NTSB Identification: ERA12LA180
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, February 14, 2012 in Amory, MS
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/13/2012
Aircraft: PIPER PA-32-260, registration: N3688W
Injuries: 1 Serious.

NTSB investigators may have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot reported that he had topped off the airplane with 6 hours of fuel, based on a best economy mixture setting, for a planned 4-hour cross-country flight. While filing his instrument flight plan, the weather briefer advised the pilot of moderate icing along the route of flight at an altitude range that included the pilot's planned cruising altitude. Although the single-engine airplane was not certified or equipped for flight into known icing conditions, the pilot proceeded with the flight. While en route, about 200 miles from the destination airport, the airplane's engine began to run rough, and the pilot enriched the fuel mixture, which alleviated the problem and also resulted in an increased fuel burn from about 14 gallons-per-hour to about 18 gallons-per-hour. At that time, the airplane was over a large metropolitan area with an airport where the pilot could have made a fuel stop; however, the pilot did not stop. As the flight continued, he had to descend to lower and lower altitudes due to icing conditions.

About 4 hours into the flight, the pilot realized that he did not have enough fuel to reach his planned destination and attempted to divert to an airport that was 65 miles closer than the original destination airport. As an air traffic controller was providing vectors to the instrument landing system approach at the diversion airport, the pilot reported twice that he was concerned about fuel but did not declare an emergency. Even if the pilot had declared a fuel emergency, the controller’s actions would likely have been no different as he was limited in what he could do by the prevailing instrument meteorological conditions. About 5 minutes after the first report of low fuel, the pilot reported that he had a fuel problem for a third time and that the engine had lost all power. The controller then provided directions to an open field, but the airplane impacted a wooded area about 15 miles from the diversion airport.

The fuel tanks ruptured during the impact sequence, and no fuel odor was present at the accident site. Subsequent examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal any preimpact mechanical malfunctions. At the time of the power loss, the pilot had been flying for about 5 hours, which included flight at both the best economy and richer mixture settings. The airplane held 84 gallons of fuel and, and at the richer mixture setting, it had a fuel endurance of about 4 hours 40 minutes not including fuel needed for start, taxi, takeoff, and climb.

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

The pilot's inadequate preflight and in-flight planning and decision-making, including his inadequate weather evaluation and his delayed diversion to a closer airport, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion.

Full narrative available

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