CEN11LA117
CEN11LA117

On December 18, 2010, at 1705 central standard time (all times cst), a Piper PA-46-350P, N92358, sustained substantial damage during a forced landing to a snow filled field near Lake Elmo, Minnesota, after a loss of engine power in cruise flight. The private pilot and passenger received minor injuries. The 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight departed Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport (BWG), Bowling Green, Kentucky, about 1340 with Anoka County-Blaine Airport (ANE), Anoka, Minnesota, as the intended final destination. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. No flight plan was filed, but the pilot was receiving VFR flight following from air traffic control (ATC).

The pilot reported that about an hour after departing BWG, the airplane was in cruise flight at 16,500 feet mean sea level (msl) when he heard a "loud pop" and the airplane had a rapid decompression. The pilot made a rapid descent to 10,500 feet msl. The pressurization stabilized and the pilot continued the flight to ANE. He tried to troubleshoot the pressurization problem by checking the flight manual and making adjustments to the pressurization controls. About 1530, he climbed to 12,500 feet msl to check if the cabin pressurization remained steady. The pilot reported that it remained steady at 5.2 psi with a cabin pressure set at 1,000 feet. About 1615, the pilot started the descent to ANE utilizing VFR flight following.

The pilot reported that he was near Hudson, Wisconsin, which is located about 20 nautical miles east-northeast of the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport (MSP), at 2,500 feet msl (about 1,500 feet above ground level [agl]), when the engine lost power. He attempted to regain engine power by putting the mixture, propeller, and throttle controls full forward. He turned the emergency fuel pump on and engaged the starter button, but the engine did not restart. He attempted 2 - 3 times to contact MSP Approach Control to declare an emergency but did not get a reply. The pilot then initiated a forced landing to a snow filled field. He made another attempt to contact approach control and was successful. He informed ATC that the airplane was about 200 - 300 feet agl and he was executing a forced landing to a field. He reported that he switched fuel tanks prior to ground impact. The pilot lowered the landing gear and flaps and the stall warning horn was sounding as the airplane touched down in the field that had about 2 - 2.5 feet of snow in it. During the landing roll, the left wing separated from the fuselage. The airplane decelerated quickly and came to rest about 120 feet from the initial touchdown point. The pilot made a phone call to 911, and emergency personnel arrived about 5 - 10 minutes later.

A Federal Aviation Administration inspector examined the airplane at the accident site. The inspection of the airplane revealed that the right fuel tank was empty. The left wing had separated from the fuselage, but the left fuel tank was still intact and appeared to be full of fuel. The amount of fuel remaining in the left fuel tank was not measured, and the fuel selector was found on the left tank.

The pilot was questioned whether he had switched fuel tanks during the flight. He reported that he was certain that he had switched tanks sometime during the climb, but was not certain if he had switched tanks after that. When asked if fuel starvation had led to the loss of engine power, the pilot reported, "After hearing about the fuel situation in both wings, I have to agree with your assessment of fuel starvation."

The Piper PA-46-350P holds 120 gallons of fuel and has a maximum range of 1,261 nautical miles. The pilot reported that the airplane had 120 gallons of fuel on board when he departed BWG.

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