On December 25, 1997, about 2338 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-151, N9514K, registered to Tar Heel Aviation, Inc., crashed about 2 miles east of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, Columbia, South Carolina. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight. The airplane was substantially damaged and the commercial-rated pilot and three passengers were not injured. The flight originated about 2004 from the Chesapeake Municipal Airport, Chesapeake, Virginia.

Before departure, 12.0 gallons of fuel were added to the fuel tanks which according to the pilot, brought the total capacity to 40 gallons, of which 38 gallons were usable. The flight departed and climbed to 6,000 feet where the fuel/air ratio was leaned to the point where the engine began to run rough, then he enrichened it slightly. According to a transcript of communications, at 2312, when the flight was about 29 nautical miles east of the destination airport, the flight descended to 4,000 feet. About 4 minutes later, the flight was cleared to 3,000 feet which was acknowledged and at 2325.29, the pilot advised, "...we've run out of fuel declaring an emergency we need uh immediate vectors to final." The controller questioned if the pilot wanted the closest airport or to continue to the planned destination airport. The pilot questioned the distance to the planned destination and the controller advised the pilot about 20 miles. The controller also advised that a National Guard base was located south of his position about 10 miles. At 2325.49 the pilot stated, "...we'll take that do they have any lighting." The controller advised him he would check on that and gave the flight a vector to the base.

The pilot acknowledged this then about 4 seconds later, advised the controller "yeah two twenty miles to Columbia we got about 5 gallons in our right tank", to which the controller asked what was the pilot's request. The pilot then again advised of the fuel quantity in the right tank and advised 3 gallons were indicated as remaining in the left tank. The controller again asked his intentions and the pilot asked the heading and distance to Columbia. The controller responded that the heading was 240 degrees and 19 miles. The pilot stated, "roger we were only good now failure a failure of the pump or something." The controller questioned if the pilot wanted to proceed to Columbia and the pilot responded in the affirmitive. The controller advised the pilot to fly heading 240 degrees and asked him if there was enough fuel to land there. The pilot asked the controller if he was able to get the lights turned on at the Guard base and was fuel available there. The controller advised the pilot "that's a military base sir that will be an emergency situation only if you need to land there." The pilot responded 4 seconds later that the flight would continue to Columbia and the controller advised him that the Owens Airport was about 5 miles closer to which the pilot responded, "roger give me owens please."

The Columbia Owens Downtown Airport (CUB) is located about 6 nautical miles and 077 degrees magnetic from the Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE). The controller advised the pilot to maintain his current heading and he would call the airport to have somebody standing by for him. At 2328.12, the controller advised the pilot that the airport is not attended after 2200 local and does he want to continue there. According to the airport facility directory, pilot controlled runway lighting is activated using the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF). About 10 seconds later, the pilot questioned the distance to CAE and advised the controller that the flight was climbing as well. The controller advised the pilot that the flight was 15 miles from CAE and the pilot questioned lighting at CUB. The controller advised the pilot that the runway lights were activated using pilot controlled lighting and the pilot questioned the frequency. The controller stated the correct frequency which the pilot read back correctly and then advised the pilot that CUB was at his twelve o'clock position and 8.5 to 9 miles. The pilot again questioned the frequency of the pilot controlled lighting which was verified by the controller. The pilot later stated that he attempted twice to activate the runway lights using the CTAF but was unable. The controller then advised the pilot that the runway lights at CAE were illuminated. At 2331.22, the controller asked the pilot if he wanted to continue toward CAE or divert to CUB which was located at his eleven o'clock position and 5 miles. The pilot responded CAE and reported that the airport was in sight. The flight was cleared to land at 2331.50. The pilot advised the controller, "...we're showing five gallons our right tank but it uh quit on me at five so on my left tank is showing zero."

The flight continued and at 2333.04, the pilot advised the controller "one four kilo just got an engine failure and uh we're back up one four kilo." The controller advised the pilot that CUB was at his twelve o'clock position and 3 miles, and asked was the flight to continue to CAE or CUB. The pilot advised that the flight would continue to CAE. The controller then cleared the flight to land on runway 29 and when asked the distance to the airport, the controller responded 8 miles. At 2335.01, the pilot advised the controller that, "...we have no more engine...", and 13 seconds later, the controller advised the pilot that the flight was, "...directly overhead the Owens airport [CUB] if you need to go in there sir or you can continue straight in to runway two niner at Columbia [CAE] whatever you need equipment is uh out and waiting." At 2335.34, the pilot stated, "one four kilo got a refire on the engine i think that's what will get me into Columbia airport in sight as well." Then 14 seconds later, the pilot advised the controller that the engine quit again. The controller advised the pilot that the flight was about 6 miles out and CUB was located about two miles behind. The flight continued and at 2337.23, the pilot advised the controller that he would attempt a landing in a parking lot, and at 2337.54, the pilot advised the controller that the flight would not make the runway and he would attempt an emergency landing. At 2338.47, the pilot advised the controller, "one four kilo is on the deck ah we had a crash landing...."

Postaccident examination of the airplane by an FAA inspector at the crash site revealed that the right wing of the airplane collided with a tree which caused the wing to separate. The airplane then impacted the ground, bounced twice, and came to rest about 244 feet from the initial tree impact. The left and right fuel tanks were drained and found to contain 3/4 to 1 cup and about 1 cup of fuel respectively. Additionally, examination of the fuel system revealed no evidence of leaks. The fuel indication system was also checked which revealed an "open" circuit of the left fuel quantity float system. No determination was made as to the reason for the "open" circuit. A copy of the FAA inspector's statement and documentation is an attachment to this report.

About 2 hours before the flight departed, the pilot obtained a preflight weather briefing and was advised in part that the winds aloft at 6,000 feet near the departure airport, midpoint of the flight, and destination airport, were from 260 degrees at 40 knots, 260 degrees at 35 knots, and 260 degrees at 30 knots, respectively. The estimated time en route based on the flight plan was 2 hours 5 minutes for the west-southwesterly route of approximate 311 nautical miles at a planned true airspeed of 112 knots. The pilot reported 3 hours of fuel on board.

Review of the flight planning paperwork and a statement from the pilot revealed that he planned the flight several days before the accident using performance charts and weight and balance data from a manual that was not the accident airplane manual. Review of his weight and balance calculations revealed that he used the standard empty weight of 1,331 pounds as listed in the general specifications instead of the actual empty weight of 1,452.76 pounds. Using the correct empty weight and the remaining information provided by the pilot, the airplane was calculated to be about 113 pounds over gross weight at the time of departure. The aircraft weight and center of gravity were calculated to be within limits at the time of the accident. The paperwork also indicates that the pilot used the best power performance chart and the planned true airspeed was 112 knots, with a fuel consumption of 9.2 gallons per hour. Postaccident calculations were performed using the information given to the pilot during the weather briefing and using the performance charts used and provided by the pilot. The total estimated flight time based on this information was calculated to be 3 hours 48 minutes with a total fuel consumption of about 37 gallons. The fuel consumption calculations included the fuel used to climb from the departure airport to the cruise altitude and descend from there to the destination airport, using the performance charts.

According to the airport manager at CUB, in the 14 years that the activation of the runway lights using the CTAF has been operational, there has been no report to his knowledge of any failure other than associated with a power failure. He also stated that the person on duty at the airport on the night of the accident did not recall any operational problems with the pilot-controlled runway lighting system. Additionally, there was no problem with the commercial power to the airport that evening.

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