There was no gas in the fuel lines of the home-built plane that crashed April 14, killing the pilot and a friend, according to the preliminary findings of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB examined the plane and found no fuel in the lines to the nozzles that feed the engine, no fuel in the line that ran from the plane's firewall to where the lines go to each cylinder and only a trace of fuel in one fitting leading into the right rear cylinder.
Pilot Frank Romeo, 61, of Clay, died in the crash of the Lancair Legacy he had spent three years building. Also killed was William Hodge, 62, of Onondaga, a passenger on the plane's maiden flight.
Lon Sauter, an aircraft instructor whose school is at Oswego County Airport, where Romeo completed the plane and attempted its first flight, said he believes fuel caused the crash. The NTSB has not reached an official finding on the cause.
Sauter, who knew Romeo and flew with him when Romeo earned his own instructor's certificate, said the lack of fuel could mean there was some kind of obstruction in the tank, or one of the plane's two fuel pumps failed or a line or fitting had come loose. It could also mean the plane ran out of gas, he said.
"But I can't believe he took off without adequate fuel," Sauter said. "He was a commercial pilot."
Romeo was an experienced pilot who had flown B-52s during the Vietnam War. He was president of the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association and shared the position of flying safety chairman.
Airport Manager Bruce Bisbo said Romeo bought five gallons of 100-octane aviation gas on March 21 and 30 gallons more on March 30. He said it is possible Romeo bought more gas at the airport's self-serve pump, but he didn't think so.
The plane, Sauter said, uses 12 to 14 gallons an hour.
Sauter said Romeo had tested the engine on the ground for an hour.
In addition, Bisbo said that before taking off Romeo had taxied the plane around a bit and then done a high-speed taxi run up the runway.
The NTSB preliminary report says another pilot at the airport saw gallons of fuel leak out of a fuel return line on the plane one week before its flight. "The witness wasn't sure how the fitting was repaired," the report said.
According to the NTSB report, the plane engine sputtered shortly after takeoff. "The airplane was unable to maintain altitude."
Romeo and Hodge were killed on impact, said Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd.
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