CEN13LA381
CEN13LA381

On June 30, 2013, about 1145 central daylight time, a Beech C23 airplane, N3KT, impacted trees and terrain during a forced landing following a loss of engine power near Hot Springs, Arkansas. The pilot and pilot rated passenger were uninjured. The airplane sustained substantial wing and fuselage damage during the forced landing. The airplane was registered to and operated by Seymours Sundowners LLC under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Day visual flight rules (VFR) conditions prevailed for the flight, which did not operate on a VFR flight plan. The flight originated from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), near Austin, Texas, about 0830, and was destined for the Memorial Field Airport (HOT), near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Fuel receipts and documents show that the airplane was serviced with 13 gallons of 100 low lead aviation gasoline (avgas) about 2300 on June 29, 2013. A lineman confirmed that the right tank was serviced with three gallon of avgas to bring its level up to the tabs and then an additional five gallons were added to the tank. The left tank fuel level was at the tabs and it was serviced with five gallons of avgas.

According to the pilots' accident report, they asked the fixed base operator at AUS to fill the tanks to "the slots plus 5 gallons" and visually verified that the fuel tanks contained 25 gallons per side during the preflight inspection. They tested the fuel at both tanks, at the engine, and verified that it was clear, correct color, had no water, and no floating debris. The pilots reported that they initially cruised at 3,500 feet, climbed to 5,500 feet to find a smoother ride, and later descended back to 3,500 feet to ensure more clearance. They indicated that they leaned the mixture appropriately for each altitude throughout the flight. At 0931, they switched to the left fuel tank and at 1112, switched back to the right fuel tank. Approximately 10 miles from HOT, they had the airport in sight. Approximately eight miles from HOT, the engine lost power. They noticed the fuel pressure was zero, turned on the fuel boost pump, and the engine regained power briefly. The left fuel tank was selected and the engine regained power. They continued to descend to a 1,500-foot pattern altitude and applied "carb heat." The pilots expected that they would be able to make the airport and estimated that this fuel tank had about eight gallons remaining. Another airplane was using the common traffic advisory frequency for HOT about the time when the pilots radioed their location and intentions to do a straight approach for runway 5. The pilots advised that they had experienced engine trouble and needed to proceed directly to the airport. The other airplane acknowledged and radioed that they would do a 360-degree turn.

About three miles from the airport, the engine lost power again. The pilots tried switching tanks again, from left to right, and they reported that there were only short "bursts of power." They made a final radio call saying that we were not going to make the airport. They scanned the area for an alternate landing site and saw that there was a lake between their location and the airport. All the surrounding areas appeared to have trees or houses. At this point, the pilot in the left seat turned control over to the pilot in the right seat.

The pilots estimated they were at 900 feet above ground level when a small clear grassy area was selected. The airplane was flown toward it and a full-flaps approach was conducted. The grassy area had a steep slope upward. The airplane touched down harder than normal with "little or no bounce". The pilot in the right seat noticed a large red vehicle parked near a house and "wanted to avoid it." The left wing clipped a tree, which initiated a counterclockwise spin. The airplane's nose hit another tree, it continued to spin, and it came to rest pointing back toward where it initially touched down.

During a telephone interview, the pilots stated that the fuel gauges worked during the flight. The pilots were asked if there were any mechanical issues with the airplane during the flight and they indicated the loss of engine power.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved airplane flight manual and pilot operating handbook (POH), the airplane was equipped with a 59.8-gallon fuel system, of which 57.2 gallons was usable. The POH, in part, stated:

In the filler neck of each tank is a visual measuring tab which permits
partial filling of the fuel system. When the fuel touches the bottom
of the tab it indicates 15 gallons of fuel, and when filled to the slot in
the tab it indicates 20 gallons of fuel. The indicating system reads full
at 20 gallons. The pilot must visually check the fuel level during
preflight to ascertain desired level.
...

FUEL QUANTITY INDICATORS
Fuel quantity is measured by a float operated sensor, located in each
wing tank system. These transmit electrical signals that indicate fuel
remaining in each tank. The indicators indicate full when 20 or more
gallons are in each wing tank.
...

FUEL REQUIRED FOR FLIGHT
It is the pilot's responsibility to ascertain that the fuel quantity
indicators are functioning and maintaining a reasonable degree of
accuracy, and to be certain of ample fuel for a flight. ... The caps
should be removed and fuel quantity checked to give the pilot an
indication of fuel on board. The airplane must be approximately level
for visual inspection of the tank. Fuel should be added so that the
amount of fuel will be not less than is required for takeoff. Plan for an
ample margin of fuel for any flight.

The POH's cruise performance chart for a standard day indicated that at an altitude of 3,500 feet and a 2,700-RPM throttle setting, the airplane should have a 12.8 gallon per hour fuel flow to the engine. The cruise performance is based on the engine being leaned to "best power mixture." Using this rate, the fuel flowed during a 3 hour 15 minute flight should be 41.6 gallons.

A FAA inspector examined and took images of the wreckage on-scene. The images showed that the fuel tanks were not breached. The inspector reviewed the fuel planning for the flight and found it was adequate to complete the flight. The recovery company reported that there was 26 ounces of fluid recovered from both fuel tanks. No smell of fuel on the ground or fuel stains were detected. The inspector took a sample of the recovered fluid and arranged shipment for its testing.

At 1153, the recorded weather at HOT was: Wind 030 degrees at 10 knots, gusting to 19 knots; visibility 10 statute miles; sky condition clear; temperature 28 degrees C; dew point 12 degrees C; altimeter 29.96 inches of mercury.

The recovered fluid sample was sent to the DuPage County Crime Laboratory, Wheaton, Illinois, for analysis. The analysis revealed the "presence of a light petroleum product, examples of which are aviation gasoline and some commercial solvents." That analysis is appended to the docket material associated with this investigation.

FAA regulation 91.151 "Fuel requirements for flight in VFR conditions," in part, stated:

(a) No person may begin a flight in an airplane under VFR conditions unless
(considering wind and forecast weather conditions) there is enough fuel to fly
to the first point of intended landing and, assuming normal cruising speed—
(1) During the day, to fly after that for at least 30 minutes.

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