LAX02LA036
LAX02LA036

On December 1, 2001, about 1930 hours mountain standard time, a Piper PA-24-250, N7213P, experienced fuel starvation on final approach to runway 21R at the Ernest A. Love Field, Prescott, Arizona. During the ensuing forced landing, the airplane impacted a berm approximately 0.1 mile short of the runway. The pilot in the left seat was handling the airplane's flight controls, and he held commercial pilot and flight instructor certificates. The pilot in the right seat also held commercial pilot and flight instructor certificates, although he was riding as a passenger. The airplane, manufactured in November 1960, was registered to a private individual and was operated by the left seated pilot. During the accident, the airplane was substantially damaged, and both occupants sustained minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The personal flight was performed under 14 CFR Part 91, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated from Los Angeles, California, about 1630 Pacific standard time (1730 mountain standard time).

The left seated pilot reported to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator that he is currently employed as a certified flight instructor (CFI). His total flying experience was 612 hours, of which 32 hours were obtained piloting various Piper Comanches, including the PA-24-250. The pilot indicated that he was unaware whether the Comanches owner's handbook addressed landing with the fuel selector positioned to an auxiliary fuel tank. He indicated that prior to taking off for the nonstop flight, the two main and two auxiliary fuel tanks had been completely filled. During flight, he had repositioned the fuel selector several times. The fuel gauges were functioning, and no evidence of any mechanical malfunctions was noted during the flight.

Regarding the accident sequence, the pilot reported that when he entered the traffic pattern for landing, the fuel selector was still set to the right auxiliary fuel tank. Seconds after he turned onto the final approach leg he performed the "GUMP" (gas, undercarriage, mixture, propeller) prelanding check. The fuel selector was not repositioned at that time. The engine stopped producing power about 5 seconds after completing the prelanding check. The pilot stated that he immediately pitched the airplane to obtain the best glide speed, and he began performing other emergency functions, including repositioning the fuel selector toward the fullest fuel tank. However, the pilot-rated passenger had already just repositioned the selector. The power off approach continued. Engine power was restored seconds prior to impacting the ground.

According to the pilot-rated passenger, his total flying experience was 1,740 hours, of which 40 hours were obtained piloting the PA-24-250 airplane. The pilot reported that his friend had completed the prelanding check upon entering the traffic pattern from the 45-degree entry leg. Seconds after the pilot turned onto the final approach leg and commenced descending he performed the "GUMPS" check. Approximately 5 seconds thereafter, the engine sputtered and quit. The pilot-rated passenger additionally reported that as the pilot was performing functions, including checking the auxiliary fuel pump switch position and the mixture control position, he (the pilot-rated passenger) repositioned the fuel selector to the right main fuel tank. About 1 second before impact the engine restarted.

The pilot additionally reported that the impact occurred approximately 500 feet before reaching the approach end of runway 21R. Thereafter, the airplane rolled about 50 feet before colliding with a berm and bouncing over it. The airplane came to rest about 300 feet from the runway facing 90 degrees right of centerline.

The airplane was examined on scene prior to its recovery. Recovery personnel verbally reported to the Safety Board investigator that the four fuel tanks remained intact. Regarding residual fuel, about 10 gallons of fuel remained in the left auxiliary fuel tank, 25 gallons of fuel were in the left main fuel tank, and 15 gallons of fuel were in the right main fuel tank. The right auxiliary fuel tank was completely dry.

During the 1960's, the Piper Aircraft Corporation published an "Owner's Handbook" for various models of Comanches, including the PA-24-180 and the PA-24-250. In these handbooks, guidance was provided to pilots regarding positioning of the fuel selector. In pertinent part, in the "Approach and Landing" section of Piper's 1961 model year handbook, the pilot was advised to position the fuel selector to the "proper tank" when performing the landing check list.

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