LAX02LA180
LAX02LA180

On June 2, 2002, at 1742 Pacific daylight time, a Cessna 172N, N6629E, experienced a loss of engine power during cruise and made a forced landing on the eastbound side of Interstate 10, near Alhambra, California. The airplane, operated by Runway 3-7 under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91, sustained substantial damage when the left wing struck a carpool sign on the center divider. The private pilot was not injured and the two passengers sustained minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the cross-country flight, and no flight plan had been filed. The flight departed from Bermuda Dunes (UDD), California, about 1630, with a planned stop at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO), Santa Monica, California, and a final destination at the Brackett Field Airport (POC), La Verne, California.

In the pilot's written statement, he stated that the purpose of the trip was to visit the Palm Springs area for the weekend. He had initially reserved a Cessna 172 equipped with the 50-gallon fuel tanks. Early Saturday morning (June 1, 2002) he made an unsuccessful attempt to connect with DUATS to plot a flight plan. The pilot indicated he usually used DUATS to double-check his flight and fuel planning. He then called UDD directly to check on the weather conditions and was told that they "were very favorable." The pilot called his passenger and told him what the conditions were. His passenger indicated that he was not able to leave immediately and wanted to leave later in the day. The pilot stated that was fine, but that he wanted to reach UDD before nightfall. They agreed to meet at SMO about 1800, on June 1st.

The passenger called back to ask if his friend could accompany them to UDD. The pilot stated that he would have to get back with him after checking the weight and balance. He reworked his weight and balance calculations and determined that they would be 66 pounds over gross with full fuel, golf clubs, and an additional person. The pilot notified his passenger that they might not be able to take his friend because of a weight and balance issue. They again agreed to meet as planned.

The pilot went to the POC airport to check on the airplane and see how much fuel was on board. When he got to the airport he saw that N6629E had just returned from a flight. He talked to the pilot about how the airplane handled and what the fuel level was. The pilot that had just returned in N6629E stated that the airplane was running fine and he had flown about 1 hour 50 minutes.

The pilot recalculated his flight using N6629E, which was equipped with the 40-gallon fuel tanks. He estimated his trip time would be 3 hours with a fuel burn of 6 gallons per hour. The pilot subtracted the 2 hours of flight time from the previous flight, in addition to his trip time of 3 hours, and calculated he would have 1.6 hours of reserve fuel on board at the completion of his trip. The pilot determined that this would be plenty of fuel to make the trip.

The pilot conducted a preflight inspection on the airplane, which included visually checking the fuel level. The flight departed POC at 1735 on June 1st, and flew to SMO to pickup the passengers. The pilot then departed SMO at 1840. He climbed to 7,500 feet for cruise and contacted air traffic control (ATC) for flight following to UDD. The pilot stated that they arrived at UDD about 1 hour 15 minutes later. After parking the airplane he was asked at the airport office if his airplane needed to be topped off with fuel. He stated that he did not want to refuel the airplane.

On June 2nd, the pilot and passengers arrived at the airport at 1620, for the return trip to SMO and POC. He checked the oil level and performed a preflight; however, he did not visually inspect the fuel tanks. The flight departed UDD about 1630, and climbed to 6,500 feet for the flight back to SMO.

The pilot contacted Palm Springs Approach (PSP) requesting and receiving flight following. Near El Monte airport (EMT) he started his descent from 6,500 to 2,500 feet. Air traffic controllers vectored him north to avoid the Los Angeles Class B airspace. He stated that he leveled off at 2,400 feet in the Alhambra area.

After he leveled off, the engine gradually lost power and then quit. He conducted the emergency procedures, which included an unsuccessful attempt to restart the engine. He also slowed the airplane down to 65 knots and began to look for a place to land. He made a mayday call to ATC. The pilot stated that ATC suggested EMT about 6 miles to the east. He replied that EMT was not an option. ATC then suggested Interstate 10 about 1.5 miles to his south.

The pilot approached the freeway and determined that the eastbound side would be the best place to make the emergency landing. He instructed his passenger to keep his door ajar. The airplane touched down in the carpool lanes. On the landing rollout the left wing struck a carpool sign mounted on the center divider. The pilot stated that half of the left wing was ripped off and the airplane collided with the center divider. He applied rudder to get off the rail; however, the airplane veered back into the center divider. The airplane came to rest in a nose down attitude with the left wing and left main landing gear on the center divider.

The pilot stated that under the supervision of a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer, he inspected the fuel tanks. He stated that there was no fuel in the fuel tanks. He further stated that he did not observe fuel leaking out of the airplane. The pilot stated that there were no mechanical discrepancies with the airplane. His fuel calculations were in error and he ran out of fuel.

Retrieval personnel stated that the fuel tanks were not compromised during the accident. When they looked in the fuel tanks they stated that the fuel tanks were "dry." The fuel lines were disconnected to facilitate removal of the wings. There was no fuel observed coming out of the fuel lines.

Review of the Cessna 172N Pilot Operating Handbook revealed the fuel flow for 65 percent brake horsepower settings at the cruise altitudes would have been between 7.2 and 7.4 gallons per hour.

The private pilot obtained his private pilot license on April 18, 2002, and had accumulated a total of 118 hours of flight time, of which approximately 110 hours were in the accident airplane make and model.

In the Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report submitted by the pilot, under the section titled, "Recommendations (How Could This Accident Have Been Prevented)," the pilot indicated he should use "proper cross-country fuel management calculation techniques."

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