Sunday, April 12, 2020

Fuel Exhaustion: Piper PA-34-220T Seneca III, N294AB; accident occurred July 07, 2018 near Jack Edwards Airport (KJKA), Gulf Shores, Alabama

View of Airplane as Found
Federal Aviation Administration

Photo of undamaged device.

View of side of engine data monitor.

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

Additional Participating Entities:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Birmingham, Alabama 
Continental Motors; Mobile, Alabama

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Gulf Shores, AL
Accident Number: ERA18LA186
Date & Time: 07/07/2018, 0920 CDT
Registration: N294AB
Aircraft: Piper PA34
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Fuel exhaustion
Injuries: 5 Minor
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On July 7, 2018, at 0920 central daylight time, a Piper PA-34-220T, N294AB, was substantially damaged during a forced landing to wooded terrain near Jack Edwards Airport (JKA), Gulf Shores, Alabama. The private pilot and four passengers sustained minor injuries. The airplane was privately owned and operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for the flight which departed Lafayette Regional Airport (LFT), Lafayette, Louisiana and was destined for JKA.

In a written statement, the pilot provided a detailed description of his preflight inspection, his performance of weight and balance calculations, and his loading of the airplane with golf clubs, baggage, and the passengers. The pilot visually checked for the presence of fuel, but did not measure the fuel in the tanks, and neither did he service them with additional fuel. He noted no anomalies and estimated that there were 30 gallons of fuel "per side prior to departure according to the fuel gauges."

The pilot reported no anomalies with the performance and handling of the airplane in his description of the flight until landing. Upon landing, the airplane began to "porpoise or oscillate," and after the third or fourth bounce, the pilot aborted the landing.

The pilot said that he pushed the throttle, propeller, and mixture levers "full forward" and retracted the landing gear when a positive rate of climb was established. Immediately after, the left engine "appeared" to lose power and was "surging." The airplane yawed to its left, and the right engine continued to operate "normally." The pilot attempted to restore left engine power by placing the auxiliary fuel pump switch to "high" and selecting "crossfeed" on the left fuel selector.

The left engine stopped producing power, the stall horn sounded, and the controls "started to buffet." The pilot said he had "no time" to consult the checklist, considered multiple forced landing areas, and eventually chose to land straight ahead into trees. The airplane came to rest upright with substantial damage to both wings and the fuselage.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplane. He reported 335 total hours of flight experience, of which 65 were in multiengine airplanes, and 33 hours were in the accident airplane make and model.

At 1415, the weather recorded at JKA included scattered clouds at 2,100 ft and calm wind. The temperature was 28°C, and the dew point was 23°C. The altimeter setting was 30.08 inches of mercury.

According to the an aircraft recovery specialist who recovered the airplane, an odor of fuel was detected at the site, but no fuel drained from either wing when each was separated from the airframe. No fuel-spillage remediation was required at the site after recovery of the airplane.

Data downloaded from the onboard JPI 760 engine data monitor revealed a profile consistent with the engine power surging and power loss on the left engine as described by the pilot.

The engines were examined in Mobile, Alabama, at the manufacturer's facility. The propeller was removed from the right engine due to impact damage. A club propeller was installed, and the engine was placed in a test cell. The engine started immediately, accelerated smoothly, and ran continuously without interruption. The engine was run through the manufacturer's test protocol with no anomalies noted.

A test run on the left engine was not performed due to separation of the propeller flange by impact. The engine was rotated by hand through the propeller governor drive pad, and continuity was established through the powertrain and valve train to the accessory section. Compression on each cylinder was confirmed using the thumb method. Internal engine timing was confirmed through index alignment on the camshaft and crankshaft gears. Magneto timing was confirmed using an electronic magneto synchronizer.

The components of the fuel system were bench-tested, and the demonstrated flow rates were within ranges necessary to sustain normal engine operation. Flow rates outside the nominal bench-test ranges were affected by airframe-specific, on-airframe adjustments.

The left and right magnetos were bench-tested and produced spark at all terminal leads. The No. 5 bottom terminal lead on the left magneto sparked at a cut in the lead consistent with impact damage.

Neither engine displayed any preimpact mechanical anomalies that would have prevented normal operation.

