Fuel tank dry, plane gets wet

Aircraft: Piper Comanche. Injuries: 1 Serious. Location: Sidney, N.Y. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot stated that he last checked the fuel quantity two weeks before the accident flight. During that flight, he noticed that the right auxiliary fuel gauge was inoperative.

The purpose of the flight was to drain fuel from the right auxiliary fuel tank for maintenance work to be performed on the fuel tank sending unit.

The pilot did not check the fuel quantity prior to the accident flight as he estimated that sufficient fuel remained from the previous flight. He completed a 20-minute local flight and was on final approach to land, with the fuel selector positioned to the right auxiliary fuel tank, when a low fuel pressure indicator light illuminated in the cockpit. The airplane was about 800 feet AGL, over a populated town.

The pilot activated the fuel boost pump, but did not reposition the fuel selector to a different fuel tank. The engine lost power and the pilot performed a forced landing into trees and a river.

During the landing, the airplane sustained substantial damage to both wings and the fuselage. The pilot further stated that the accident was “pilot error” as he ran the right auxiliary fuel tank dry.

Probable cause: The pilot’s inadequate fuel planning and management, which resulted in fuel starvation and a total loss of engine power during final approach.

NTSB Identification: ERA11CA425

This July 2011 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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