NTSB Identification: ERA13LA111
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, January 13, 2013 in Dover, DE
Probable Cause Approval Date: 01/13/2014
Aircraft: PIPER PA-28R-200, registration: N4975S
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

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 pilot had planned a night instrument cross-country flight of 3 hours 45 minutes, with 5 hours 30 minutes of fuel onboard. About 3 hours 20 minutes into the flight, when the airplane was about 15 miles from the intended destination airport, the pilot diverted after the airplane ahead of him performed a missed approach due to the low cloud ceiling. The pilot diverted to a nearby airport where the wind was calm and the ceiling was overcast at 400 feet above ground level (agl). The airport was equipped with a precision (instrument landing system [ILS]) approach, which the pilot did not attempt; instead, he attempted two GPS approaches to the opposite end of the runway. During both GPS approaches, the pilot performed missed approaches before the airplane reached the decision altitude of 306 feet agl.

Then, about 4 hours 20 minutes into the flight, the pilot diverted again, this time to an airport that was not equipped with an ILS approach and had a reported overcast layer of clouds at 300 feet agl. He performed a GPS approach to that airport, during which he descended the airplane below the approach’s published minimum descent altitude of 310 feel agl, to about 250 feet agl, before he performed a missed approach. After the missed approach, about 5 hours into the flight, the pilot advised the air traffic controller that he was low on fuel and diverted to another airport with no ILS approach to attempt a very high frequency omnidirectional range (VOR) approach. The pilot was in contact with air traffic control and could have declared an emergency and performed an ILS approach to a military airport that he overflew en route to the airport with the VOR approach; however, he did not. The pilot was cleared for the VOR approach about 5 hours 5 minutes into the flight and declared an emergency 6 minutes later, reporting fuel exhaustion. Air traffic control personnel provided the pilot with radar vectors to the military airport he had overflown, but the airplane impacted wooded terrain about 2 miles before it reached the runway at that airport.

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

The pilot's failure to land the airplane at multiple airports that were equipped with adequate instrument approach procedures while operating in low instrument meteorological conditions and his delay in declaring a fuel-related emergency, which resulted in a loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion.

Full narrative available

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