Too many diversions, not enough fuel

This March 2010 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.

Aircraft: Piper Tri-Pacer. Injuries: None. Location: Terry, Mont. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot intended to make a night VFR flight. There was no record he obtained a weather briefing prior to departure. Instead, he gathered his weather information by making a phone call to an acquaintance who was at his destination and by checking with the FAA’s Flight Watch while en route.

As he proceeded toward his destination the pilot began flying over a scattered-to-broken cloud layer, which eventually turned to overcast as he neared his destination. After realizing that he would not be able to get into his planned destination because of the weather, he diverted to another airport, but the weather also deteriorated at that airport, so landing was not an option.

He then reversed course and headed back in the direction he had come in the hopes of finding an airport that had VFR conditions. He was eventually able to descend through a hole in the clouds, and he located an airport with VFR conditions, but the airplane was out of the fuel and the engine quit. The pilot was able to glide to the approach end of the runway. The Piper landed on the threshold and bounced. As the tail came down, a gust of wind hit the airplane, making it ground loop.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain directional control during the landing roll in gusting winds. Contributing to the accident was a loss of engine power on final approach due to fuel exhaustion as a result of the pilot having to divert due to deteriorating weather conditions.

For more information: NTSB Identification: WPR10LA180


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