Aviation Accident Summaries

Aviation Accident Summary CEN23LA012

Paola, KS, USA

Aircraft #1


PIPER PA-32-300


The pilot stated that while the airplane was on the downwind leg for landing at the destination airport, he changed the fuel tank selection to the left main wing fuel tank. The airplane’s touchdown point was beyond a 1/3 down the runway, and the airplane lifted off about 2/3 down the runway for a touch and go. The airplane was about 100-150 ft above the runway, with no runway remaining, when the engine lost power. The pilot attempted a forced landing in a small clearing ahead of the airplane. The airplane stalled and impacted the terrain as the pilot maneuvered to clear trees along the flightpath. Both wings and the fuselage sustained substantial damage. A postaccident examination of the airplane revealed that the airplane had useable fuel and there was no fuel contamination from drained fuel tank samples. An engine test run revealed no mechanical anomalies that would have precluded normal engine operation. The previous airplane owner stated that sometimes when selecting different fuel tanks on the accident airplane with the selector, if the detent was not hit right on, it could be an issue. A lack of a positive selection of the fuel selector could have allowed engine operation for a short time, such as from downwind to landing, due to the limited fuel available downstream of the fuel selector. Also, a change in fuel system configuration while the airplane was in the traffic pattern does not mitigate the risks from an improper selection as afforded by making such a selection before reaching the traffic pattern altitude.

Factual Information

On October 12, 2022, at 1512 central daylight time, a Piper PA-32-300, N4171W, sustained substantial damage when it was involved in an accident near Paola, Kansas. The pilot received minor injuries. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. The pilot stated that the airplane had not been flown since May 2022 due to aviation fuel prices. The pilot stated that he departed from the Johnson County Executive Airport (OJC), Olathe, Kansas, and flew about 10 miles east, then flew south, and practiced steep turns, while en route to the Miami County Airport (K81), Paola, Kansas. He planned on performing a touch-and-go landing on runway 30. He stated that during the downwind leg for landing, he switched the fuel selector to the left main wing fuel tank. He said that he touched down “pretty abruptly,” and the touchdown was probably outside the first 1/3 down runway 3. He said that the airplane lifted off the runway about 2/3 down runway 3. He said that he reconfigured the flap setting to one notch and added engine power during takeoff. He did not change the flap setting. He said that the airplane felt like it was “winding down,” and he did not know what the manifold and engine/propeller speed gauge indications were because he did not look at them. He said the engine noise never ceased after he thought there was a loss of total engine power, but he was wearing a noise cancelling aviation headset. He did not remember the engine noise getting quiet. He said the engine did not sputter like previous occasions when the engine ran out of fuel. He said that the airplane was about 100-150 ft above the runway, with no visible runway remaining, when it lost power. He decided to attempt a landing in a small clearing ahead of the airplane. He climbed the airplane to avoid a tree and then lowered the airplane pitch to increase airspeed. He then pitched the airplane up and, the airplane entered an aerodynamic stall. The airplane impacted terrain and sustained substantial damage to the wings and fuselage. The pilot stated the aural stall warning was inoperative before the accident flight, but the stall warning light was functional. The stall warning system was going to be checked during the next annual inspection since it did not function when he practiced aerodynamic stalls in May 2022. The airport manager of K81 stated that during the recovery of the airplane from the accident site, he saw at least 5 gallons of fuel that “gushed out” of the left wing. Postaccident examination of the airplane revealed the right main wing tank was full, the left outboard wing tank had about 1-2 gallons of fuel, and the right outboard wing tank was empty. The fuel selector was found in the left main fuel tank position. There was no fuel contamination from sump samples taken from the fuel system. In preparation for an engine run, the airplane was placed and secured onto a trailer and a two-blade propeller was installed due damage sustained to the original propeller from the accident. Engine control continuity from the cockpit controls to the engine fuel servo was confirmed. The right main wing fuel tank was filled with about 10 gallons of fuel. The master switch and the boost pump were selected to ON and no fuel system leaks were present. The boost pump was turned ON for about 20-30 seconds and the ignition key switch was used to engage the starter, which rotated the engine freely, but the engine did not start. The boost pump was turned ON again for about 30-45 seconds and then the engine was started using the ignition key switch. The engine ran smoothly. The engine was shut down by moving the fuel selector to OFF. The previous airplane owner stated that sometimes when switching fuel tanks, there could be an issue if the fuel selector was not placed directly in the detent.

Probable Cause and Findings

The pilot’s improper positioning of the fuel selector, which resulted in fuel starvation and a loss of engine power during a departure climb.


Source: NTSB Aviation Accident Database

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