On February 1, 2004, at 1627 Pacific standard time, a Piper PA-28-181, N4861F, collided with power lines during a forced landing following a loss of engine power at Palmdale, California. Continental Flight Center was operating the rental airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The commercial pilot and three passengers were not injured; the airplane sustained substantial damage. The personal cross-country flight departed Bullhead City, Arizona, about 1445 mountain standard time, en route to Agua Dulce, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed.

The pilot submitted a written report. He stated that he climbed to 4,500 feet after departure. He descended to 3,500 feet near Barstow, California. He climbed again south of Palmdale. He had just retarded the throttle to begin his descent into Agua Dulce where he planned to refuel. The engine immediately lost power, and he felt roughness and a vibration. He turned the electric fuel boost pump on, and switched fuel tanks. The engine continued to sputter. He tried to contact Palmdale's air traffic control tower, but determined that he could not make the field. He set up to land on a road. The airplane collided with power lines on the way down. The rudder separated from the airplane, but the pilot landed the airplane on the road. The nose gear separated at the curb. The right wing collided with a tree, and part of the wing separated. The airplane came to rest in a parking lot.

The left fuel tank did not sustain mechanical damage, but the right tank was ruptured. The recovery agent drained about 1 quart of a blue fluid from the left tank.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC) examined the airplane at Aircraft Recovery Service, Littlerock, California, on February 10, 2004.

The fuel selector valve was on the right tank. The IIC drained about 50 milliliters of a blue fluid that smelled like aviation gasoline from the gascolator.

The carburetor air box was not contaminated. The throttle and mixture controls at the carburetor were in the closed position and moved freely.

The IIC removed the top spark plugs. All of the electrodes were oval and gray. The electrodes for cylinders no. 3 and 4 were lighter gray than the others. All of the gaps were similar, and none of them exhibited mechanical damage.

The IIC removed the rocker covers. He manually rotated the crankshaft with the propeller. The vacuum pump and accessory gears rotated freely. He obtained thumb compression on all cylinders in firing order. He observed spark in firing order from the top ignition harness leads.

The IIC removed the drain plug from the carburetor and drained about 75 milliliters of a clear, light blue fluid that smelled like aviation gasoline.

The IIC installed the drain plug, rocker covers, and spark plugs. Both of the propeller blades were bent aft. A mechanic plumbed a fuel can into the fuel system. He ran the engine, which started immediately, for about 1 minute at 750 rpm. The IIC did not observe any leaks, and the engine did not hesitate, sputter, or backfire. The IIC had the mechanic shut the engine down with the mixture control due to heavy vibration from the unbalanced, damaged propeller.

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