On October 8, 1998, about 0255 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-31-350, N3543A, operated by Castle Aviation, was destroyed during a forced landing near Ravenna, Ohio. The certificated commercial pilot was not injured. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the positioning flight, which had departed from Detroit, Michigan (DTW). The flight was operated on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan under 14 CFR Part 91.

Interviews with an inspector from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) disclosed that the flight had originated earlier in the evening from Portage County Airport (29G), Ravenna, with full fuel tanks (182 gallons of useable fuel). The pilot operated the airplane on a series of positioning flights under 14 CFR Part 91, and when cargo was carried, the flights were operated under 14 CFR Part 135.

The pilot told the FAA Inspectors that on the second leg of the flight, while on final approach, the green "landing gear down and locked" lights failed to illuminate. The pilot performed a missed approach and while being vectored for the ILS a second time, noticed that a circuit breaker had popped, and reset it. The pilot also reported that the circuit breaker would not stay reset as long as the landing gear was retracted. However, when the landing gear was extended, the circuit breaker would stay reset. After landing, the pilot departed on the next leg of his flight series, and continued to operate the airplane in this condition for four additional flights.

At the completion of the last cargo flight which terminated in DTW, the pilot was asked by company personnel if he had sufficient fuel for the return flight to 29G, and replied that he did.

The pilot reported that en route to 29G, he used the remaining fuel in the auxiliary tanks and then switched to the main tanks. While on a descent, about 2,600 feet mean sea level (MSL), and maneuvering for a visual approach, the engines started surging and subsequently lost power. The pilot then performed a forced landing in a wooded area about 5 miles east of the airport.

Examination of the airplane by FAA Inspectors revealed that all fuel tanks were empty, and the airplane had flown 4.3 hours since being refueled. During that time, the pilot performed six takeoffs, two approaches with higher than normal speeds at the request of approach control, and one missed approach to a second ILS approach. The pilot also incurred a 20 minute ground delay with both engines operating prior to his final departure.

The pilot also told the FAA Inspectors that the fuel gauges indicated between 1/4 and 1/2 on the main fuel tanks prior to departure from DTW. Examination by FAA Inspectors revealed that with no electrical power on the fuel quantity measuring system, the left fuel tank gauge read 1/4 and the right fuel tank gauge read 1/3.

Examination of electrical wiring diagram for the Piper PA-31-350 revealed that the circuit breaker that had popped when the landing gear was retracted, controlled the landing gear lights, the oil pressure indications for both engines, and both fuel quantity gauges.

The toxicological testing report from the Ohio State Highway Crime Lab, Columbus, Ohio, was negative for drugs and alcohol for the pilot.

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