September 16, 2013

FAA concludes pilot erred in emergency I-95 landing

The recently released report says the warden service plane ran out of fuel April 26 in Litchfield.

By CRAIG CROSBY Kennebec Journal

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

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

Related Documents

FAA documents on Maine Warden Service plane emergency landing (PDF)

Moments later, Maine State Police troopers closed both of the highway's northbound lanes. The plane taxied about a quarter-mile south, turned and sped north before lifting off and disappearing from view.

Wilkinson said Friday that investigators weren't sure immediately after the landing whether the plane had a mechanical problem or if it had simply run out of fuel.

"We had no idea why the plane could have landed in that manner," he said. "To be fair to the employee and the investigation, we had to have (the plane) inspected and interview the employee. The results were that the plane ran out of fuel."

Humphrey, in his report to the FAA, said Dufault called him shortly after the landing and requested cans of fuel.

"I asked what had happened and he stated he thought he ran out of fuel, but there is fuel showing on the gauges," Humphrey wrote.

Dufault said he had to yaw the aircraft a couple times to splash enough fuel into the lines to keep the engine running a few seconds longer so he could glide to the interstate.

"Dufault and I checked the airplane and we inspected the gauges," Humphrey wrote. "The right gauge indicated on the empty mark and the left gauge was indicating one needle width above the empty mark."

'BE SKEPTICAL OF YOUR GAUGES'

McKeown said the FAA requires pilots to plan daytime flights under clear conditions, like those on April 26, to end with fuel left in the tank.

Officials said at the time that Dufault was in the air about 35 minutes before running out of fuel about 10 air miles short of the Auburn airport. A typical Cessna 172 has about 38 gallons of usable fuel in a 42-gallon tank and typically gets about 4.7 to 5.5 hours at cruising speeds, according to the Cessna 172 Guide.

"Belfast to Auburn is probably about a 40-minute flight and that plane would use about six gallons of fuel to make that flight," McKeown said.

Wilkinson wouldn't say whether Dufault manually checked the fuel level or if he believed he could make the flight from Belfast to Auburn with 30 minutes of fuel to spare.

Sandy Reynolds, fixed-based operator for the Belfast airport and president of Maine Scenic Airways, confirmed that the airport has fueling service and there was nothing to prevent Dufault from adding fuel before taking off.

Reynolds and McKeown agreed that pilots are expected to manually check the fuel level before each flight.

"The airplane fuel tank is made so you can see into it," McKeown said. "Every pilot is taught to visually confirm the quantity in the tank."

Dufault believed the plane had fuel because of a gauge that read one needle width above empty. But plane fuel gauges are notoriously inaccurate, McKeown said.

"Every pilot is taught to be skeptical of your gauges," McKeown said. "All pilots are taught don't trust the thing unless it says empty."

Plane gauges are designed to be most accurate when the fuel is nearing the bottom of the tank.

"You really need to know when it's getting down to empty," McKeown said.

He said the 30-minute minimum required by the FAA should be a worst-case scenario. He requires those in his flight school to plan a trip with at least an hour's worth of fuel to spare.

"I always point out to people these laws should never be interpreted as being safe," Mc- Keown said. "They're saying it's such a bad idea that we're drawing a line in the sand. It's illegal at that point."

Dufault, who was based at Turner Aviation Field, joined the Maine Warden Service in 2003. A news release at the time said he received his pilot's license when he was 16 and flew for Currier's Air Service in Greenville before joining the warden service.

Dufault also spent more than four years as a bush pilot, flying for two sporting lodges in Alaska before returning to Maine. He was described by his peers the day of the landing as an outstanding and experienced pilot.

Dufault also is a licensed aviation mechanic who helped rebuild the plane Cessna he was flying on April 26.

Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

ccrosby@mainetoday.com

 

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