On April 14, 1999, about 1800 hours Pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-31, N141CM, experienced partial loss of power in one engine and was forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean approximately 15 to 20 miles off the coast of Monterey, California. The aircraft subsequently sank and is presumed to be destroyed. The commercial pilot sustained minor injuries. The aircraft was operated by Tokyo International Trading America, Inc., of Walnut, California, and the flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91 as a ferry flight. The aircraft departed the Honolulu, Hawaii, airport, about 0448, and was en route to Monterey with a final destination of Long Beach, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site. A VFR flight plan was filed. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
The pilot reported that about 150 miles southwest of Monterey, the right engine made "unusual noises, began to run rough, and exhibited high cylinder head temperature (at limits of gauge)." He advised Oakland Center of his position and situation, but did not declare an emergency. He reported that he reduced the power on the right engine and increased the power on the left engine to compensate. He stated that he "troubleshot the problem and experimented with increased fuel flow to both engines." The pilot reported that he was able to keep the right engine running at a lower power setting with increased fuel flow. He tried to open the cowl flaps but the right cowl flap failed to open. He opined that the combination of these actions increased the fuel consumption beyond his planned rate of fuel burn.
The pilot stated that he had been operating off the outboard fuel tanks for approximately 1 hour. Each tank held 40 gallons of fuel. The pilot reported that the aircraft was placarded and the flight manual specified that the outboard tanks were to be used only during level, coordinated flight. The manual and placards also stated that the fuel pick-ups could become unported during uncoordinated flight. The pilot reported that after experiencing the engine trouble, he maintained the aircraft at an attitude which did not allow for appropriate fuel flow to the engines from the outboard tanks. He banked the aircraft to keep the fuel pick-ups ported. He switched the ferry system transfer pumps to the "on" position, then switched tanks and burned all of the remaining fuel from the main tanks. The pilot stated that he continued back on the outboard tanks until he was unable to maintain consistent power, at which time he ditched the aircraft in the Pacific Ocean. He evacuated the aircraft, activated a life raft, and was rescued by the United States Coast Guard approximately 30 minutes later.
Transcripts of communication between Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC), Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility (FACSFAC) San Diego, and the accident aircraft indicated that the pilot reported that he was at "minimum fuel" 96 miles southwest of Monterey. The pilot later repeated that he was "in trouble" and was having "fuel problems." The FACSFAC controller asked the pilot how much fuel he had remaining, and the pilot responded, "I'm pretty much done here." The pilot further added that he was going to continue heading toward Monterey and try to get as close as possible.
The pilot's VFR flight plan indicated that the total time en route would be 13 hours 10 minutes, with a total fuel on board of 14 hours. A copy of the flight plan is appended to this file. The lapsed time from departure until the aircraft ditching was approximately 13 hours 12 minutes.