On April 23, 2008, about 1000 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-140, N333KQ, was substantially damaged when it impacted trees during a forced landing after takeoff from Gilmer County Airport (49A), Ellijay, Georgia. The certificated commercial pilot was seriously injured, and the pilot-rated passenger incurred minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight, destined for Dekalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK), Atlanta, Georgia. The flight was conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

The pilot and the passenger each submitted written statements, and each recounted a similar series of events. According to the statements, the pilot landed at 49A in order to fuel the airplane and change the engine oil. They subsequently learned that contrary to what they had read in the airport facility directory, fuel was not available, as a new fuel tank had recently been installed there and it had not yet been filled. The pilot then walked to a nearby gas station, and purchased 5 gallons of "93 octane" automotive fuel. The pilot inquired with several of the gas station attendants, who all reported that the fuel did not contain ethanol.

After returning to the airport, the pilot added the fuel he had purchased to the left fuel tank and subsequently performed an engine run-up in preparation for departure, with no abnormalities noted. The takeoff from runway 21 proceeded normally until, about 200 feet above the ground when the engine began losing power. The pilot "switched tanks"; adjusted the mixture; and checked the master switch, fuel pump, and primer. The engine ceased producing power shortly thereafter. Realizing that he would not be able to clear the trees ahead, the pilot attempted to turn back toward the airport. The airplane continued to lose altitude, so the pilot adjusted the airplane’s pitch attitude for best glide speed. The airplane then struck trees and came to rest.

The airport manager arrived at the airport about the time the pilot and passenger had returned from purchasing fuel. The manager watched as the pilot added the automotive fuel to the left fuel tank, and asked the pilot how much fuel had previously been in the tank, to which the pilot responded "approximately 6 gallons." The manager then watched the airplane as it departed. After becoming airborne, about 1,500 to 2,000 feet down the runway, the airplane climbed to about 200 feet and then began a right turn. About that time, the engine "sputtered" one or two times, then "quit." The airplane subsequently impacted trees about 2,000 feet west of the southern end of runway 3.

The airplane was examined at the accident scene by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector. According to the inspector, both fuel tanks remained intact. About 4.5 gallons of fuel were drained from the left fuel tank, and a trace amount of fuel was observed in the right fuel tank. The fuel selector valve was positioned to the right fuel tank position. The propeller did not exhibit any signatures consistent with engine operation at impact.

The airplane was subsequently recovered from the scene to an aircraft recovery facility, where it was examined by a Safety Board investigator and representatives of the airframe and engine manufacturer.

The engine was removed from the airframe, and placed on a test rig. Due to impact damage, the original carburetor, engine driven fuel pump, and oil filter, were replaced, and the muffler of the aftermarket exhaust system was removed. The engine was subsequently test run utilizing the gasoline recovered from the airplane’s fuel tanks. The engine started almost immediately, and a test of both magnetos revealed rpm losses of less than 100 rpm each. The engine ran continuously at 700 rpm and 1,400 rpm, before the power was increased to full, and the engine was allowed to run at 2,300 rpm for 3 minutes.

During the test run, a small amount of black smoke was observed emitting from the exhaust stack. Following the run, black soot was observed on the inside of the exhaust stack, but was not observed on the portion of the exhaust (muffler) that was removed prior to the engine run, which exhibited only light gray and brown deposits.

Examination of the original engine driven fuel pump revealed that its internal mechanism was clean and intact. Electrical power was applied to the electric boost pump, and its operation was confirmed. Disassembly and examination of the original carburetor revealed no evidence of any pre-impact mechanical anomalies.

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single and multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. The pilot’s most recent application for an FAA third class medical certificate was dated November 2005, and at that time he reported 600 total hours of flight experience.

Review of the airplane’s maintenance logs revealed that the engine was last overhauled on November 3, 1983. The airplane’s most recent annual inspection was completed on December 6, 2007, and a 100 hour inspection was also completed on that date. On that date the airplane had accrued 6,420 total flight hours, and had accrued 187 additional flight hours as of the date of the accident. On April 18, 2008, an aftermarket exhaust system was installed on the engine.

According to FAA airworthiness information, the accident airplane was issued a supplemental type certificate for the use of automotive gasoline January 27, 1989.

Lycoming Service Instruction 1009AS recommends that engines, including the O-320 engine the accident airplane was equipped with, be overhauled after 12 years, regardless of the number of hours they have been operated.

According to information provided by the aircraft manufacturer, the accident airplane had a total unusable fuel quantity of 3 pints.

The weather conditions reported at Dalton Municipal Airport (DNN), Dalton, Georgia, located about 30 nautical miles west of the accident site, at 1000, included winds from 140 degrees at 4 knots, 10 statute miles visibility, clear skies below 12,000 feet, temperature 18 degrees Celsius (C), dewpoint 12 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.17 inches of mercury.

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