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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: ERA17CA186
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, May 21, 2017 in Bristow, VA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 12/15/2017
Aircraft: PIPER PA 28-181, registration: N8304F
Injuries: 2 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The flight instructor was working with the private pilot on his flight review. Before the flight, the pilot checked the fuel and observed that the fuel level in both fuel tanks was below the tabs and that the right fuel tank had less fuel in it then the left fuel tank. After departing and maneuvering in the local area, the pilot and the flight instructor returned to the airport, landed, then taxied back for another takeoff. After completing two traffic pattern circuits, on the third takeoff, the engine stopped producing power at 800 ft mean sea level (msl) on the upwind leg of the traffic pattern. The pilot lowered the airplane’s nose, and the engine started running again. The flight instructor then took over control of the airplane as they started on the right crosswind leg for the runway, and at 900 ft msl, the engine lost power again. After deciding that the airplane did not have sufficient altitude to reach the runway, the flight instructor advised the air traffic control tower that they were going to attempt a landing in a field near the airport. She then checked the mixture, throttle, and ignition, without results, but neither she nor the private pilot attempted to switch from the right fuel tank to the left fuel tank. During the off-airport landing, the airplane went through an electric fence and spun around about 180°. The nose landing gear sheared off, which resulted in substantial damage to the airframe. Examination of the engine revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical failures or malfunctions that would have precluded normal operation. Examination and draining of the fuel system revealed that the fuel strainer bowl, the line from the fuel strainer to the carburetor, and the carburetor float bowl were absent of fuel. The right fuel tank also contained only about 1 pint of fuel, whereas the left fuel tank contained about 3 gallons of fuel. Review of flight school records revealed that the airplane had flown 4.7 hours since it was last refueled. When asked, the flight instructor advised that she had not observed the pilot as he performed his preflight inspection, did not know when the airplane had last been refueled, and did not remember asking the pilot about the fuel quantity before they departed.


The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The flight instructor’s and pilot’s mismanagement of the available fuel, which resulted in exhaustion of the fuel in the selected fuel tank and a subsequent total loss of engine power.