• The path of VH-FEY off Leighton beach. (Google Earth annotated by the ATSB)
    The path of VH-FEY off Leighton beach. (Google Earth annotated by the ATSB)

Poor fuel management and a failure to switch fuel tanks led to a Piper Archer being ditched off Leighton beach in Perth in April this year, according to an ATSB investigation report released this week.

Archer VH-FEY was on a private flight from Geraldton to Jandakot coastal on 20 April when the engine power began to fluctuate 5 nm north of Fremantle. The pilot, a CPL, responded by setting the mixture to full rich and selecting carburettor heat on. 

However, when it became obvious the aircraft couldn't maintain altitude, the pilot elected to land on Leighton beach. At the last minute the pilot realised the beach was full of people, so elected to ditch the aircraft in the water. Both the pilot and passenger escaped the aircraft before it was sunk.

ATSB investigators found that not only had a fuel log not been kept on the flight from Geraldton, but also during the trouble checks the pilot didn't change fuel tanks from the right tank to the left tank. The right tank was estimated to have only 6 l of  fuel left, whereas the ATSB concluded the left tank had enough fuel for the aircraft to reach Jandakot.

“The engine power issues probably occurred due to a lack of fuel in the selected right tank,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Macleod said.

“The pilot responded to power anomalies by carrying out some of the emergency procedures, but did not select the other–left–tank, which contained usable fuel.”

Macleod said that the accident highlighted the importance of good fuel management.

“Pilots must carry out in-flight fuel quantity checks at regular intervals, including a cross check and recording of key data,” he said.

“For aircraft with separate tank selections, it is advisable to monitor the fuel consumed, and fuel remaining, for each tank.”

ATSB investigators also found the engine in VH-FEY hadn't been overhauled for 28 years, but had been through a bulk strip 13 years ago. As no engine defects were found and the engine had been maintained, the ATSB ruled out the extended TBO as a contributing factor.

The full investigation report is available on the ATSB website.

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