LAX05LA068
LAX05LA068

On January 14, 2005, about 1700 Pacific standard time, a Cessna T210L, N5177V, lost engine power during cruise flight, and the pilot performed an emergency landing in a river 1/4-mile from the Sutter County Airport, Yuba, City, California. The private pilot, the sole occupant, was not injured; the airplane sustained substantial damage. The pilot, also the registered owner, was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The pilot departed Chico Municipal Airport, Chico, California, at 1640, for the local personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed.

In a written statement, the pilot reported that during his preflight, he noted that the left fuel tank was less than 1/4-tank and the right tank indicated 1/4-tank of fuel. During the run-up and magneto check, the left and right magneto sounded like they gave the right revolutions per minute (rpm) drop, but the tachometer did not move with either magneto. The pilot departed using the right tank. During the takeoff, the manifold pressure and fuel flow went to red line; however, the tachometer indicated past redline. Because it sounded normal, the pilot rationalized the tachometer indication as a gauge error. The pilot climbed to 5,500 feet mean sea level and set the manifold pressure and rpm at 25 inches and 2,500 rpm, respectively. He then leaned the mixture to 30 degrees, lean of peak. During cruise flight, the pilot felt a drop in power and noticed a fluctuating fuel flow indication and almost 1/4 tank of fuel indicated on the right gauge. He switched to the left fuel tank, and power was restored, and the fuel flow stabilized. He pulled up the nearest airports on his GPS and Yuba City was the closest.

On descent the pilot listened to the local common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF). He called in his position and said that he would be making a straight in landing for runway 17. He extended the gear and set the flaps to the approach setting. Then, the engine began to lose power again and the fuel flow was fluctuating. He applied a full rich mixture, and moved the throttle and propeller controls into the full forward positions. He also switched the fuel selector to the right tank and pitched the airplane's attitude for best glide speed. Because the airplane was about 1,500 feet above ground level (agl), and nearing the approach end of the runway, the pilot elected to perform a 360-degree turn in order to dissipate the airplane's altitude. As the airplane came through 270 degrees, he noted that the airplane was too low. After assessing his other landing options, the pilot elected to land the airplane in the river. He raised the gear and slowed the airplane to 80 miles per hour. Upon landing, the pilot egressed the airplane and swam to shore.

The pilot felt that he should not have departed Chico with the amount of fuel in the airplane, and he also noted that the abnormalities with the tachometer were probably not contributory to the accident.

In a later telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge, the pilot stated that the last time he refueled the airplane was over the Thanksgiving holiday. With full fuel tanks (approximately 89 gallons usable), the pilot flew from Oceanside Airport, Oceanside, California, to Chico. The duration of that flight was about 3 1/2 hours. In December, the pilot flew the airplane from Chico to Redding, California, to have some avionics work completed. The duration of this flight was about 45 minutes. About a month later, the pilot went for a 45-minute check flight in the airplane to become familiar with his new avionics. On the Wednesday prior to the accident, the pilot flew the airplane from Redding to Chico with a flight time of approximately 30 minutes. The next flight was the accident flight. The accumulated flight time since the last refueling was approximately 5.5 hours, prior to the pilot's departure from Chico. The pilot said that he was planning on obtaining fuel from another airport in the Chico area the day of the accident; however, his daughter called requesting a ride from Yuba City so he decided to refuel there instead.

The pilot owned the airplane about 1 year and had never visually checked the fuel in the tanks. Normally, he would verify his fuel quantity by using the fuel gauges. He parked the airplane in a hangar, and sumped fuel from the airplane prior to the flight with no anomalies noted. The pilot could not recall if he had ever operated the airplane with the fuel gauges indicating 1/4 tank of fuel or less. When the power loss occurred, the airplane was established in cruise flight.

Due to the water damage, the fuel quantity indicators were unable to be functionally tested following the accident.

Fuel performance calculations based on charts from the Cessna Owner's Manual for the T210L indicated that in standard, zero wind conditions, at a weight of 3,800 pounds, and settings of 2,500 rpm and 26 inches of manifold pressure, the endurance range was approximately 5.8 hours with a fuel flow of 92 pounds per hour. Including the five takeoffs, the total fuel burn was calculated to about 530 pounds, or 88.3 gallons.

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