NTSB Identification: LAX05LA036.
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Accident occurred Saturday, December 18, 2004 in Jean, NV
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/28/2006
Aircraft: Piper PA-28-180, registration: N32034
Injuries: 3 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 airplane collided with obstacles and terrain during a forced landing following a loss of engine power. The weather briefing obtained by the pilot forecast the winds aloft at 20-30 knots. The pilot calculated the flight time to the final destination to be about 2 hours. The pilot estimated that at the intended power setting for the flight, the airplane's fuel tanks contained about 3 hours of fuel. The initial leg of the flight lasted about 20 minutes, and the pilot landed at the intended airport to pickup two passengers. After a brief stopover, the pilot checked the fuel quantity to be below the fuel indicator tabs, and estimated the amount via an unapproved straw indicator; the flight then departed for the final destination. The pilot reported that during the flight, the head wind conditions were stronger than he was anticipating and he decided to proceed to the closest airport. Nearing the airport, the pilot switched between the airplane's two fuel tanks, exhausting the fuel in both. About 2 hours 30 minutes after the initial departure, the pilot performed a forced landing 3 miles short of the alternate airport. After touchdown, and during the landing rollout, the airplane's right main gear impacted a large rock, resulting in the airplane pivoting to the right and the nose gear collapsing. The pilot stated that he performed a post-crash examination of the airplane and found both of the airplane's fuel tanks completely empty; the fuel gauges inside the cockpit indicated 1/8 fuel remaining in each tank. A post crash examination of the fuel gauges revealed that the sending unit for the left tank read 1/4 of fuel remaining while in the empty position. The Federal Aviation Regulations in 14 CFR Part 23 requires each fuel quantity indicator to be calibrated to read "zero" when the quantity of fuel remaining in the tank is equal to the unusable fuel supply.

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

the pilot's inadequate in-flight planning/decision and failure to divert to an alternate airport in a more timely manner, which resulted in fuel exhaustion and a loss of engine power. A factor in the accident was an inaccurate fuel gauge.

Full narrative available

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