Friday, March 7, 2014
By CRAIG CROSBY Kennebec Journal
A Maine Warden Service plane forced to land on Interstate 95 last spring had a stalled engine, starved of fuel because of a pilot error.
A Cessna plane owned by the Maine Warden Service had to make an emergency landing on Interstate 95 in Litchfield on April 26 because it ran out of fuel, according to an incident report released recently by the Federal Aviation Administration.
2013 file photo/Joe Phelan
An inspection shortly after the landing by Daniel Dufault, a warden and pilot, uncovered no discrepancies with the plane, according to an incident report released recently by the Federal Aviation Administration in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Kennebec Journal.
"There was no mechanical issue with the plane," Col. Joel Wilkinson of the warden service said Friday. "The plane ran out of fuel."
Immediately after the April incident, officials from the warden service said the plane had an unidentified mechanical problem that forced the landing in the northbound lane of the highway in Litchfield.
Local flight experts said Friday that pilots are required to take off with enough fuel in their tanks that they land with 30 minutes' worth left in the tanks -- and not to make sure the plane is fueled is inexcusable.
"You plan a flight, you should arrive with 30 minutes of fuel," said Paul McKeown, chief flight instructor for Maine Instrument Flight at the Augusta State Airport. "If you're planning on landing with less than 30, that's a problem."
Wilkinson would not give specifics about the warden service's investigation into the emergency landing, which led the service to take "corrective action" against Dufault. Wilkinson wouldn't elaborate on the nature of the action.
Dufault announced on his Facebook page in August that he resigned from the warden service. Wilkinson confirmed Friday that Dufault no longer works for the agency. Dufault could not be reached for comment Friday and has declined to comment since the landing.
No one was injured and the plane wasn't damaged during the landing, which occurred about 8:50 a.m. Friday, April 26, in the northbound lanes of I-95 near a former rest area at mile 98. The single-propeller plane had taken off from Belfast Municipal Airport on its way to Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport.
Dufault was accompanied by Charlie Todd, a biologist with the state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. They were scheduled to conduct a survey of eagle nests.
The plane, a 1968 Cessna 172 that Dufault helped rebuild a few years ago, remained parked in the rest area parking lot for about 2½ hours before it was refueled and flown to the nearby Augusta airport.
Durward Humphrey, chief pilot for the warden service, said shortly after the landing that the plane had an unidentified mechanical problem that killed its engine power. Humphrey, who flew the plane back to the airport, said it would be inspected to find out what went wrong.
A Maine Turnpike Authority traffic alert moments after the landing reported that the plane had been forced down by an empty fuel tank, and Sgt. Jason Luce of the Maine Warden Service also initially said that the plane had "a fuel issue."
But Humphrey disputed those reports and suggested the plane's main trouble was mechanical.
The FAA's initial statement also said the plane had "experienced a mechanical problem."
Shortly before the plane took off from the highway, wardens directed the news media to the far end of the rest area parking lot before positioning their trucks -- and an SUV being used by a film crew for the Animal Planet series "North Woods Law" -- in front of the plane, blocking the media's view.
Wardens still could be seen dumping containers of fuel into the tank spouts atop the plane's wings. The FAA report says they added about 12 gallons.
"Fuel was a concern," Humphrey said at the time. "That's why we added fuel."
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