On June 4, 2002, about 1500 Pacific daylight time, a Cessna 172M, N61569, lost engine power and collided with trees during a forced landing near Mountain Ranch, California. Cruiseair Aviation was operating the rental airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The private pilot and one passenger sustained serious injuries; the airplane sustained substantial damage. The personal cross-country flight departed Porterville Municipal Airport, Porterville, California, about 1345, with a planned destination of Placerville Airport, Placerville, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan had not been filed.

The pilot submitted a Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report (NTSB Form 6120.1/2). It indicated that the flight originated from Ramona, California, about 1050. The pilot further reported that after departing Ramona, he obtained flight following from Southern California Terminal Radar Control (SOCAL TRACON). While en route, about 2 hours after departure, the airplane was in the vicinity of Porterville, and the pilot opted to land the airplane, rest, and have lunch. After a short stop, the flight departed Porterville and continued toward Placerville. About 1 hour 15 minutes after departure, which equated to about 35 nautical miles from Placerville, the engine began to operate as though it was "starved for gasoline." The propeller continued to rotate; however, the engine failed to produce thrust. The pilot selected carburetor heat, but the engine did not respond.

The pilot configured the airplane and selected a small, upsloping meadow for an emergency landing. The airplane touched down on the meadow and continued the landing roll into high vegetation, eventually impacting several trees. After the accident, the pilot stated that the total operating time for the airplane over the course of the day was about 3 hours 15 minutes, including taxi time.

Investigators recovered three flight plans from the airplane wreckage. The first flight plan indicated low altitude airway routing from Ramona to Porterville. The routing selected the very high omni-direction range (VOR) victor airway 187 from Oceanside VOR to Paradise VOR. The route continued via victor airway 197 to AMONT intersection, defined by Shafter and Gorman VOR radials, then victor airway 459 to Tule VOR and ending via a direct course to the Porterville airport. The flight plan calculated the flight time for the 215 mile flight at 2 hours 13 minutes and the fuel consumption at 14 gallons.

The second flight plan continued from Porterville to EXTRA intersection (defined by Avenal and Clovis VOR radials) and victor airway 459 to FRIANT VOR, victor airway 332 to Hangtown VOR, and direct to Placerville airport. The flight plan calculated the flight time for the 181.1-mile flight at 1 hour 53 minutes and the fuel consumption at 12 gallons.

The third flight plan represented the flight from Ramona to Placerville without an intermediate stop in Porterville. The route of flight was victor airway 186 to Paradise VOR, victor airway 197 to AMONT intersection, victor airway 459 to Friant VOR, victor airway 332 to Hangtown VOR, and then direct to Placerville airport. The flight plan calculated the flight time for the 388.8-mile flight at 4 hours 1 minute, and the fuel consumption at 24 gallons. Wind conditions were not taken into account in any of the flight plans.

In a telephone conversation with a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, rescue personnel reported that they spoke to the passenger involved in the accident. The passenger stated that the flight departed from Ramona and made an intermediate stopover in Porterville. While the airplane was in cruise flight en route to Placerville the engine sputtered and lost power. The pilot looked for a place to land and declared a MAYDAY over the radio, stating that the airplane had experienced a loss of engine power. During the emergency landing the airplane collided with trees. The pilot contacted emergency services with his cell phone and a California Highway Patrol helicopter located the wreckage. Both occupants suffered broken limbs and were transported to hospitals. Rescue personnel further reported there was no fire and no smell of fuel at the scene.

An aircraft recovery service recovered and moved the airplane wreckage to Plain Parts, Pleasant Grove, California. At the request of the Safety Board, a Textron Lycoming engine manufacturer representative and Cessna Aircraft Company representative examined the wreckage under the supervision of a Federal Aviation Administration Sacramento Flight Standards District Office aviation safety inspector.

The Cessna Aircraft Company representative interviewed the man who recovered the wreckage and reported that he found no fuel at the accident site.

The Cessna Aircraft Company representative further stated that during the examination he found the right tank was crushed, but not breached, and the left tank was breached. He verified that the fuel selector was in the "both" position. He observed no evidence of residual fuel or fuel stains within the airframe fuel system; the gascolator did not contain any fuel or debris. He found no anomalies during the examination. He said that the airplane had standard range fuel tanks (42 gallons total, 38 gallons useable). Both wings had the proper placard placement.

According to the Textron Lycoming representative, the engine did not display any evidence of pre impact catastrophic mechanical malfunction or failures.

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