Texas pilot warned not to fly plane before fatal 2018 Detroit crash, report says

Sam Jones
The Detroit News

A Texas pilot was warned three times not to fly his airplane before it crashed in a Detroit neighborhood in 2018, killing him and his wife and severely injuring his son, according to a federal accident investigation.

The factual report by the National Transportation Safety Board also says the pilot reported running out of fuel while struggling to get his landing gear down as the single-engine Cessna P210N approached Coleman A. Young Municipal Airport on June 24.

Pilot Greg Boaz, a restaurateur, and his wife, Julie, both of League City, Texas, died in the crash. Boaz's 17-year-old son Peyton rolled out of the burning wreckage and was critically injured.

The family was on its way to watch daughter Krysta play in a volleyball tournament in Detroit. 

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The NTSB report and documents, filed June 24, detail the final moments before the crash, including the air traffic control recordings of dialogue between the plane and control tower. A final report, which will include a probable cause of the crash, is expected to be filed within a week.

Three weeks before the crash, mechanic Randy Wahlberg at the Pearland Regional Airport told Boaz that it appeared that pieces of the missing oil dipstick had gotten into the engine and "his engine needed to be overhauled since the dipstick was stainless steel and it made it through the oil pump into the filter," according to an inspector statement in the report.

"The pilot told the mechanic that he had just purchased the airplane and that he could not afford to overhaul the engine," the report states. "The mechanic then placed a red 'Do Not Fly' placard on the pilot-side yoke."

According to the report, a couple of weeks later, Boaz came back with another oil filter for the mechanic to inspect and told him he had looked up on the internet "how to remove metal from an engine by flushing it with diesel fuel."

While there was no metal in the filter, "the mechanic again told the pilot that he should not fly the airplane until the engine had been overhauled."

Another airplane mechanic, Robert Mutina, told investigators that he was a personal friend of Boaz since high school. Although he had not seen the plane, he had discussed it and advised Boaz not to fly it.

According to the report, a post-crash inspection of the engine found three "small metal pieces that were consistent with remnants of the fractured oil gauge rod" as well as "numerous scratches" in the crankcase.

However, the report concluded, "The post-accident engine examination did not reveal any mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation during the flight."

The NTSB did find other reasons for concern about the fatal flight, which originated in Baytown, Texas, with a fuel stopover in West Memphis, Arkansas. According to the agency's report, data recovered from the plane's engine monitor showed that while cruising during six previous cross-country flights, Boas "would lean rich-of-peak" — meaning the plane consumed more fuel than expected.

The average fuel use while cruising during those flights was about 21 gallons per hour — the same level recorded during the fatal flight, according to the report. The Cessna, with a fuel capacity of 90 gallons, had used 71.6 gallons "when the recorded fuel flow suddenly dropped to zero" seconds before the crash in Detroit, the report states.

According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a Cessna P210 normally burns about 17 gallons of gas per hour. Richard McSpadden, senior vice president of the organization's Air Safety Institute, said the fatal flight's cruising rate of 21 gallons per hour was unusual.

"That number seems incredibly high to me," McSpadden said. "The pilot was flying rich-of-peak, meaning he would burn more fuel; it keeps the engine cooler. That's typical practice. But 21 just seems really high." 

NTSB agents work at the site of the fatal plane crash in Detroit in June 2018.

The fuel selector valve was set to draw fuel from the right-wing tank, the report added, instead of drawing fuel from both tanks simultaneously. 

"This may not have been a situation of fuel exhaustion, but of fuel starvation," McSpadden said. 

Upon approaching the airport in Detroit at 7:48 p.m., the pilot told the control tower that his land gear had not locked into place, according to the report. The pilot then requested to land on the infield next to the runway.

"It's not unusual for a plane to land without landing gear engaged on an airstrip," McSpadden said. "All the gear would just have to be retracted."

Harro Ranter, CEO of Aviation Safety Network, said it "remains to be seen" how the aircraft ran out of fuel. Ranter speculated that either the pilot misread the fuel gauge or was so fixated on the landing gear issue that he neglected to watch it.

A faster burn rate of fuel would mean that a pilot would use more fuel than expected to reach his destination. Pilots are required to have enough fuel on board to reach their destination plus 30 minutes of additional flying during day flights, according to FAA regulations.

McSpadden added: "Seventy-five percent of aviation accidents are pilot errors. There are a lot of clues that show that there was something else wrong with this flight."

Julie and Greg Boaz died on June 24, 2018, when the plane he was flying crashed in Detroit.

Boaz, 54, was owner of two Texas venues, Lone Star Grill in Bacliff, Texas and Palapa Bar, a nightclub, in Kemah. Julie Boaz was 48. The couple was recently married and were survived by children Tyler, Krysta and Peyton and Daniel Costano Jr. and Cecilia Costano, according to an obituary with Carnes Funeral Home.