Aviation Accident Summaries

Aviation Accident Summary WPR21LA363

Orcas Island, WA, USA

Aircraft #1


PIPER PA-32-300


The accident occurred on the return flight to the operator’s home base. While en route, the engine hesitated and within seconds lost all power. The pilot turned toward land, turned the electric fuel pump to ON, and switched from left main fuel tank to the right main fuel tank. During the descent for a forced landing, the engine sputtered and lost power again. The pilot continued to land the airplane, which impacted the terrain hard in an open field. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the fuselage and wings. During the airplane recovery, it was determined that both main fuel tanks were intact. A total of 8 ounces of fuel were drained from the left main fuel tank and a total of 15 gallons of fuel were drained from the right fuel tank. Postaccident examination revealed that there were no preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures to the airplane or engine that would have precluded normal operation. The circumstances of the accident are consistent with a total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation, which resulted from the pilot’s mismanagement of the fuel system during the flight.

Factual Information

On September 16, 2021, at 1825 Pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-32-300, Cherokee Six, N33022, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Orcas Island, Washington. The pilot sustained minor injuries and the two passengers, one of whom was the airplane owner, were seriously injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.   The flight originated from Bellingham International Airport (BLI), Bellingham, Washington. The pilot reported that he planned to fly with the airplane owner over different business project sites on Orcas Island  then stop at Friday Harbor Airport (FHR), Friday Harbor, Washington, to meet a company employee and return him to their operating base at KBLI.   While on climbout from Orcas Island, the pilot and the airplane owner observed an oily substance on the windscreen and decided to land immediately at FHR. After landing, oil was found on the cowling and around the propeller hub.   Two mechanics hired by the owner to inspect the airplane following the precautionary landing reported that they did not find any oil on the upper engine cowling. They verified 10 quarts of oil in the engine, as reported by the pilot at the start of the flight. Oil residue was found at the front of the engine, near the crankshaft seal area. The area was cleaned, the engine was started, and the propeller was cycled with no oil leaks detected.   After the inspection, the pilot departed FHR with a planned destination of BLI. During the climbout, the pilot observed the oil pressure in the yellow range and leveled off at 2,000 ft mean sea level. The pilot reduced engine power and set the propeller rpm between 2,200 and 2,300 and verified all engine parameters and readings were in the green. Shortly thereafter, the engine “hesitated” and then lost all power. The pilot configured the airplane for best glide speed, activated the electric fuel pump, and switched the fuel selector from the left to right main fuel tank. As the airplane continued its descent, the engine suddenly restarted, but again lost power. The owner reported that when the airplane was about 80 ft above the ground, he heard the stall warning horn. The airplane landed hard on a grass field, bounced, and came to rest upright. The fuselage and wings were substantially damaged. Figure 1. View of accident airplane in an open field (courtesy of recovery company) According to the recovery company, the left-wing and right-wing fuel main tanks were not breached and about 18 ounces (left tank) and 15 gallons (right tank) of fuel were recovered (figure 2). The left-wing and right-wing tip tanks were compromised. Figure 2. View of recovered fuel from the left-wing main tank (courtesy of the recovery company) A download of the data from a panel mounted engine monitoring instrument revealed that about 1823:45 (time of the accident), the fuel flow decreased from about 17 gallons per hour to 0 in a span of 3-5 seconds. A spike in all six exhaust gas temperatures was seen immediately after the fuel flow started to decrease, and then gradually decreased along with the fuel flow (figure 3). Figure 3. Plotted data from engine monitoring unit Postaccident examination of the engine revealed no evidence of mechanical failure or malfunction that would have precluded normal operation.

Probable Cause and Findings

The total loss of engine power due to the pilot’s mismanagement of the fuel system which resulted in fuel starvation.


Source: NTSB Aviation Accident Database

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