On July 9, 1998, at 0845 central daylight time, a Piper PA-22-135 airplane, N1279C, registered to and operated by a private individual, nosed over during a forced landing following a loss of engine power near San Angelo, Texas. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The private pilot, the sole occupant, sustained minor injuries. No flight plan was filed and visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the Title 14 CFR Part 91 personal cross country flight that departed Mathis Field Airport in San Angelo at 0820 with an intended destination of Midland, Texas.

In a written statement, the pilot reported that on departure from San Angelo, the airplane "had a half tank of fuel in the right wing and about a third of a tank in the left." The engine "cut back to idle power" when the airplane was approximately 15 nautical miles from the airport. The pilot manipulated the mixture and throttle controls, and the engine "surged back to full power." She turned back towards the airport, and "a couple of minutes later, the engine cut back to idle power again." Pumping the throttle restored power; however, after "a couple of minutes," the engine again lost power. During the ensuing forced landing in a construction area, the airplane's nose gear collapsed, and the airplane nosed over and came to a stop in the inverted position.

An FAA inspector examined the airplane at the accident site and reported that the left wing sustained structural damage and the top of the vertical stabilizer and rudder were crushed. He further reported that there was "no gas detected in the left tank at the accident site," and the fuel selector was found "in the off position." According to the inspector, the "pilot's mechanic," who arrived at the site before him, "stated that he had moved the fuel selector to the off position."

The FAA inspector interviewed the pilot on the day of the accident and reported that she stated "the left gas tank was 1/4 full of gas and the right tank was 1/2 full of gas" when the flight departed from San Angelo. After the inspector informed the pilot that he found the left tank empty, "she stated that she was flying on the right tank." The inspector also asked the pilot if she had tried to select a different tank when the engine quit, and she answered "yes."

An aircraft mechanic, who had recently overhauled the airplane's engine, reported that he arrived at the accident site before the FAA inspector arrived. He stated that he asked the pilot if, following the partial power loss, she had tried selecting a different fuel tank, and she responded that "she did not think to do that at the time."

Review of the airplane's maintenance records revealed that the engine, a Lycoming O-320-B2B, S/N L2373-39, was installed in the airplane on July 1, 1998, following a major overhaul. On July 2, 1998, the engine was removed for repair of the tachometer drive, and reinstalled on July 6, 1998. At the time of the accident, the engine had accumulated 1.5 hours since major overhaul.

On July 16, 1998, an FAA inspector examined the engine and concluded that it was "capable of operation if it was installed on an engine run up test stand." Following this examination, the airplane was released to the owner. Approximately one month later, the insurance adjuster assigned to the accident contacted the NTSB investigator-in-charge and reported that on August 8, 1998, the engine was run on a test stand for approximately 10 minutes at various power settings. Prior to running the engine, the impact damaged lower half of the carburetor was replaced. The original propeller, exhaust system, and magnetos were used for the engine run.

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