Date of accident: August 15 1998

Time of accident: 1130Z

Aircraft registration: ZS-JPG

Type Of aircraft: Piper Warrior PA-28-151

Pilot-in-command licence type: PPL

Pilot-in-command flying experience: Total Flying Hours: 105

Hours on Type: 91

Last point of departure:
FAMV (near Sodwana)

Next point of intended landing: Margate

Location of the accident site: On the beach at Port Shepstone

Meteorological information: CAVOK

Number of people on board:

Number of people injured: 0

Number of people killed:

On August 10 1998, the pilot, accompanied by two friends, embarked on a holiday trip from Cape Town to Sodwana. The first leg of the flight was from Cape Town to George, where they spent the night. On the following day they flew to East London and after refueling headed for Margate. Another night was spent in Margate where the aircraft was refueled, before embarking on the last leg of the flight towards bazwana (Sodwana). After spending two days in Sodwana, which has no refueling facilities, the pilot and passengers again boarded the aircraft on August 15 1998 for the return journey. According to the pilot and one of his passengers, the remaining fuel quantity was checked prior to take-off and was approximately 30 US Gal. This fuel quantity would have been more than sufficient for the flight to Margate where the aircraft would have been refueled again.

Approximately two hours into the flight and overhead Port Shepstone, the aircraft suffered engine failure. The pilot then selected the left tank after which the engine restarted. A few minutes later the engine failed again with both fuel quantity gauges indicating empty. An emergency landing was executed on a beach in Port Shepstone. The nose gear collapsed during the landing resulting in minor damage to the engine mount and cowling. Nobody was injured in the accident.

Fuel mismanagement and an improper pre-flight.

Jim’s Analysis
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What have we here? A low-hour pilot who doesn’t mind taking a dip with his friends’ lives. Could this be the same sort of guy who overtakes me on white lines?

But before being too unkind, let’s see what could have caused him to run out of fuel after two hours flying when he started with three hours worth. Either the engine was using 50 per cent more than it should have done, which is most unlikely - perhaps even impossible. Or the fuel was leaking out during the flight. We...ll, where would it leak from? One of the drains. Maybe, but surely the pilot would notice a leaky drain when he used them. Actually he might not if it was the ‘gascilator’ horrible yankie word. This is the drain on the filter bowl on the left of the cowl.

It‘s possible that, if the fuel was selected to a very low tank, or the aircraft was sitting at an angle during the pre-flight, the pilot may have drained this and thought the drain had shut off properly when it hadn’t. He could have run the filter bowl dry and the drain cock may not have closed. Then when he got in the aircraft and switched on the electric pump the fuel could have started running out of the drain - and the pilot wouldn’t see it.

I say that this is possible - but it’s highly unlikely. In any case, the pilot should have noticed that the drain hadn’t clicked into the closed position, even if the fuel did stop running.

It is far more likely that the pilot misjudged the amount of fuel in the tanks. Or perhaps just believed Mr Piper’s Mickey Mouse fuel gauges. The Ozzies have got this right - they all carry proper graduated dip sticks and use them on every pre-flight.

Sorry, Mr Pilot, I have about 10,000 hours on Cherokees and have never landed on an A to B flight with less than an hour’s fuel on board. It looks as if you were taking a huge chance which didn’t pay off. You could have killed your friends. I hope you have either stopped flying or come to your senses with a hell of a bump.

What can we learn?
• Never be uncertain about your fuel state.

• Always be sure that your fuel drains do shut off.

• Don’t trust other people to check the fuel for you.

• Always put the fuel caps on yourself. In a Cherokee you can see if one pops off in flight - in a Cessna you can’t.

• Never trust aircraft fuel gauges.

• Fuel is your lifeblood. If you have plenty you don’t need to worry about getting lost. Bad weather is a minor problem - you can always fly around it or go home or divert to somewhere else.

• As the gauges go down, the risks increase.

• The only time you can have too much fuel is if you are on fire.

• Never be uncertain about your fuel state. Have I said that before?

Jim Davis has 15,000 hours of immensely varied flying experience, including 10,000 hours civil and military flying instruction. He is an established author, his current projects being an instructors’ manual and a collection of Air Accident analyses, called Choose Not To Crash. Visit Jim's website by clicking here.

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