Monday, January 07, 2019

Fuel Exhaustion: Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee, N9673W, accident occurred January 27, 2018 near Meriden Markham Municipal Airport (KMMK), New Haven County, Connecticut

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Windsor Locks, Connecticut 

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Meriden, CT
Accident Number: ERA18LA071
Date & Time: 01/27/2018, 1615 EST
Registration: N9673W
Aircraft: PIPER PA28
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Fuel exhaustion
Injuries: 2 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 


The airline transport pilot reported that he performed a preflight inspection before the cross-country flight and determined that 36 gallons of fuel were on board. His preflight fuel planning showed that he would land at his destination with 6 gallons of fuel remaining. While en route, he intentionally exhausted the fuel in the right tank. He switched to the left tank and continued the flight. His passenger later suggested that they stop for fuel, but he was confident in his fuel calculations and did not want to pay a higher price for fuel, so he continued the flight. About 2.5 miles north of his destination, the engine lost total power. He chose to perform a forced landing in a nearby pond. During the forced landing attempt, the airplane landed short of the pond and collided with a fence, which resulted in substantial damage to both wings and the airframe.

Examination of the wreckage revealed that only a residual amount of fuel remained in each wing tank. The tanks were not compromised, and no evidence of fuel leaks or stains was noted on the airframe. Although the pilot noted a previous issue with the gascolator, postaccident examination of the gascolator revealed that it was in an airworthy condition with no evidence of obstructions, leaks, or stains. It is likely that the pilot did not perform adequate preflight fuel planning, and his decision not to stop for fuel led to fuel exhaustion and the total loss of engine power. 

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's inadequate preflight fuel planning and his improper in-flight decision-making, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion.


Fuel - Fluid level (Cause)

Personnel issues
Fuel planning - Pilot (Cause)
Decision making/judgment - Pilot (Cause)

Environmental issues
Fence/fence post - Contributed to outcome

Factual Information

On January 27, 2018, about 1615 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-140, N9673W, was substantially damaged during a forced landing while approaching Meriden Markham Municipal Airport (MMK), Meriden, Connecticut. The airline transport pilot and one passenger were seriously injured. The airplane was operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations part 91 as a personal flight. Day, visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for flight that originated at Oxford County Regional Airport (81B), Oxford, Maine about 1330.

The pilot reported that he performed the preflight inspection at 81B and determined that there were 36 gallons of fuel on board prior to departure. Earlier that day, his passenger flew the airplane from MMK to 81B and reportedly departed MMK with full tanks, or 50 gallons of fuel on board. The airplane was not refueled at 81B. For the flight from 81B to MMK, his flight planning showed that he would land with 6 gallons of fuel on board.

Just prior to passing Worcester, Massachusetts, while on the right tank, the fuel gauge began to "flicker," then the engine "faltered." He intentionally exhausted the right tank fuel supply to maximize his available fuel. He switched to the left tank and the flight continued. Approaching the Hartford, Connecticut area, his passenger suggested that they stop for fuel, but he was confident in his fuel calculations and did not want to pay a higher price for fuel there, so he continued. About 2.5 miles north of MMK, the fuel pressure gauge "faltered" and the engine subsequently lost power. He looked for a place to land and realized that a nearby pond would be the best option. During the forced landing attempt, the airplane collided with a fence and came to a stop on dry land.

An inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration responded to the accident site and examined the wreckage. The airplane came to rest on an embankment after colliding with a chain link fence. Both wings and the lower, forward fuselage was structurally damaged. The nose gear snapped off during the impact sequence and was found under the airframe. The left and right wing fuel tanks were not compromised. The airplane was moved to a level position and no visible fuel was observed in either fuel tank. During the subsequent recovery of the wreckage, about 1/2 gallon of fuel was recovered from both tanks. No fuel stains were observed on the exterior surfaces of the airframe.

The pilot reported on the NTSB Form 6120.1, Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report, that there was no mechanical malfunction or failure prior to the accident. In a subsequent correspondence with the NTSB investigator-in-charge, the pilot reported that there was a leak at the gascolator found on November 17, 2017. The gascolator gasket had slipped out of place, resulting in the leak. He found the gascolator components to be in good condition and he reassembled the unit. The airplane was then flown at least 10 hours without any observed leaks prior to the accident flight.

On March 26, 2018, the gascolator was removed from the wreckage and examined by a NTSB investigator. The unit was intact, and no evidence of obstructions, leaks or fuel staining was found.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Airline Transport; Commercial
Age: 68, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Multi-engine Land; Single-engine Land; Single-engine Sea
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: Lap Only
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 2 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 08/30/2017
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 06/02/2016
Flight Time:  16650 hours (Total, all aircraft), 300 hours (Total, this make and model), 16000 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 29 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 6 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 4 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: PIPER
Registration: N9673W
Model/Series: PA28 140
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1967
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 28-23137
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 4
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 10/28/2017, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2150 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: 10 Hours
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 2575 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: LYCOMING
ELT: C91A installed, activated, did not aid in locating accident
Engine Model/Series: O-320-D2A
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 160 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: MMK, 103 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 1553 EST
Direction from Accident Site: 30°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility:  10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 8 knots /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: / None
Wind Direction: 180°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 30.29 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 8°C / 1°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Oxford, ME (81B)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Meriden, CT (MMK)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1330 EST
Type of Airspace: Class E

Airport Information

Airport: Meriden Markham Muni (MMK)
Runway Surface Type: N/A
Airport Elevation: 103 ft
Runway Surface Condition:
Runway Used: N/A
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width:
VFR Approach/Landing: Full Stop; Traffic Pattern 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Serious
Latitude, Longitude:  41.520000, -72.820000 (est)


  1. No telling how many times this pilot did this before it caught up with him.


  2. Ten more gallons of fuel at say $1.50/gal more than the usual price would have saved the day.

    $15 extra dollars of fuel vs $50,000 of hospital bills plus a severely damaged airplane.

    Why do people do this stuff?

    At least they survived.

  3. He wanted to be like Kramer on Seinfeld and see how far into the red he could push the fuel quantity needle. Problem was, he couldn't just pull over when the engine quit. What a waste of a perfectly good airplane. There will come a day when all the general aviation legacy aircraft will be used up and that will be the end of GA. It will be a sad day for all of us pilots.

  4. They need to ground this guy before he kills someone.


  5. This was not the first time this ATP rated pilot ran out of fuel. Philip F. Cianciolo ran out of fuel the previous July on a flight from North Carolina to Connecticut in a PA15.
    From the written report;
    "We noted that the needle on the left fuel gauge was bouncing around below the 10 gallon mark. Bev suggested that we could stop at KHFD to get a few gallons of fuel, but I had confidence in my calculations and was loath to pay $6.70-plus per gallon for fuel. I elected to push on."

    He will die a frugal and wealthy man.


  6. He saved 10% by switching to Geico.

  7. stupid is as stupid does!

    real smooth move; serious injuries plus writing off an airplane to save a few bucks.