Poor planning leads to fuel exhaustion

Aircraft: Piper Cherokee. Injuries: 1 Minor. Location: Wittmann, Ariz. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The student pilot was making a solo cross-country flight involving four legs. Before beginning the final leg, he made multiple full stop and touch-and-go landings that he had not included when he did his preflight planning.

During the final leg of the cross-country flight, the engine lost power. The student pilot switched to the left tank, but the engine did not regain power, so he made a forced landing in rough terrain.

The post-accident examination revealed that the right fuel tank was not breached but was empty. The left fuel tank was breached, and the soil beneath the tank was wet with fuel. According to the Pilot Operating Handbook, if the pilot allows a tank to run dry and the engine loses power, it may take up to 10 seconds for fuel to reach the engine after the other tank is selected. It is likely that, after running the right tank dry, the pilot did not leave the selector in the left tank position for long enough to allow fuel to reach the engine.

Probable cause: The pilot’s improper fuel management, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation.

NTSB Identification: WPR11LA067

This December 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.

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