The failure of two quarter-inch bolts were the probable cause of a June plane crash that left one Helena Valley resident with minor injuries, according to investigators.
The National Transportation Safety Board released its findings earlier this month on the June 7, 2014 crash that flipped Jerry Maykuth’s Savannah VGW, causing extensive damage. Two bolts holding the nose wheel fork sheared during touch-and-go landings, causing the wheel to bend back and the plane to flip, the report said.
While he agrees that the bolts failed, Maykuth, who built the plane, said failure occurred due to overload rather than shearing, meaning they were undersized to withstand repeated use.
Regulations required that he only use hardware supplied by the manufacturer.
Maykuth was knocked unconscious but only required medical attention at the scene. The crash occurred on the seventh touch-and-go landing while testing the plane, he said.
“I had no sensation of anything,” Maykuth said, adding he has made more than 500 landings. “I came down and next thing I’m hanging upside down with a woman there but can’t get me out of the seat belt.”
Maykuth called it a miracle that the plane did not catch on fire because the plane slid upside down with the gas caps skidding across the turf.
“If there’d been a fire, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Maykuth, 80 at the time of the crash, planned to fly the plane for a few years and then sell it. He is licensed both as an FAA aircraft power plant and airframe mechanic. Early in the design phase he had concerns about the plane’s structural integrity, he said.
Maykuth started building his plane in 2011 with a hanger to house it. His first flight was on Nov. 18, 2013. Early flights were aborted due to fuel pump issues. After getting the plane flying well, he then noticed what he believes was an improper bend in the landing gear.
“When I built the aircraft the wheels tilted out, indicating the gear wasn’t strong enough,” he said.
Some measurements of the landing gear also did not meet manufacturer specifications, he said.
Maykuth also expressed concerns to the manufacturer over the size of the bolts on the landing gear, which later caused the crash, the NTSB report said.
Those concerns were ignored, and the manufacturer never issued any bulletin warning of design issues, he said.
The Savannah VGW is manufactured by Italy-based I.C.P. Srl. Attempts to contact the company for comment were not returned.
Maykuth said he may consider filing legal action against the company.
The plane is classified as a light-sport aircraft in the U.S., but an ultra-light aircraft in Italy. Italy does not investigate ultra-light crashes, Maykuth said, leaving the number of potential European crashes unknown.
The FAA and NTSB do investigate light-sport crashes. The NTSB did not travel to inspect Maykuth’s plane in person, using photos to formulate the report.
Flying a light-sport aircraft is much different than other small aircraft, he said. Because of weight, the engine must be cut closer to the ground than other aircraft to land safely, he added.
In order to become proficient in light-sport, Maykuth took more than 12 hours of instruction, he said. He began flying in college in the early 1950s, he added.
The NTSB report eliminates pilot error as the probable cause of the crash, which Maykuth appreciates in the small community of Helena area pilots, he said.
“Building a plane is something I wanted to do for 10 years,” he said. “This has been a really emotional ordeal.”