On July 18, 1998, approximately 1330 mountain daylight time, a SOCATA Rallye 235E airplane, N301RA, was substantially damaged when it landed in a river following a reported loss of engine power near Kalispell, Montana. The private pilot-in-command and one passenger were not injured in the occurrence. The 14 CFR 91 personal flight was out of Kalispell City Airport (approximately 5 miles west of the accident site), where a fly-in was in progress, and was for the purpose of participating in a powder bombing competition associated with the fly-in. The flight's destination was a private airstrip on the Flathead River. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and no flight plan had been filed.

The pilot stated on his NTSB accident report that in order to give his passenger, who was acting as the "bombardier" on the powder bombing flight, a closer view of the target, he initiated an extended 30-degree bank turn over the target area. He stated that at that time, his fuel selector was set to the right tank, which contained 14 gallons of fuel. The pilot stated that the "fuel drained away from [the fuel] pump, [and the] engine died due to lack of fuel." The pilot stated that he tried banking left to restart the engine, but that he could not get the engine to restart. He stated that at this time, he was approximately 500 feet over trees in the area, and that it became apparent to him that he would not be able to get his airplane either back to Kalispell or to the private airstrip. The pilot stated that he then applied full flaps, shut down the airplane, and set up for a landing in the river, as he felt this was the safest forced landing area. The pilot reported to FAA investigators who responded to the accident scene that at the time of the power loss, the airplane's left fuel tank was empty, but that he was running on the right fuel tank at that time. FAA investigators at the site found the airplane's fuel selector set to the right tank.

A mechanic from Airwest Repair of Kalispell, Montana, performed a test run of the accident aircraft's Lycoming O-540 engine after it was recovered from the river. In a telephone conversation with the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC) on August 3, 1998, this mechanic reported that the engine was successfully run after the water was flushed from the engine and the magnetos were dried. The mechanic reported that the engine started upon turning over 4 to 5 propeller blades, and that during this test run, the spark plugs installed at the time of the accident were used. The Airwest Repair mechanic also reported to the NTSB IIC that during recovery of the accident aircraft, the fuel line from the engine-driven fuel pump to the carburetor was found to be "bone dry."

According to the FAA Type Certificate Data Sheet (TCDS) for the Rallye 235E (number 7A14, revision 8, June 14, 1979), the aircraft is equipped with standard separated wing fuel tanks. Each wing tank has a capacity of 37 gallons, of which 35.66 gallons in each tank is usable.

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