roughly on the plane, which he had rented in Colorado. A local repair facility estimated repairs would take 20 hours and the plane’s owner, Kempton Air Services, sent its own mechanic to do the job. The mechanic spent three hours replacing a piston with the wrong part and, according to the NTSB, didn’t go looking for pieces of the broken valve that caused the original problem. The engine ran normally during run-up but lost power just after takeoff. After the accident, NTSB investigators found the original low-compression piston was replaced with a high-compression version and there was evidence throughout the rest of the engine of damage from a foreign object, most likely the remnants of the previously swallowed exhaust valve.
In October of 2004, the FAA suspended Hatch’s certificate for 150 days and the mechanic’s for 250 days. They appealed and an NTSB administrative judge upheld the suspensions, saying both were guilty of violating numerous regulations and behaving recklessly, according to the Contra Costa Times. They’re now appealing the NTSB decision. The injured girl, Arianna Jiminez, of Danville, is still recovering from surgeries resulting from the accident and one leg is three inches shorter than the other.