CHI95LA038
CHI95LA038

On November 11, 1994, at 1950 central standard time (cst), a Piper PA-28-180, N5397L, registered to the Valley Aircraft Corporation of Chesterfield, Missouri, and piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed during a collision with a truck and brick building during an approach for a forced landing. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The 14 CFR Part 91 flight had been operating on a VFR flight plan. The pilot and front seat passenger received serious injuries. The two rear seat passengers received minor injuries. The flight departed Chicago, Illinois, at 1720 cst.

According to the pilot's written statement on NTSB Form 6120.1/2, he "...directed the FBO to fill [the airplane's fuel] tanks to tabs (36 usable gal)" before departing on the accident flight. He said he had "...planned 2:20 or 2:30 [hours] en route plus 45 minute reserve [fuel]." He said he estimated his airplane's fuel consumption by "...using 6.0 gallons for cruise climb for [the] first half hour and 10 gallons per hour for remaining two hours at 75 percent power with [the] engine leaned." He said he "...believed [the engine's] rpm setting was 2575." The pilot said he flew the airplane at 4,500 feet above mean sea level.

As the airplane neared Springfield, Illinois, the pilot said he observed the airplane's fuel tank gauges registering about 24 gallons of fuel remaining. He said he began a descent toward the Alton, Illinois, airport for a rest stop and fuel. When the airplane was over Alton, he said the engine surged and quit. After switching fuel tanks and turning on the electric boost pump the engine began to run. The pilot said he looked at the airplane's two fuel gauges and observed them reading a little less than 10 gallons each. He said the airplane's engine stopped running a short time later.

The pilot he said he looked into both fuel tanks before departing Chicago, Illinois. He said the fuel was just above the tabs in each tank and about two inches below the top of the fuel tank opening. According to the pilot, the amount of fuel he had on the airplane should have allowed him to fly three hours and 20 minutes.

The on-scene investigation revealed empty fuel tanks. A Federal Aviation Administration Principal Maintenance Inspector (PMI) said he inspected the airplane's spark plugs "...and found them to have been running lean, all carbon was also cleared from the plugs." Other than the collision damage, the PMI said that the engine had no mechanical anomalies that would prevent it from producing power.

Before departing Chicago, Illinois, the pilot had 19 gallons of fuel added to the airplane. The fuel receipt from the departure airport's fixed base operator showed the fuel tanks were to be filled to their tabs. It showed that 19 gallons of fuel were loaded into N5397L's fuel tanks. The Piper PA-28-180 pilot's operating handbook (POH) says that to obtain 36 gallons of fuel, each fuel tank should be filled to the bottom of the fuel tank filler neck.

N5397L's engine ran for two hours and 29 minutes according to the pilot's stated takeoff time and time of the accident. A representative from Lycoming stated that the rich mixture fuel consumption for the airplane's engine was 10.125 gallons per hour. Based upon the engine running time and stated fuel consumption time, the N5397L should have used about 25.3 gallons of fuel. An examination of N5397L's POH, cruise performance data, showed its fuel consumption rate at 75 percent power should have been 10 gallons per hour.

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