On June 16, 2000, at 1845 Eastern Daylight Time, a Hughes 269A, N9014N, was substantially damaged during a forced landing in Mansfield, New Jersey. The certificated private pilot sustained minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight between Essex County Airport, Caldwell, New Jersey, and R.J. Miller Airpark, Toms River, New Jersey. No flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

In a written statement, the pilot reported:

"On June 4th after a flight of 2.2 hours, the aircraft was refueled at Miller Airpark. It was topped off with 20 gallons. The fuel gauge read just under 10 gallons before fueling, so 20 gallons seemed correct to fill the 30 gallon tank.

"On June 11th, I flew to Essex County Airport and hangered the aircraft in my private hangar so it would be available for a 25 hour inspection the coming week. I checked the fuel quantity before the flight and the gauge read 28 gallons. The flight took 1.1 hours.

"On June 16th, I was told by [a representative of Paragon Aircraft], the inspection was complete and would I come a few minutes early to run the aircraft for a few minutes to check for oil leaks. The aircraft had not been run by anyone at Paragon.

"During the time the engine was idling, I took note of the fuel gauge. The gauge read 17-18 gallons which seemed correct after just over an hour flight starting with full fuel. I decided not to fuel at this time, as I had 1.6 hours fuel for this trip of 59 nautical miles. The winds were forecast to be 10-15 knots, so at a 70-74 knot airspeed, I calculated an hour flight time with a 30-40 minute reserve.

"I became airborne at approximately 5:40 PM local time. I did not note the exact time of lift off. Fuel flow seemed normal for the entire trip which was between 500-600 AGL.

"At 6:40 PM local time, the low fuel light came on. I was 500 AGL and due east of the old Lakehurst blimp hanger. The fuel gauge read 5 gallons. I looked at my watch to note the time. The fuel seemed a few gallons low, but nothing excessive. I had made the trip dozens of times in my twin Cessna, and although I could not yet see Miller due to my low altitude, I knew it was only a few minutes away. I started to gain altitude to be able to spot Miller more quickly. With 5 gallons of fuel I should have had 25 minutes of flight time.

"Four or five minutes later I was at 800 AGL and could see Miller Airpark. The engine started to run rough. I checked the fuel quantity which read empty. I had partial power for a few seconds which I spent looking for a suitable place to land.

"I autorotated down to a [sand] path. As I approached the path I could see 4-6 foot pine trees lining the path. On flaring, I must have struck one of the larger pine trees with the main rotor blades which turned the helicopter 180 degrees and slammed it into the ground, on it's right side."

In a telephone interview with the pilot, he said:

"I performed a thorough pre-flight, but there was another pilot waiting to depart and I was in his way. I checked the fuel drain valve, but I remember that it was hard to access and it was difficult to close. I may not have closed it all the way. This flight was to re-position the helicopter to R.J. Miller Airpark, which is 59 NM from Caldwell. I departed Caldwell with approximately 17-18 gallons of fuel on board. The fuel total was measured from the fuel gauge, since it is nearly impossible to visually check the fuel level with this system. Approximately 60 minutes into the flight I got a low fuel warning light. I looked at the fuel gauge and it read 5 gallons. This helicopter burns approximately 11 gallons per hour and has a 30 gallon tank. When the low fuel light illuminated, I climbed from 500 feet to 800 feet, which took about 4 minutes. Once I got to 800 feet, the engine started to sputter and within 6 seconds the engine quit. The fuel gauge went from 5 gallons to 0 in less than 5 minutes."

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector performed an on-scene examination. According to the inspector, the helicopter was found lying on its right side in a wooded area approximately 150 feet off a road. The tail boom was separated from the helicopter. The main rotor was attached to the mast, and one of the three main rotor blades appeared to have struck trees. There was no evidence of fuel leakage around the fuel lines, fuel boost pump, fuel filter, fuel filter drain, fuel servo, injector lines, or engine driven fuel pump. The fuel tank was intact and appeared to be empty. The FAA inspector reported that there was no evidence of fuel leakage or seepage.

According to the Emergency Procedures section of the Hughes 269C Flight Manual, page 3-6 section 3-7 titled Fuel Low, Caution Indicator, it stated:

"An amber fuel low caution light (FUEL LOW) on the instrument panel comes on in flight when approximately one gallon of usable fuel remains in the tank."

"If the fuel low caution light comes on during flight, land immediately."

"Caution: Do not use fuel low caution light as a working indication of fuel quantity (flight time remaining)."

The pilot reported 922 total flight hours; 63 hours in helicopters, of which 6.5 hours were as pilot in command in make and model. The pilot received flight instruction in the helicopter and was endorsed for solo flight.

The pilot stated that the accident could have been prevented if he had refueled at Caldwell, was more careful in checking the bottom fuel dump valve, and if he had landed as soon as the low fuel light came on.

The pilot reported there were no mechanical malfunctions with the helicopter.

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