This October 2008 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 Cherokee. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Markleeville, Calif. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The pilot was in cruise flight on a southerly heading at 13,700 feet MSL when he reported to air traffic control that the engine was “missing badly,” and he was returning to his home airport. The pilot initiated a 180° climbing left turn reaching an altitude of 14,500 feet. One minute later, the pilot reported a complete loss of engine power. The pilot decided that he could not make it to his home base, and elected to head for an alternate airport with the help of ATC.
The pilot indicated to ATC that he did not have the airport in sight and was trying to locate it with his GPS. The last recorded radar position was 2.9 miles southeast of the airport and 6,200 feet above field elevation with the airplane heading north. The airplane crashed 1.9 miles northwest of the airport while on a southerly heading.
The post-accident download of an engine data management system displayed stable conditions initially followed by fluctuations in the fuel flow, as well as fluctuations of all six exhaust gas temperature and cylinder head temperature indications. Over the next two minutes, the readings smoothed out, and then the fuel flow increased while the EGT and CHT dropped to low values indicative of a loss of power. After replacing several damaged parts, including the fuel pump, the engine started easily and ran smoothly throughout its entire power range with no anomalies discovered. The reasons for the fluctuations to the fuel flow, EGT and CHT were not determined. After the accident it was determined that the pilot had passed up several suitable landing areas prior to the crash.
Probable cause: A loss of engine power for undetermined reasons. The pilot’s failure to choose a suitable landing area was a factor.
For more information: NTSB.gov