This March 2009 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: None. Location: Firebaugh, Calif. Aircraft damage: Substantial.
What reportedly happened: The pilot took off with about 45 gallons of fuel onboard. She initiated a climb to 10,500 feet, and turned on course to fly directly to the destination airport. About three and a half hours into the flight, she checked the fuel gauges, and estimated there was enough fuel remaining for about one hour, 10 minutes of flight. About 15 minutes later the engine lost power. She noticed one of the gauges was now reading empty, so she switched to the other tank. The engine regained power and she diverted to an alternate airport. During the landing approach, the engine lost power again, and she performed a forced landing in a plowed field.
The post-accident inspection revealed that both tanks were intact and absent of fuel. No obvious sources of a fuel leak were noted. The pilot reported encountering headwinds of 35 knots during the flight, and further stated that she was not comfortable with the leaning procedure for the airplane type, because it involved a mixture lever rather than a Vernier mixture control.
Probable cause: A total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion as a result of the pilot’s inadequate fuel planning and monitoring.
For more information: NTSB.gov