Just before 2200 hr., the flight was receiving vectors from Chicago approach when the crew declared a fuel emergency reporting that the airplane was gliding without power toward Chicago Executive. Investigators were able to interview the surviving pilot-passenger and review ATC recordings to learn more about the sequence of events that led to the crash.
The pilot-passenger told investigators that the flight from PBI to PWK was routine and that the engines were operating “OK.” The right engine was new, he said, and had been installed on the airplane about 15 days prior to the flight. He believed the engine's gauges (CHT, oil temp, oil pressure) were not accurate.
The pilot “bumped up [enriched beyond POM settings] the mixture” about one gph during the en route segment, he continued, because the engine was “breaking in.” Generally, the pilot set power settings from a card that was kept in his window visor.
As the airplane approached the Chicago area near the south end of Lake Michigan, the senior pilot became concerned with the fuel situation. He switched from the main tanks to the auxiliary tanks to use all the fuel there, then switched back to the main tanks. The pilot-passenger said he observed that “the last quarter of the main tanks was consumed pretty fast as it appeared on the gauges.” The right fuel-flow warning light illuminated as the airplane maneuvered north of PWK. The pilot selected the crossfeed valve to its ON position. The fuel warning light extinguished.
The pilot radioed ATC requesting direct routing to the PWK outer marker, but the controller denied the request because of traffic, stating that she would have to vector the flight up the shoreline first. The fuel warning light illuminated again and the pilot declared an emergency. In response the controller cleared the flight directly to PWK. The pilot-passenger said he had no idea of the amount of fuel that remained in the fuel tanks. (He had studied the fuel system workings for the first time the day before the accident flight.)
Moments later, the right engine “started to shudder as the airplane descended through the overcast. The pilot initiated a left turn, leveled out on a westerly heading and then the engines quit. At that point, the pilot-passenger recalled, the airplane began to “coast.” The pilot moved the mixture to idle/cutoff, feathered the propellers and asked the pilot-passenger to look up the airplane's best glide speed. The landing gear and flaps were retracted. The pilot stayed on instruments until the airplane broke out of the overcast at about 1,400 ft. AGL.
During the descent the pilot-passenger was communicating with ATC. [See transcript for the exact communications.] The airplane turned to a southbound heading. The approach controller asked if the flight had the airport in sight and the pilot-passenger initially replied, “No.” He later told investigators he advised the pilot of suitable landing sites, but the flight was unable to get to them. With about 700 ft. to go, the pilot-passenger pointed out a dark (unlighted) spot and the pilot turned to it. The pilot-passenger said the airplane scraped the tops of trees with the first tree striking the pilot's side and then crashing through the window. Both the pilot and the pilot-passenger were on the flight controls, which then “went limp.” The pilot-passenger said he tried to keep the airplane away from nearby houses, but both of his yoke handles broke off.
The airplane crashed into trees and terrain in a wooded residential neighborhood about 3 nm northeast of PWK. There was no post-impact fire. Neighbors and first responders rushed to the scene and assisted the two survivors, who were extricated and transported to a local hospital.
The wreckage path was 250 ft. in length from the first impacted tree to the main wreckage and on a magnetic heading of about 130 deg. The airplane was found fragmented along the path. The left propeller separated from its engine and was found 32 ft. west of the main wreckage.