FTW01LA066
FTW01LA066

On February 12, 2001, at 0040 central standard time, a Piper PA-28-140 single-engine airplane, N2457Q, was substantially damaged during a forced landing following a loss of engine power near Owasso, Oklahoma. The two front seat commercial pilots were not injured and the pilot-rated rear seat passenger received minor injuries. The aircraft was registered to a private individual and was operated by Phil Air Flight Center of Daytona Beach, Florida. Dark night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 business flight. The cross-country flight originated from Daytona Beach, Florida, made three fuel stops, and was destined for the Richard Lloyd Jones Jr. Airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The accident leg of the cross-country flight departed Greenwood, Mississippi, at 2035.

According to written statements provided by the two commercial pilots, the left front seat pilot was the "flying pilot" and the right front seat pilot was the "non-flying pilot," who was navigating and communicating with air traffic control (ATC) during the accident leg of the cross-country flight. During the previous legs of the cross-country flight, the flight crew calculated the fuel flow to be approximately 10 gallons/hour. At Greenwood, the flight crew topped off the fuel tanks with 21.7 gallons of fuel. According to their statements, they departed Greenwood and were requested to climb to 6,000 feet. The right seat pilot stated that "the aircraft had trouble reaching altitude, and a strong headwind decreased our ground speed to about 80 knots. After 20 minutes, I noticed indications of carburetor icing." The pilots then applied carburetor heat and requested a lower altitude, which was denied. The right seat pilot stated that she amended the estimated time of arrival due to the strong headwinds, and the left seat pilot reduced the engine RPM and leaned the mixture to extend their range.

The pilots reported that approximately 35 nautical miles from Tulsa, the low voltage light illuminated and the ammeter indicated zero. The pilots "read the appropriate checklist" and requested a diversion to the nearest airport with a precision approach and a descent to the minimum safe altitude of 2,500 feet. ATC provided radar vectors to Tulsa International Airport (TUL). During the diversion, the flight crew elected to operate the engine with the left fuel tank selected since they estimated that it contained approximately 5 gallons of fuel, and the right fuel tank contained approximately 10 gallons of fuel. When the flight was 15-20 nautical miles from TUL, the engine started to "shake and make a lot of noise." The left seat pilot stated that he "thought [they] had run out of gas on the left tank," so the right seat pilot attempted to switch the fuel selector from the left fuel tank to the right fuel tank; however, she "fumbled with the handle." When the fuel selector was switched to the right fuel tank, the engine power did not change. The pilots informed ATC that they were losing engine power and requested a vector to the nearest airport. The controller vectored the flight to the Claremore Regional Airport. As the flight descended through the clouds, the right seat pilot attempted to illuminate the runway lights at Claremore; however, they could not find the airport. At 800 feet agl, the airplane broke out of the clouds, and the pilots realized that they would not be able to make the airport. The left seat pilot saw a lighted tower, which illuminated a grass field, and made a series of steep turns to line the aircraft up with the field. The right seat pilot turned on the landing light, noticed power lines in front of the aircraft, and pushed forward on the control yoke. The bottom side of the airplane scraped the tops of trees. The pilots landed the airplane in the field where the right wing impacted a fence post. Subsequently, the right wing tore away from the aircraft, the airplane rolled onto its right side and skidded approximately 50 feet prior to coming to rest upright.

According to the FAA inspector, who responded to the accident site, the right wing fuel tank was compromised during the emergency landing, and the left fuel tank contained a nominal amount of fuel. The last recorded transmission with the flight crew was at 0038. The flight had been airborne for 4 hours and 3 minutes at this time.

According to the Pilot Operating Handbook, the PA-28-140 has a usable fuel capacity of 49.6 gallons (24.8 gallons in each wing). The average fuel consumption rate at 75% rated power is 10 gallons/hour, which would provide an endurance of 4 hours and 58 minutes.

On June 11, 2001, an FAA airworthiness inspector observed an engine test run at the aircraft salvage facility. According to the FAA inspector, he observed that the fuel strainer was empty. A fuel container was connected to the fuel selector's left fuel tank line connection, the engine was primed with the boost pump, and an engine start was attempted. The FAA inspector stated that the battery was low and not capable of turning over the engine crankshaft. An external power source was connected to the aircraft and the engine started "normally." The engine was initially run at 1,000 RPM, with an alternator output of 20 amps. The engine was then operated at 2,500 RPM with no anomalies noted.

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