NTSB Identification: SEA02LA132.
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Accident occurred Tuesday, July 16, 2002 in Burns, OR
Probable Cause Approval Date: 04/08/2003
Aircraft: Piper PA-28, registration: N1248H
Injuries: 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

After departing Salt Lake City, the pilot ran into some rain showers and had to divert to the east of his planned route. After completing his weather diversion, he flew directly over Burns, Oregon, en route to his final destination of Bend, Oregon. Upon arriving in the area of Bend, the pilot was unable to locate the airport due to low visibility created by smoke from ongoing forest fires. He then attempted to contact someone on the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) at Bend, but was unsuccessful. He also tried to contact the tower at Redmond, Oregon, but was unable to do so. Although he knew he was getting low on fuel, the pilot decided he should attempt to return to Burns because the visibility had been good there when he flew over it earlier. As he was approaching Burns from the west, the aircraft ran out of fuel, and the pilot was forced to make a power-off landing in an open field. Although the initial touchdown was successful, during the landing roll on the rough rocky terrain, the nose gear and one main gear collapsed. According to the pilot, during his preflight briefing with the FAA Flight Service Station in Salt Lake City, he had been advised that the smoke from the forest fires near Bend was restricting visibility, but he did not realize that the combination of the afternoon sun and the accumulated smoke would make it so hard to find features on the ground.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The pilot’s improper decision to continue on en route into an area of forecast reduced visibility without sufficient fuel to divert to a suitable alternate airport, and his subsequent inadvertent exhaustion of the aircraft's fuel supply. Factors include reduced visibility due to forest fire smoke, and rough/uneven terrain at the location where the pilot found it necessary to make a forced landing.

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