On April 28, 2001, about 1112 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32RT-300, N38261, registered to ZQJ Corporation, operating as a 14 Title CFR Part 91 personal flight, crashed in the vicinity of Wilmington, North Carolina. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a visual flight plan had been filed. The aircraft sustained substantial damage, and the private-rated pilot, the sole occupant, was not injured. The flight departed Newport News, Virginia, about 1 hour 22 minutes before the accident.

According to the pilot, during his in-range descent for New Hanover International Airport, Wilmington, for landing, he selected the fuel boost pump on, enriched the mixture to full rich, switched the fuel selector from the right to the left fuel tank, and advanced the propeller control to full increase as part of his before landing checklist. Engine rpm increased to about 2,700 rpm, began surging, and then the engine stopped developing power. Estimating his position as 3 miles from runway 24, and at an altitude of 1,100 feet msl, he determined his best alternative field was a corn field about 2 to 3 miles short of the airport. The forced landing resulted in substantial damage to the landing gear, wings, and empennage. He confirmed that he saw full fuel tanks during his walk-around inspection before departing Newport News. (The fixed-base operator at Newport News, Rick Aviation, confirmed that N38261 was fuelled with 33.5 gallons of 100LL aviation fuel, and that the amount represented a top-off). The pilot stated that he switched fuel tanks from right to left about 3 minutes before the loss of power.

According to an FAA inspector, on-site examination of the aircraft revealed that neither fuel tank was compromised during the forced landing, and about 30 to 40 gallons of uncontaminated fuel were removed from the left wing tank and about 10 to 15 gallons were removed from the right wing tank. The wreckage was transported to a fixed-base operator on the Wilmington airport where the engine, fuel system, and ignition system were examined for failure or malfunction, with FAA oversight. The fuel selector valve cover assembly was found loose and missing screws that normally secure it to the cockpit floorboards. This allowed the assembly to slide aft of its normal position relative to the mechanical fuel selector handle/arrow point indicator that is attached to the fuel selector valve. The mechanical safety stop is mounted on the valve cover assembly and due to its inadvertent repositioning aft, allowed the fuel selector handle to bypass the mechanical safety stop and allow unobstructed movement all the way to the "off" position, or any position between "left tank" and "off". A pilot who was accustomed to switching his fuel source from right to left tank by simply positioning the fuel selector to the left limit of travel, assuming the safety stop was in place, would, in actuality position the fuel selector to the "off" position. Reference to the aircraft maintenance logbook shows an entry made on July, 26, 1994, indicating that the seats, sidewalls, seatbelts, plastic and carpet were removed for recovering or cleaning. Photographs of the fuel selector valve cover assembly and how the mechanical safety stop was allowed to migrate rearward are an attachment to this report.

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