On April 12, 2002, at 2340 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172, N8458U, registered to Air Taxi Inc., and operated by the pilot, collided with a tree and power lines while maneuvering for an emergency landing near Smithfield, North Carolina. The training flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 with no flight plan filed. Visual weather conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The commercial pilot and passengers received minor injuries; one passenger received serious injuries. The flight departed Charleston, South Carolina, at 2145.

According to the pilot, he and a student flew from Johnston County (JNX) to Charleston, SC (East Cooper) and back. Prior to the flight to East Cooper, the student (private pilot certificated) checked the fuel and remarked that it "appeared" full. The pilot then checked the fuel on the right side, and confirmed that it did appear full. On the return trip, the instructor monitored the fuel gauges, and noted that the right gauge was indicating just above empty and bouncing towards one fourth of a tank. The left gauge was indicating just below one fourth of a tank. The instructor remarked that he figured most Cessna 172's were able to fly for approximately 4.0 to 4.5 hours on full fuel. Calculating the total flight time at 3.3 hours at that point, the instructor determined that the approximately 15 minutes remaining in the flight to return to the original destination would leave enough fuel for the 45 minute reserve required at night.

The pilot further stated that during descent, the engine stopped (approximately 14 miles from JNX). The fuel gauges were still bouncing, and the pilot took that indication to mean there was fuel remaining. The pilot set up for an emergency landing, and banked right to avoid trees. At that point, the airplane struck a group of power lines. When the pilot and passengers attempted to ditch the airplane, it spiraled to the ground and landed inverted. There was one serious injury to a passenger in the back seat, while the pilot and two passengers received minor injuries. Pilot did not report any mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane prior to the accident.

Examination of the airplane disclosed that the left wing was partially torn of the fuselage, bent backwards at a 45-degree angle. The right wing was damaged and both wing spars were broken. The top of the fuselage was caved into the cabin. Examination of the airplane and the accident site failed to reveal the presence of fuel. Post examination of the remaining fuel in the tanks, fuel lines, and gascolator revealed a total amount of 42 ounces. A functional check of the engine was performed while the engine was still on the airplane. After fuel was added, the engine started and ran.

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