On October 19, 2002, at 2157 mountain daylight time, a Diamond Aircraft Industries DA20-C1, N315CL, operated by Kempton Air Service, of Grand Junction, Colorado, was destroyed when it struck transmission lines and impacted terrain during a forced landing near Walker Field Airport (GJT), Grand Junction, Colorado. The private pilot received minor injuries and his passenger was not injured. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed. No flight plan had been filed for this personal cross-country flight being conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated at Farmington, New Mexico, at approximately 2100.

According to the pilot, they departed Grand Junction at 1830 with 18 gallons of fuel in the airplane, and flew direct to Farmington using the airplane's on-board global positioning system (GPS). During the flight, he noticed that he had a 20-knot tail wind. They arrived in Farmington at 2000. Prior to the return flight, he checked the fuel using a stick and the fuel gauge. He determined that there was approximately 9.5 gallons of fuel remaining and decided not to recheck his fuel burn rate. They departed Farmington at 2100.

The pilot stated that while over Hopkins Filed, Nucla, Colorado, approximately 50 nautical miles south of Grand Junction, he rechecked the fuel burn rate and calculated it to be approximately 6 gallons per hour, but the fuel gauge did not reflect this. He said the fuel gauge was reading right at the one-quarter mark but should have been over one quarter. "I thought the fuel gauge was malfunctioning, and knew that we could land at Nucla, but I decided not to." He also stated that it was less than an hour to Walker Field, and that even at one-quarter tank, it should have been enough for a 45-minute reserve.

At approximately 13 miles southeast of Grand Junction, the pilot contacted Walker Field tower, and was given clearance to land. While over Grand Junction, the engine began to "sputter." He turned the auxiliary fuel pump on and checked the fuel gauge. The fuel gauge was in the "yellow," and he knew that it was unreliable. The engine's performance "improved" and then continued to sputter. He notified the tower that he was having "engine trouble," and they cleared him to land on any runway. While at 7000 feet msl and on final for runway 04, the engine "quit completely." He attempted to hold altitude and restart the engine, but was unable to. The pilot set up for best glide, but realizing he couldn't make it to the airport, he set up to make a forced landing on the eastbound lane of Interstate Highway 70.

As he made a right turn to set up for the landing, he noticed a set of power lines right in front of them. The airplane struck the power lines at a 30-degree angle, and in a 20-degree right turn, knocked down two power poles, impacted a ditch, and came to a stop next to the highway. The pilot noticed the power lines lying across the airplane, he saw sparks, and a fire near the left wing. He unbuckled himself and his passenger and they both climbed out and walked up to the road.

The airplane impacted the ground and remained on its landing gear in an upright attitude and at a heading of 270 degrees. The nose landing gear was collapsed forward. The empennage was severed from the fuselage approximately 2 feet forward of the vertical stabilizer. The canopy was shattered. There was a cordwise fracture on the left wing, approximately 1-foot outboard of the wing root, beginning at the leading edge and approximately 2 feet in length. At several different positions on the airplane, there were burn marks and melted areas. The left wing was fire damaged. The wire strike, ground impact, post impact fire, and subsequent electrical power surge, destroyed the airplane.

According to Grand Valley Power, of Grand Junction, Colorado and XCEL Energy of Colorado, a power surge and fluctuation was recorded at 2157. Although the lines were not severed, they were damaged and two power poles were broken and knocked down. The power lines at this installation were high power transmission lines. They were composed of a series of single pole suspension-single arm, 55 foot tall, Class 2, power pole transmission line structures, with a "delta-pattern" four wire arrangement. The arrangement consisted of one static/ground line (at the top of the pole), and three 69,000-volt energized transmission conductors, which were suspended from separate arms that extended laterally from the pole. The poles were placed approximately 300 feet apart.

The pilot stated that the duration of the flight to Farmington was 1 hour and 30 minutes. At Farmington, he checked the fuel and identified that he used 8.5 gallons of fuel and had 9.5 gallons of fuel remaining. This resulted in a calculated fuel burn rate of approximately 5.7 GPH for the flight from Grand Junction to Farmington. With 9.5 gallons of fuel remaining, and using a fuel burn rate of 5.7 GPH, the total calculated flight capability remaining would be approximately 1 hour and 39 minutes.

According to the manufacturer's pilot operating handbook (POH), the DA20-C1, with a Sensenich propeller installed, has a calculated fuel burn rate of 5.0 to 8.8 gallons per hour (GPH), for maximum flight duration. These calculations are dependent on fuel availability, temperature, pressure altitude, and the selected power setting. In reference to the DA20-C1's cruise performance charts, operation at 11,000 feet msl, in standard temperature, with the engine running at 2800 rpm, would result in a power setting of 61.5 percent brake horsepower (bhp), 125 knots true air speed, and a calculated fuel burn rate of 5.9 GPH.

The distance between Grand Junction and Farmington is approximately 143 nautical miles. Using the manufacturer's recommended settings, a flight at 125 knots, with a 20-knot tail wind, would result in a ground speed of 145 knots and would take approximately 59 minutes to fly the distance. A 20-knot headwind on the return flight would have resulted in a ground speed of 105 knots and would have taken approximately 1 hour and 22 minutes to fly the distance. The total calculated flight time for both legs of the flight would be approximately 2 hours and 21 minutes. Adding a 45-minute reserve, and a 10-minute climb after each departure, would require a total flight capability of approximately 3 hours and 26 minutes.

A total flight capability of 3 hours and 26 minutes, with a fuel burn rate of 5.9 GPH, would require 20.24 gallons of fuel.

The POH states, that when using a fuel stick to check the fuel level, "several readings should be taken to confirm accuracy."

At 1753, the reported weather at GJT, was, wind, 330 degrees at 9 knots; visibility, 10 statute miles; sky condition, clear; temperature, 18 degrees C.; dew point, minus 11 degrees C.; altimeter setting, 29.99. The calculated density and pressure altitudes were 6,292 feet and 4,794 feet msl respectively.

At 2153, the reported weather at GJT, was, wind, 060 degrees at 7 knots; visibility, 10 statute miles; sky condition, clear; temperature, 9 degrees C.; dew point, minus 9 degrees C.; altimeter setting, 30.02. The calculated density and pressure altitudes were 5,197 feet and 4,767 feet msl respectively.

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