On September 30, 2007, about 1600 eastern daylight time, a Beech F33A, N52359, was substantially damaged during a forced landing, while approaching Franklin Municipal-John Beverly Rose Airport (FKN), Franklin, Virginia. The certificated commercial pilot and the certificated airline transport pilot incurred minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for the local flight, which departed Hampton Roads Executive Airport (PVG), Chesapeake, Virginia, about 1510. The personal flight was conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector and FAA records, both pilots were certificated flight instructors. The commercial pilot, who was the pilot-in-command and sitting in the left seat, was practicing the very high frequency omnidirectional range (VOR) runway 9 approach, and the airline transport pilot was serving as a safety pilot.

In a written statement, the commercial pilot reported that en route to Franklin, he performed several steep turns to “get comfortable” with the airplane, and that the airplane arrived over the Franklin VOR at 4,000 feet, where he executed “two turns” in holding. While flying straight and level “in the first portion of the hold,” the pilot switched fuel tanks. The engine continued to run normally for “approximately 5-7 minutes throughout the two hold laps.” The commercial pilot subsequently reduced engine manifold pressure to 16 inches on the final approach course, and approximately 30 to 60 seconds later, the engine lost power at less than 1,000 feet of altitude. The commercial pilot then attempted three restarts, with the safety pilot utilizing the boost pump on the second and third attempts. The commercial pilot also noted that the fuel selector, mixture, and throttle were “manipulated” during the restart attempts.

In his written statement, the safety pilot stated that after the hold, the commercial pilot descended the airplane to 1,600 feet to commence the VOR approach. After crossing the VOR inbound, and after starting the descent toward the minimum descent altitude (MDA), at approximately 1,000 feet, the engine lost power. The commercial pilot then gave the safety pilot the controls, and the commercial pilot attempted to restart the engine. The airplane was over a forest at the time, at treetop level, and the safety pilot decided to fly between two trees so the wings would take most of the initial impact. After the airplane came to a stop, the safety pilot opened the door and noticed they were in a tree 50 to 80 feet off the ground. At that point, the safety pilot called 911 on his cell phone.

In a telephone interview with the FAA inspector, the safety pilot indicated that the commercial pilot had switched the fuel tanks from the left to right on the outbound leg, descending, and the engine quit right after the power reduction at the final approach fix, with the landing gear down. He also noted that while in the trees, he and the commercial pilot discussed switching the fuel as a possible source of the problem, and that he wasn’t aware of the switching of tanks until the discussion.

The safety pilot subsequently stated to the National Transportation Safety Board that he could not recall if he activated the fuel boost pump during the engine restart attempts, as he was concentrating on flying the airplane.

Terrain conditions precluded examination of the airplane on scene, and additional damage occurred when it was removed from the tree and transported across a swamp.

After recovery, the airplane was moved to a storage facility in Delaware for examination by another FAA inspector. According to the inspector’s written report, the fuselage had been cut apart aft of the passenger compartment to facilitate hauling. The aft, outboard sections of both wings were separated from the rest of the wing structure about 36 inches from the fuselage. The flaps remained with the main wing structure, while the ailerons remained with separated portions. The fuel tanks were ruptured, and there was no evidence of foreign matter in the tanks. The vent lines were “torn apart,” but there was no indication of blockage. The inspector was unable to access the fuselage fuel strainer. There was no evidence of fuel or foreign matter in the strainer at the throttle air valve, no fuel in the lines at the engine driven pump, and no fuel in the lines between the fuel manifold valve (spider) and the fuel injectors. The fuel tank selector was in the “Left Tank” position.

According to a fuel receipt, on September 14, 2007, 25.67 gallons of fuel were “self-service” purchased for the airplane. The commercial pilot reported that the airplane had 74 gallons of fuel prior to takeoff, and the safety pilot reported a heavy odor of fuel while the airplane was in the tree.

The airplane underwent its latest annual inspection on August 20, 2007, at 1,667.9 tachometer hours. During the inspection, both the left and right fuel tanks were replaced. At the time of the accident, the tachometer indicated 1,674.5 hours.

According to the Beechcraft F33A pilot’s operating handbook (POH), the fuel selector valve handle was located forward and to the left of the pilot’s seat. Other than stating that takeoffs and landings should be made using the tank that is more nearly full, there was no additional information about fuel tank selection.

The POH also stated, under “Air Start Procedure:”

1. Fuel Selector Valve – SELECT TANK MORE NEARLY FULL (Check to feel detent)
2. Throttle – RETARD
3. Mixture – FULL RICH
4. Auxiliary Fuel Pump – ON until power is regained, then OFF (Leave on if engine driven fuel pump is inoperative.)
5. Throttle – ADVANCE to desired power
6. Mixture – LEAN as required

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