NTSB Identification: CHI04LA070.
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Accident occurred Sunday, February 15, 2004 in Casey, IL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/01/2004
Aircraft: Piper PA-23-160, registration: N4332P
Injuries: 2 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.

The aircraft sustained substantial damage during a forced landing after takeoff, following the loss of power on both engines. The pilot reported that during the previous flight the right engine experienced power fluctuations when he selected the right auxiliary fuel tank. The pilot stated the right fuel selector was "stiff and hard to move." The pilot reported the right engine operated without anomalies when the fuel selector was returned to the main fuel tank position. The flight continued uneventfully for another approximately 1 1/2 hours until the left engine began to experience power fluctuations. The pilot decided to make a precautionary landing at the Casey Municipal Airport. After the precautionary landing, the auxiliary fuel tanks were still full, the right main fuel tank was half full, and the left main fuel tank was nearly empty. The pilot reported the left main fuel tank was nearly empty because "the gas heater which had been burning more fuel than documented." The pilot proceeded to ground test the engines on different fuel selector positions prior to refueling. The pilot stated no anomalies were noted during the ground test and subsequently the airplane was completely refueled. The pilot noted no fuel contamination when he sampled all of the fuel tanks after refueling. The pilot reported he was "very confident" that the initial loss of right engine power was because he had momentarily positioned the right fuel selector in the "off" position prior to selecting the auxiliary tank. The pilot stated an "extensive [engine] run-up was performed, and all indications were once again very acceptable." The pilot reported the takeoff was uneventful until when he would normally have retracted the landing gear. At this point, the right engine began experiencing power fluctuations similar to the first occurrence. The pilot reported he continued to climb as he entered a left traffic pattern to return to the airport. He stated that fuel cross-feed was selected; however, the left engine also began to experience power fluctuations. The pilot reported that while the airplane was on crosswind it entered a downward spiral and he attempted to level the wings using full right aileron. The pilot stated, "Rudder input was as demanding as it was random, due to the varied yaw moments of the aircraft with power spurts from each engine." The pilot reported "not having time to decide which engine to feather, as both were producing random power output, we were close to impact, and I kicked in full right rudder as a last resort to bring the wings level, which worked, and [the passenger] joined me in pulling aft on the yoke to reach a pitch up attitude for impact." A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector performed the on-scene investigation. The inspector reported the fuel selector valves were in an intermediate or closed position. The inspector stated the cabling between the fuel gauge switch assemblies and the selector arms were corroded and seized. The inspector reported the cockpit fuel selector handles moved with resistance and would not reposition their respective valves. The inspector stated the valves functioned as designed when they were disconnected from the seized control cable.

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

The pilot not maintaining aircraft control during the loss of engine power and his improper remedial action during the encountered uncommanded roll (VMC roll). An additional cause was the pilot's failure to obtain a maintenance inspection by a qualified mechanic following the two instances of engine power loss during the previous flight. Contributing to the accident was the restricted movement of the fuel selectors due to corroded and seized control cabling, which resulted in fuel starvation and the subsequent loss of engine power.

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