On March 14, 2002, at 1923 Pacific standard time, a Cessna 177B, N11487, made an off airport landing on a highway near Santa Clarita, California, following a total loss of engine power. Skycombers, Inc., was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The private pilot, the sole occupant, sustained minor injuries; the airplane sustained substantial damage. The personal cross-country flight departed California City Municipal Airport, California City, California, about 1830, en route to Whiteman Field, Los Angeles, California. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed.

The Safety Board Investigator-in-Charge (IIC) interviewed the pilot. The pilot said he had flown the airplane the day before for about 2 hours, and had visually verified full fuel before that flight. He estimated that he had over 2 hours of fuel remaining in the tanks.

He departed Whiteman about 1430, and arrived in California City about 1500. He experienced no difficulties with the airplane or engine during the flight.h

During the return flight to Whiteman, the pilot had the fuel selector valve on the "BOTH" position. He began his descent to Whiteman from his cruise altitude of 6,000 feet. The engine began to sputter and lose power, but continued to run for about 4 minutes. He tried operating from the left and right tanks individually, but the engine remained at reduced power. He alternated the magnetos between the left, right, and both positions. The engine did not respond and eventually quit. He declared an emergency on frequency 121.5; he circled and looked for a landing spot, but it was too dark. He thought Interstate 5 was too busy, so he elected to land on a side road. His wing collided with a light pole and the airplane veered into a fence. Both wings separated from the airplane and the fuselage ripped open.

A deputy, who arrived on scene within 5 minutes of the accident, did not smell fuel, observe any puddles of fuel on the ground, or see any fuel stains on the pole. The left wing tank ruptured, but the right wing tank did not. The deputy did not observe any fuel in the right tank.

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