The private pilot departed on a cross-country flight. He reported that 35 to 40 gallons of fuel were in the Piper PA-28’s fuel tanks for a flight that he thought would require 20 gallons of fuel.
As the plane was nearing the destination, the pilot was concerned about the fuel level in the left tank because the fuel gauge indicated the tank was between one-quarter full and empty and no fuel remained in the right tank, which the pilot had intentionally run dry.
He elected to divert to ensure that the airplane would have adequate fuel to complete the flight to the destination.
Upon landing at the diversion airpark, he found out the airpark had no fuel.
He took off from the airpark, and the airplane reached an altitude of about 1,500′ above ground level when the engine “sputtered.”
The pilot attempted to return to the airpark, but the airplane could not clear the trees in the area. He attempted a forced landing near Tishomingo, Oklahoma, but the plane hit trees, then terrain. The airplane was in an inverted position at the time of impact. The pilot was seriously injured in the crash.
The pilot reported that the left tank “apparently goes empty somewhere prior to the E [empty] on the fuel gauge.”
However, he did not mention whether he visually checked the amount of fuel before leaving the diversion airpark. He likely departed without sufficient fuel on board to complete the flight to another diversion airpark.
Further, the fuel amount was lower than he expected during the flight, which was consistent with poor preflight fuel planning and in-flight fuel monitoring.
Probable cause: The pilot’s inadequate preflight fuel planning and in-flight fuel monitoring and his decision to take off with an unverified amount of fuel, which resulted in fuel exhaustion and a subsequent impact with trees during an attempted forced landing.
NTSB Identification: CEN18LA075
This January 2018 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.