Interpolation of performance charts at the maximum allowable gross takeoff weight and atmospheric conditions consistent with those at the time of the accident revealed that the airplane's single-engine rate of climb was 280 ft per minute.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 41, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Multi-engine Land; Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: 3-point
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s):None 
Toxicology Performed:No 
Medical Certification: BasicMed Without Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 10/18/2006
Occupational Pilot:No 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time: 335 hours (Total, all aircraft), 33 hours (Total, this make and model)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper
Registration: N294AB
Model/Series: PA34 220T
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture:
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 34-8133257
Landing Gear Type:Tricycle 
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 06/26/2018, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.:
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 2 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 3277 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer:Cont Motor 
Engine Model/Series: TSIO-360 SER
Registered Owner:On file 
Rated Power:
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: KJKA, 16 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 0 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 1415 UTC
Direction from Accident Site: 347°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Scattered / 2100 ft agl
Visibility:  10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling:
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: Calm /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual:
Wind Direction:
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:
Altimeter Setting: 30.08 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 28°C / 23°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Lafayette, LA (LFT)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Destination: Gulf Shores, AL (JKA)
Type of Clearance: IFR; VFR
Departure Time: 0745 CDT
Type of Airspace: Class G

Airport Information

Runway Surface Type: Asphalt
Airport Elevation: 17 ft
Runway Surface Condition: Dry
Runway Used: 09
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width: 6962 ft / 100 ft
VFR Approach/Landing: Traffic Pattern

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Minor
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 4 Minor
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 5 Minor
Latitude, Longitude: 30.289722, -87.671667 (est)


  1. Landing straight into trees instead of stall/spin from improbable turn saved lives.

  2. Reading the docket statements, looks like "Raj" was getting and early start on his yet to be approved Part 135. Probably not a great idea to schedule a plane load of lawyers for the flight, from a liability standpoint.
    When I read something to the effect of "i checked the fuel gauges and estimated I had 30 gallons", I cringe

    1. Here is some more to cringe about from the pilot interview: After an earlier bouncy landing at Sun n Fun, the pilot "... read an article about bouncing on landing. In the article, he learned that it is always a good idea to go-around if your landing does not feel right."

      Flight instructors failed to teach him this? Kinda like not knowing to check the depleted fuel levels with a dip stick before flight.

  3. "no abnomolies(sic)" during pre-flight .....

    Except fuel level.

  4. Replies
    1. He apparently switched to Basic Med after the third class expired. There are limitations to follow:

      Aircraft Requirements:
      - Any aircraft authorized under federal law to carry not more than 6 occupants
      - Has a maximum certificated takeoff weight of not more than 6,000 pounds

      Operating Requirements:
      - Carries not more than five passengers
      - Operates under VFR or IFR, within the United States, at less than 18,000 feet MSL, not exceeding 250 knots.
      - Flight not operated for compensation or hire

  5. Proof that it is better to be lucky than good.

  6. Well at least he did remember to go wings level into trees rather than turn around and try to make the airport. I was taught this from Day One in my PPL training at a USAF base Aero Club where we had nothing but 50+ foot tall pine trees staring at us for miles from any of the four runways after takeoff. Better to risk going in wings level and sink into the trees rather than go nose down into them. My instructor told me if it ever happens, just drive the aircraft through the trees even after the wings get taken out by using the rudder. The irony story is that he wound up in his own accident right after takeoff and having to go between two buildings dead ahead taking off both wings and slid between them fighting it all the way with the rudder. All six survived.

    1. Sounds interesting but if rudder authority is maintained upon hitting AND thereafter then you are going at a considerable speed. Don't you want to hit things at the lowest possible speed/energy state = Vs and preferably from above, at least in the case of trees you would want to sink into them rather than mowing them down if enough energy to climb above them?
      Ripping off a wing will probably impart a momentum on the fuselage akin to an engine going into reverse, no rudder will help unless both wings shear off at the same time, angle and arm/distance. Also if rudder authority is actually still maintained enough when a wing comes off the asymmetric lift of the other wing or parts of it will roll the plane and directional control with rudder is now multidimensional.
      For the PA-34 here I found a Vs of 69 MPH, Vmc is 80 MPH.
      Don't get me wrong, one wants to dissipate the energy as slowly as possible while maintaining control and preferably by shearing off or deforming parts other than the cabin, such as wings, gear, engines, but once lifting surfaces come off the ensuing asymmetry cannot be controlled by a rudder and if too slow too create asymmetrical lift then that is also true for the rudder.
      There are some videos where planes hit something with the wing or wheel on takeoff (e.g. a pole on a road after an off-airport landing or an a beach going into a small wave/water) and yaw around in an instant. No rudder would have helped.
      It sounds a lot like Hollywood physics to me but I may be wrong.

    2. If rudder input could change the path of an aircraft after heavily impacting trees, then rudder input would be able to stop every tail dragger ground loop event while it was happening.

      Fly all the way into the crash, but don't delude yourself into thinking there was rudder authority after the wings sheared off as it stopped in the tree thicket, or that your pet hamster leaning to the left in your shirt pocket at the time stopped the fuselage from rolling inverted during the crash, even if it seems like that was what he was trying to do.

  7. Must have been some interesting liability conversations seeing that all except the pilot was an attorney.

    Thank goodness they were able to have those conversations.