On February 7, 2004, about 1100 Pacific standard time, a Cessna A185F, N87020, experienced a total loss of engine power and made an off airport landing on a road near Fowler, California. The pilot/owner operated the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The certified flight instructor, the sole occupant, was not injured; the airplane sustained substantial damage. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local area flight, and no flight plan had been filed. The personal cross-country flight departed the Elk Grove Airport (Q40), Elk Grove, California, about 1015, with a planned destination of Visalia Municipal Airport (VIS), Visalia, California.

In a written statement, the pilot reported that prior to departure he visually verified the quantity of fuel inside both tanks. The fuel gauges in the cockpit indicated both tanks had about ½ tank of fuel. He was thinking of stopping at Madera Municipal Airport (MAE), Madera, California, to refuel, but while en route, decided that he had enough fuel to continue. At that time, the fuel gauges in the cockpit indicated that the left fuel tank had ½ tank and the right had between a ¼ to ½ tank remaining.

While in cruise flight, about 25 miles north of VIS, the engine lost power. The pilot switched the fuel selector to the left position, but the engine would not restart. After clearing several power lines, he made a forced landing in a sandy, dirt field. On the landing rollout, and more than halfway across the field, he applied brake pressure and the wheels dug into the soft terrain. The airplane nosed over and came to rest inverted. The pilot reported no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane.

During a telephone interview with the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge (IIC), the pilot reported that he had recently bought the airplane and had only accumulated about 2-3 hours in it. He was unfamiliar with using the electric fuel pump, which he thought might have contributed to his inability to restart the engine. He thought that there was a great possibility that the accident was the result of fuel exhaustion.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector stated that about 4 gallons of fuel was drained from the airplane after the accident. According to the Cessna A185F pilot's operating handbook (POH), the total fuel capacity is 80 gallons, of which 6 gallons are unusable.

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