On January 29, 1999, at 1700 hours Pacific standard time, a Maule M-4-220C, N474W, owned and operated by the pilot, experienced a total loss of engine power between 400 and 500 feet above the ground during takeoff from the uncontrolled Jean Airport, Jean, Nevada. The pilot made a forced landing beyond the departure end of runway 02L, collided with the airport's perimeter fence, and was substantially damaged. The commercial pilot was not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the personal flight, which was being performed under 14 CFR Part 91. No flight plan was filed. The flight was originating at the time of the mishap.

While on scene, the pilot stated to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator that he had flown to Jean with the intention of purchasing fuel, but he was not successful. Therefore, he planned to return to his home base at the Sandy Valley Airport. The pilot stated that he was aware the airplane's wing tanks were almost empty upon departure. He took off with the left main fuel tank selected. The pilot further indicated that he had evidently exhausted the fuel supply.

During an April 7, 1999, telephone interview with the pilot he indicated that he desired to clarify the information he had previously given to the Safety Board investigator. The pilot stated that while taxing for takeoff he had attempted to transfer fuel from the right tip tank, which contained an estimated 17 or 18 gallons of fuel, to the right main tank, which contained an estimated 2 or 3 gallons of fuel. The pilot stated that the left tip tank was empty, and the left main tank contained about 5 gallons of fuel.

The pilot further reported that he took off with the left main tank selected. He indicated his belief that the airplane's fuel transfer pump or the engine driven fuel pump had evidently malfunctioned.

In the pilot's completed report, he reported that during his last takeoff, the airplane's fuel tanks contained between 17 and 20 gallons of fuel.

He did not provide written evidence of the airplane having received an annual inspection, but verbally reported it was inspected during September or October 1998. Since the inspection, the airplane had been operated for about 6 hours.

The pilot further reported that after the accident he had partially disassembled his airplane, and then transported the Franklin engine from Nevada to North Carolina. In North Carolina, the airplane's engine driven fuel pump was disassembled and examined by a Federal Aviation Administration certificated mechanic. The mechanic provided the following statement regarding his observations: "An excessive amount of trash was found in the fuel pump, including metal shavings. Also noted were small holes and cuts in the rubber diaphragm, possibly caused by the metal shavings."

During a May 5, 1999 follow-up telephone interview with the mechanic, he reported to the Safety Board investigator that the debris which he had observed in the pump could have reduced the fuel pressure. This may have resulted in a partial loss of engine power. The pump appeared to have been original equipment and the mechanic found no evidence in the maintenance records that it had ever been replaced.

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