MIA01LA058
MIA01LA058

On January 9, 2001, about 1500 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-24-250, N5887P, registered to a private individual, operating as a Title 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight, crashed in the vicinity of Pittsview, Alabama. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The airplane received substantial damage, the private-rated pilot received no injuries, and a passenger received minor injuries. The flight departed Lakeland, Florida, for Auburn, Alabama, at about 1140.

According to the pilot, after fueling at Lakeland's Linder Regional Airport, departing for Auburn, and executing an unplanned return to Lakeland to secure a fueling door that was inadvertently left unlatched, he calculated that he still had 3 hours 5 minutes of fuel aboard. He stated he was dissatisfied with the fixed base operator's fueling service because he asked for a full fuel tank top off and they filled his tanks to the in-tank mounted visual tab indicators, only. According to the times provided by the pilot, the aircraft crashed into a field 3 hours 20 minutes after he departed the Lakeland airport. The pilot stated he had flown the identical route five times previously.

According to a non-pilot rated passenger, the Miami to Lakeland to Auburn flight was her third trip with the pilot and that particular airplane. This particular trip differed in that they had to return to Lakeland after takeoff due to an unsecured fueling door on the right wing. No fuel was lost overboard as a result of the unsecured door. Once established en route to Auburn, they experienced strong headwinds and turbulence.

According to an FAA inspector, the pilot stated to him and to a sergeant on the Russell County, (Alabama) Sheriff's Department that he might have exhausted his fuel supply, and had to force land in a vacant field. When directly queried by the FAA inspector, the pilot stated, "Yes sir, I ran out of gas." Examination of the wreckage revealed no breaching of either 30-gallon wing fuel tank, and neither tank had any fuel visible. Sumping each tank confirmed no fuel was available. There were no fuel residue stains under the wings or trailing the fuel tank caps. A postcrash engine examination revealed no malfunctions or abnormalities. The FAA inspector concluded that fuel starvation, brought on by higher than anticipated head winds appeared to be the major factor in the accident.

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