On December 20, 1997, about 1223 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-22-108, N5258Z, collided with rough terrain shortly after takeoff from a private airport in Jacksonville, North Carolina. The airplane was operated by the private pilot under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91, and visual flight rules. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight. The pilot and sole occupant sustained serious injuries, and the airplane sustained substantial damage. The flight was originating at the time of the accident.

The pilot stated he filled only the left fuel tank the night before. Prior to takeoff, he checked the fuel and determined there was approximately 11 gallons in the left tank. He took off from the airport and climbed to about 400 feet where the engine began to sputter. The pilot stated he then looked for a suitable landing field, considering his altitude, and made an emergency landing. He felt he did not have time to perform a restart procedure because of his altitude.

According to the FAA inspector who interviewed the pilot, the pilot stated that he believed the fuel selector was on the right tank when he took off. The pilot believed he switched to the left fuel tank prior to the engine failure because he often did, but he could not be certain. According to the Pilot's Operating Handbook and the pilot, takeoffs must be made with the fuel selector in the left position.

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