On March 24, 2003, at 1445 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-151, N43456, operated by Dodgen Aircraft as a rental airplane, was substantially damaged during a forced landing near South Haven Area Airport, South Haven (0D1), Michigan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight was not operating on a flight plan. The private pilot and passenger were uninjured. The flight originated from Guthrie Municipal Airport, Guthrie, Oklahoma, at 0945, en route to Padgham Field Airport (35D), Allegan, Michigan. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
The pilot stated that he checked his GPS which indicated that he was 90 miles from 35D. At that time, the left fuel tank gauge indicated about 1/4 and the right tank gauge indicated 1/8-1/4. He calculated the flight time since departure was 4 hours and 25 minutes. He used a fuel consumption rate of 8 gallons per hour to determine that about 36 1/2 gallons of the 48 gallons of useable fuel had been consumed thus far, which was reportedly close to his estimates from the fuel gauges. He added that in either case, he should have had at least 9 gallons of fuel left, 4 1/2 gallons of which would only be required to land at 35D. Throughout the trip, he checked the mixture setting by leaning the engine until the engine speed started dropping and would then richen the mixture by 3/4 inch.
When he was a few miles northwest of South Bend, Indiana, he switched to the left tank and within a few minutes noticed the gauge was dropping faster than previously observed. He then decided not to risk running out of fuel and decided to land at 0D1. About five miles north of Benton Harbor, Michigan, the engine started missing. He switched to fuel selector to the left fuel tank and the engine began running again. At this time the left and right fuel tank gauges were indicating just below 1/8. When he entered the traffic pattern for runway 22 at 0D1, the engine quit about 1/4 of the way into the downwind leg.
He stated that he made it to the base leg but, because of a strong headwind, the airplane lost speed and altitude quickly. He realized that he was not going to make the runway and first tried to land in a field east of a road but did not feel the airplane would stop prior to reaching a ditch, road, and power lines. He tried to pull up over these obstacles and very quickly saw the he could not clear the power lines. Instead, he went under them, over the ditch and into trees.
Federal Aviation Administration publication FAA-P-8740-03, Time In Your Tanks, states, "Multiply the usable fuel on board by 75% and divide the result by your previously confirmed consumption rate. This will be your SAFE FLIGHT TIME limit for the aircraft at the that specific operating condition. Resolve never to exceed it." The publication also states, "Fuel gauges are subject to malfunctions and errors. Fuel gauges must only be calibrated to accurately indicate an empty tank. They do not have to be accurate at any other fuel level..."