NTSB Identification: LAX04CA181.
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Accident occurred Wednesday, April 07, 2004 in McKinleyville, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/30/2004
Aircraft: Piper PA-38-112, registration: N2609F
Injuries: 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The airplane experienced a total loss of engine power and made a forced landing in a field. The pilot departed with full fuel in both tanks (30 gallons), which she thought would be equivalent to 5 hours 13 minutes of flight. The purpose of the 340 nautical mile flight was for the pilot to fulfill the solo cross-country requirements for the commercial pilot certificate. The flight instructor thought that in an effort to satisfy the requirements, the pilot would need to perform a nonstop cross-country leg that was a minimum of 250 nautical miles. During the flight over the mountains terrain, the winds were strong and turbulent. While en route she realized that she had been off course for about 10 minutes, and maneuvered to get the airplane back on course, which took about 20-25 minutes. After getting back on course, about 4 hours en route, the fuel gauges inside the cockpit indicated about 3 gallons of fuel in each tank. After the pilot obtained visual contact with the airport, about 8,500 feet above ground level (agl), the airplane's engine lost power due to fuel exhaustion in the right tank. She configured the airplane for best glide and switched to the left tank in an effort to regain power. The engine started and ran for about 30 seconds, before the power loss recurred again. During the descent, she followed the emergency checklist and glided down for about 5 to 10 minutes. About 1,000 feet agl, she realized that the airplane would not be able to make it to the runway, due to the dense trees in the glide path. She opted to land in a field, and, about 30 feet agl, the engine started again. The airplane climbed to about 40 to 50 feet agl and drifted to the right. The airplane collided with a tree and spun to the ground, landing in an upright position. The total time on the Hobbs meter indicated 4.1 hours for the duration of the flight. The pilot reported no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane. Title 14 CFR Part 61.129 states that one of the requirements for the commercial license are, "One cross-country flight, if the training is being performed in a State other than Hawaii, with landings at a minimum of three points, and one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of at least 250 nautical miles."

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

a loss of engine power due fuel exhaustion, which was caused by the pilot's inadequate in-flight planning/decision, inadequate in-flight fuel consumption calculations, and failure to divert to an alternate airport before the fuel situation became critical. Factors in the accident were the pilot becoming lost and disoriented during the flight and the flight instructor's incorrect interpretation of regulations, resulting in inadequate preflight planning.

Full narrative available

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