LAX04CA181
LAX04CA181

On April 8, 2004, about 1815 Pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-38-112, N2609F, experienced a total loss of engine power and made a forced landing in field near McKinleyville, California. Golden Eagle Enterprises, Inc., was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The private pilot, the sole occupant, was not injured; the airplane sustained substantial damage. The instructional cross-country flight departed Fresno Yosemite International Airport, Fresno, California, about 1415, with a planned destination of Arcata Airport (ACV), Arcata/Eureka, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a visual flight rules flight plan had been filed.

In a written statement, the pilot reported that she departed Fresno with full fuel in both tanks, which she thought would be equivalent to 5 hours 13 minutes of flight. About 4 hours en route, between Garberville, California, and Arcata, the fuel gauges inside the cockpit indicated about 3 gallons of fuel in each tank. Becoming concerned with her low fuel situation, she requested that Seattle Center give her vectors to the nearest airport. The radio reception was poor, and after several attempts to communicate, she only understood the instructions to proceed to ACV. While receiving vectors, about 10 miles from the airport, she reported having the airport in sight.

After the pilot obtained visual contact with the airport, about 8,500 feet above ground level (agl), the airplane's engine quit due to fuel exhaustion in the right tank. She configured the airplane for best glide and switched to the left tank in an effort to regain power. The engine started and ran for about 30 seconds, before quitting again. During the decent, she followed the emergency checklist and glided down for about 5 to 10 minutes. About 1,000 feet agl, she realized that the airplane would not be able to make it to the runway, due to the dense trees surrounding the airport. She turned the airplane left toward an open sod field, and pitched the nose down, in an effort to make it to the field without colliding with nearby houses and fences.

While approaching the surface, with the airspeed indicating about 100 knots, the pilot thought she would overshoot the field. She maneuvered the airplane to an adjacent field, and, about 30 feet agl, the engine started again. The airplane climbed to about 40 to 50 feet agl and drifted to the right. The airplane collided with a tree and spun to the ground, landing in an upright position. The pilot reported no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane.

In a telephone conversation with the Safety Board, the pilot reported that during the flight she flew over mountainous terrain where the winds were strong and turbulent. While en route she realized that she had been off course for about 10 minutes, and maneuvered to get the airplane back on course, which took about 20-25 minutes.

In a telephone conversation with the Safety Board, the pilot's certified flight instructor reported that the purpose of the flight was for the pilot to fulfill the solo cross-country requirements for the commercial pilot certificate. He thought that in an effort to satisfy the requirements, the pilot would need to perform a nonstop cross-country leg that was a minimum of 250 nautical miles. The airplane departed with 30 gallons of usable fuel and was destined for Arcata, which was an estimated 340 nautical miles away. He also noted that after the accident, the pilot had called him. The pilot stated that she had become lost during the flight. She estimated that she was off course about 10 nautical miles. The total time on the Hobbs meter indicated 4.1 hours for the duration of the flight.

Title 14 CFR Part 61.129 states that one of the requirements for the commercial license are, "One cross-country flight, if the training is being performed in a State other than Hawaii, with landings at a minimum of three points, and one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of at least 250 nautical miles." It does not state that this leg must be nonstop.

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