NTSB Identification: MIA02FA144.
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Accident occurred Saturday, August 03, 2002 in Cheraw, SC
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/08/2004
Aircraft: Piper PA-28-180, registration: N3450R
Injuries: 1 Fatal,1 Serious.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot was observed walking around the airplane performing a preflight inspection before engine start. The flight departed from runway 07, and remained in the traffic pattern. When the flight was approximately three quarters down the runway on the downwind leg, witnesses heard the engine sputter and experience a loss of power. The airplane was observed to continue on the downwind leg; several witnesses reported that they perceived the flight path to be similar to a normal traffic pattern rather than turning toward the runway. The airplane became low on final approach and went out sight behind trees. The airplane impacted a tree then the ground, and came to rest upright approximately a quarter nautical mile from the approach end of runway 07. The fuel selector was found positioned to near the "right" tank position; impact damage to the selector valve attach structure was noted though no fuel stains in the area was noted. The right fuel tank was found to contain approximately 20 ounces of fuel. The left wing remained secured only by the aileron control cables but remained in close proximity to the fuselage; the fuel tank contained approximately 13 gallons of fuel. No obstructions of the fuel vent or delivery system were noted. The fuel line from the right fuel tank was routed to the forward side of the fuel selector valve, and the fuel line from the left fuel tank was routed to the aft side of the fuel selector valve. Only drops of fuel were noted in the fuel lines in the engine compartment area; no obstructions of the fuel delivery or vent systems were noted. The engine was removed from the airplane, a replacement propeller was installed, and the engine was started and operated to 2,250 rpm with no discrepancies noted. The airplane was previously involved in a partial collapse of the nose landing gear and propeller strike while landing at an airport in California; the airplane was sold to an airplane salvage company who had the wings removed. The airplane was transported to their facility, then transported and sold to the accident pilot. A mechanic performing repairs and the last annual inspection to the airplane reported the aluminum fuel lines located in the cockpit aft of the fuel selector valve were damaged to the point that he could not determine routing of the lines. Based on his perception of the illustration in the Piper Parts Catalog, and also on his belief that the fuel selector handle pointed to the forward port of the fuel selector valve when the right fuel tank was selected, he routed and connected the fuel line from the right fuel tank to the forward side of the fuel selector valve, and the fuel line from the left fuel tank to the aft side of the selector valve. On the first page of the Introduction Section of the PA-28 parts catalog, there is a note, in bold letters, which states, "UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHALL THIS CATALOG BE USED FOR RIGGING AND INSTALLATION PURPOSES." The parts catalog indicates that the fuel line from the right fuel tank should be routed to the aft side of the fuel selector valve, and the fuel line from the left fuel tank should be routed to the forward side of the fuel selector valve. The illustration of the parts catalog was difficult to ascertain the routing of fuel lines from the fuel selector valve to the tanks, but the index clearly indicated the routing. Following the repairs, fuel was added to the tanks, he checked for fuel leaks, and verified engine operation. He also test flew the airplane, and flew with the pilot a short duration. The accident pilot reportedly flew the airplane 3 or 4 times after the inspection was completed, and the airplane was also flown by a friend of the pilot a day earlier. The pilot reported before departure, the right fuel tank had 5-6 gallons and the left fuel tank had approximately 15 gallons of fuel. The flight duration was approximately 30 minutes and was flown with the fuel selector positioned to the left tank position; the selector was not moved during the flight. He did not visually inspect the tanks after landing but reported the left fuel gauge indicated approximately 10 gallons of fuel after landing; he did not note the right fuel gauge reading after landing. The owners handbook indicates that the fuel selector is to be on the proper tank for takeoff, and in the event of a loss of engine power, to position the fuel selector to the opposite tank.

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

The misrouting of the fuel lines to the fuel selector, which resulted in the use of a fuel tank with inadequate fuel supply, fuel starvation, and the loss of engine power. Contributing was the pilot's inadequate remedial action for conducting an emergency landing.

Full narrative available

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