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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: ERA14LA440
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, September 15, 2014 in St. Petersburg, FL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 01/21/2016
Aircraft: PIPER PA 28-180, registration: N15833
Injuries: 2 Serious, 2 Minor.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot reported that he completed a preflight inspection and was "comfortable" that the amount of fuel on board was sufficient for the flight. He and the pilot-rated passengers then departed on the personal flight. The pilot reported that, while preparing to land, he selected the left wing fuel tank because he believed it was "fuller" than the right wing fuel tank. When the airplane was about 350 ft above ground level, he noted that the engine was not producing power. At this point, the airplane had been flown about 4 hours since being fueled. During the subsequent forced landing, the airplane impacted trees and terrain, which resulted in substantial damage to the cabin, fuselage, and left wing. Both wing fuel tanks remained intact, and no signs of in-flight or postaccident fuel leakage were found.
A photograph taken while in-flight about 26 miles from the destination airport revealed that the left fuel tank gauge indicated about 5 gallons of fuel and that the right fuel tank gauge indicated no fuel. Postaccident examination revealed that the left wing fuel tank contained about 12 ounces (about 0.09 gallon) of fuel and that the right wing fuel tank contained about 80 ounces (about 0.63 gallon) of fuel. According to the airplane manufacturer, the fuel tanks had a total capacity of 50 gallons, 2 gallons of which were unusable. It is likely that the pilot did not conduct adequate preflight planning and in-flight fuel management to ensure that there was sufficient fuel for the flight and that all of the usable fuel was exhausted during the flight, which resulted in a total loss of engine power on final approach to the destination airport.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • A total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion, which resulted from the pilot’s improper preflight fuel planning and in-flight fuel management.