The pilot of the Piper Saratoga was conducting a GPS instrument approach near Stafford, Virginia, with the autopilot engaged when the engine lost power. He adjusted the airplane to obtain the best-glide airspeed and tried to troubleshoot the problem, but was unable to restore engine power.
He chose to land in a nearby field because he determined that the plane could not reach the airport. The plane hit trees and a bulldozer in a construction area during the off-airport landing, seriously injuring the pilot and his passenger.
The post-accident examination revealed that the airplane had adequate fuel and that the fuel selector handle was in an intermediate position between the left- and right-tank positions.
After the floor was removed from above the fuel selector valve, it was noted that the fuel selector valve’s lever arm was in an approximate right-tank position, but that it was not seated fully in the right-tank detent position. When manipulated, the lever arm was able to be seated fully in the detent of the right-tank position. Further movement of the lever arm revealed that it moved smoothly through its entire range and that it seated fully in both detent positions.
Examination of data downloaded from the primary flight display and multifunction display revealed engine rpm and fuel flow values consistent with a final approach profile until a significant fuel flow drop occurred, which was followed six seconds later by a loss of engine rpm. The data were consistent with a loss of engine power due to the fuel selector being placed in an intermediate position during an attempted fuel tank switch.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident as the pilot’s improper placement of the fuel tank selector handle during approach, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation.
NTSB Identification: ERA13LA173
This March 2013 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.