A California VariEze suffered an engine failure over the airport and crash landed short of the runway in two to three feet of water. The airplane flipped over and the pilot did not survive. The FAA has stated that their initial findings are that carb ice was probably the cause. This was carefully looked into by people much more expert in these matters than we here at RAF, and their report to us was that, yes, they would have to agree with the FAA. The weather was conducive to induction icing with light rain, fog and high humidity. This pilot was in the process of fine-tuning his EZ with the intention of entering it in the CAFE 400 efficiency race. With this in mind, he was after fuel efficiency at medium power setting.
He made a number of improvements to his Continental 0-200 engine but one of these changes was probably very significant in light of the accident. He altered the intake manifold to include an expansion chamber, or plenum, downstream of the carburetor or, in this case, a throttle body. While throttle body types, in general, are highly resistant to carb ice, it is strongly suspected that the induction ice in this case probably formed in the plenum downstream of the throttle body. Tests have shown that allowing the fuel/air mixture to rapidly expand after it comes out of a venturi, or throttle body, can cause immediate and severe induction icing in the plenum and intake tubes, yet not form any ice in the carburetor or throttle body.
In view of the situation, this is very likely what happened. The builder/pilot had been experiencing power related problems since installing the new plenum -type intake manifold and had, in fact, been working on a carb heat system. He arrived over head the destination airport and reported having lost power. Visibility was poor, but he was seen on short final, gliding toward the runway threshold. Tragically, he was about 50 yards short and touched down in 2 to 3 feet of water on the extended runway centerline. The EZ pitched nose down and flipped on its back where it remained until rescuers lifted it out of the water. The plexiglass canopy was broken, the canopy frame was undamaged as were the latches and hinges.
The canard failed aft on both sides, leaving a short center section of the canard still attached to the fuselage. Left and right pieces of the canard from the fuselage sides out were tom off. The fuselagewas damaged below and aft of the canard. The wings and winglets were not damaged. After drying out the engine, it started and ran OK although a magneto was replaced due to waterlogging. What can we learn from this tragedy? The pilot was unable to exit the airplane, either because it was inverted with its nose and canopy imbedded in the mud on the bottom of the shallow bay, or because he may have been incapacitated by the impact, or both. Obviously, this situation was very bad and the chances of surviving a crash landing in shallow water are very slim. Since this accident, RAF has received a number of calls and letters wanting to know how to ditch an EZ. We honestly do not know of a safe way to ditch any fixed gear airplane. The possibility of nosing over is very high with fixed gear since the gear dragging in the water produces a powerful nose down pitching moment.
If we were faced with an unavoidable water landing, we would put the nose gear and landing brake down and we would fly into the water as slowly as possible while still maintaining control. We would not unlock the canopy because when the nose dives under water, a 60 mph jet of water entering under the canopy and striking the pilot in the face, would almost certainly be incapacitating. We would recommend carrying a canopy breaking tool such as a heavy, short bladed knife, kept where the pilot could easily reach it. After the airplane has come to rest, be it upright or inverted, if the canopy was intact, the canopy breaking tool should be used to break the plexiglass, making a large enough hole to exit through.
Since an EZ will almost certainly float, particularly if it remains mostly intact, the surface would not be far away. Prior to touch down, declare an emergency and, if possible, give an accurate position report. (A Loran would sure be handy here, since you could broadcast your latitude and longitude position.) Tighten your seat belt and shoulder harness as tight as you can bear it and brace yourself as best you can. Try for the slowest controlled touch down, no fancy stalling maneuvers, these will usually only compound the problem. Since the EZ-types will almost certainly nose over, be prepared for this. Remain calm, release your seatbelt, break out and swim to the surface. Better yet, since a successful water landing is so uncertain, perhaps we should all seriously consider remaining within gliding distance of land at all times. EZ's were never designed with landing in water as one of the goals, and they are almost certainly not at all suited for this activity.
One other VariEze crash landed in water. The cockpit area broke up and the pilot found himself swimming. He made it to the beach but had a fractured back and wound up in a body cast for two months. His EZ was severely damaged and he never did rebuild it. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, one of the phone calls we got suggested we, or someone, should conduct a test by deliberately crash landing an EZ, preferably by remote control, in water!