CHI04LA070
CHI04LA070

On February 15, 2004, at 1440 central standard time, a Piper PA-23-160, N4332P, piloted by a commercial pilot, sustained substantial damage during a forced landing after takeoff from Casey Municipal Airport (1H8), near Casey, Illinois. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was operating under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 without a flight plan. The pilot and his passenger sustained no injuries. The flight had a planned destination of Durant, Oklahoma.

The pilot stated that the flight had originally departed from Wadsworth, Ohio, approximately 1000, and had a planned fuel stop at Greenville, Illinois. The pilot reported the airplane was completely fueled and that he had performed a "thorough preflight inspection" prior to departing Wadsworth Municipal Airport (3G3). The pilot stated there was no fuel contamination when the fuel tanks were sampled prior to the flight. According to the pilot and aircraft maintenance records, the right auxiliary fuel tank had been serviced the day prior to the accident flight.

The pilot reported that after departing 3G3 the airplane experienced an uneventful climb to a cruising altitude of 6,500 feet msl. While in cruise flight the pilot repositioned the right fuel selector from the main tank to the auxiliary tank. The pilot stated the fuel selector handle was "stiff and hard to move." He reported the right engine continued to run normally for approximately 30 seconds, after which it began to experience power fluctuations. The pilot stated he "immediately returned the fuel selector to the main tank position" and turned on the electric fuel boost pumps. He reported the engine power fluctuations continued and he elected to cross-feed fuel from the left main tank, which resulted in the right engine operating normally. The pilot then repositioned the cross-feed selector to the "off" position and the right engine continued to operate without anomalies on the right main fuel tank. The flight remained uneventful for another 1 1/2 hours until the left engine began to experience power fluctuations. The pilot elected to perform a precautionary landing on runway 04 at 1H8.

The pilot visually checked the fuel quantity in all tanks after landing at 1H8. The pilot reported the auxiliary tanks were still full, the right main fuel tank was half-full, and the left main fuel tank was nearly empty. The pilot reported the left main fuel tank was nearly empty because "the gas heater which had been burning more fuel than documented." The pilot proceeded to ground test the engines on different fuel selector positions prior to refueling. The pilot stated no anomalies were noted during the ground test and subsequently the airplane was completely refueled. The pilot noted no fuel contamination when he sampled all of the fuel tanks after refueling. The pilot reported he was "very confident" that the initial loss of right engine power was because he had momentarily positioned the right fuel selector in the "off" position prior to selecting the auxiliary tank.

The pilot reported he started and taxied the airplane to the departure runway. He stated an "extensive [engine] run-up was performed, and all indications were once again very acceptable." The pilot reported the takeoff from runway 04 was uneventful until when he would normally have retracted the landing gear. At this point, the right engine began experiencing power fluctuations similar to the first occurrence. The pilot reported he continued to climb as he entered a left traffic pattern to return to the airport. He stated that fuel cross-feed was selected; however, the left engine also began to experience power fluctuations.

The pilot reported that while the airplane was on crosswind it entered a downward spiral and he attempted to level the wings using full right aileron. The pilot stated, "Rudder input was as demanding as it was random, due to the varied yaw moments of the aircraft with power spurts from each engine." The pilot reported "not having time to decide which engine to feather, as both were producing random power output, we were close to impact, and I kicked in full right rudder as a last resort to bring the wings level, which worked, and [the passenger] joined me in pulling aft on the yoke to reach a pitch up attitude for impact."

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector performed the on-scene investigation. The inspector reported the right engine fuel selector valves were in a closed position. He stated the cockpit selector handle moved with resistance and would not reposition the valves. He reported the cabling between the right fuel gauge switch assembly and the selector valve arm was corroded and seized. He stated the fuel selector valves functioned as designed when they were disconnected from the seized control cable.

The inspector also reported the left engine fuel selector valves were in an intermediate position, with the auxiliary fuel tank valve being approximately 1/4 open. He stated the cockpit selector handle moved with resistance and would not reposition the valves. He reported the cabling between the left fuel gauge switch assembly and the selector valve arm was corroded and seized.

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