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On December 1, 2010, about 1045 mountain standard time (MST), a Piper PA 28-181, N4122F, experienced a loss of engine power, and the pilot made a forced landing near Wittmann, Arizona. TransPac Aviation Academy was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The student pilot sustained minor injuries; the airplane sustained substantial damage to the fuselage and right wing. The solo cross-country instructional flight departed Deer Valley Airport (DVT), Phoenix, Arizona, about 0700, with a planned route of flight to Wickenburg, Arizona (E25), to Gila Bend, Arizona, back to E25, and then back to DVT. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed.
The student pilot reported that during the solo cross-country flight, specifically the last leg from E25 to DVT, the engine started to run rough and he was unable to maintain altitude. He made a forced landing in the desert near Wittmann.
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accident coordinator responded to the scene, and documented the accident site. During the recovery it was noted that the right fuel tank was not breeched, but contained no fuel. The left fuel tank’s drain had been damaged during the crash sequence. No fuel was found in the tank; however, the ground below the damaged fuel drain smelled of fuel, and was wet for several inches down in the dirt, covering an area of at least a 12” diameter.
The student pilot was interviewed by the (FAA) accident coordinator. The student pilot related that he had intended to only complete one full stop landing with a taxi back for takeoff. However, during the second time at E25 on his return, the student pilot made two additional full stop taxi backs and two touch-and-goes. The student pilot stated that he felt the engine vibrate during the final approach to E25. The FAA coordinator asked him why he did not land at E25 and call for maintenance. The student pilot said he “didn’t feel it was that bad.” The student pilot also stated that he needed to return to DVT. The student pilot attempted to return to DVT. However, while en route, the engine lost partial power. The student pilot said he switched to the left tank, but only for a short period of time. He then switched it back to the right tank. Prior to landing, the engine completely quit, and the airplane landed in a desert wash. The airplane sustained damage to the left wing, both main landing gear, and the nose gear.
On December 8, 2010, investigators conducted an exam of the wreckage at Air Transport, Inc., Phoenix. During the examination, the airframe and engine were secured, and a temporary fuel delivery system was configured. The engine was started using both the left and right fuel selection positions.
No abnormalities were noted that would have precluded normal operations.
The Piper PA28-181 Pilot Operating Handbook addressed a loss of engine power. It states if the engine quits due to fuel exhaustion, it will take up to 10 seconds for fuel to reach the engine with the fuel pump on.