On December 18, 2010, about 1510 central standard time, a Beech H35, N5537D, was substantially damaged during a forced landing following a loss of engine power near Des Moines, Iowa. The pilot and 2 passengers were not injured. The aircraft was registered to and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which was not operated on a flight plan. The local flight originated from Des Moines International Airport (DSM) about 1450.

The pilot reported that a few minutes after takeoff the alternator indicated a discharge condition. He elected to return to the departure airport. On final approach about 100 feet above ground level, the engine lost power. The airplane impacted short of the runway striking an airport security fence.

A postaccident examination noted that the nose wheel had separated from the airframe. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the wings and fuselage during the forced landing. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors were unable to observe any fuel in the right main fuel tank. The left main fuel tank contained approximately 1 inch of fuel. The left and right auxiliary fuel tanks each contained about 3 inches of fuel. The fuel strainer and fuel line to the engine contained no fuel.

The fuel selector was in the OFF position at the time of the postaccident examination. When FAA inspectors moved the fuel selector to the left main or auxiliary tank positions, fuel flowed to the fuel line at the engine.

The pilot informed FAA inspectors that he had departed with the selector set to the left main fuel tank as required by the operating handbook. The pilot noted that he had switched fuel tanks in an attempt restore engine power.

The airplane manufacturer stated that the fuel depth measurements corresponded to about 2 gallons of fuel remaining in the left main tank and about 3 gallons in each auxiliary tank. The unusable fuel for each main tank is 3 gallons, and 0.5 gallon for each auxiliary tank.

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