Aviation safety investigations & reports

Piper PA31-P, VH-DRE, Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport NSW, 25 June 1988

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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The aircraft landed at Sydney to refuel after an uneventful flight from Hobart. After landing it was found that maintenance was required to rectify a flat battery. Subsequently, the aircraft was refuelled on a concrete apron adjacent to the maintenance hangar. In order to prevent fuel venting, the pilot had instructed the refuellers not to completely fill the right inner tank. Fuel was later observed leaking from the aircraft centre section on completion of the refuelling. The leak diminished when the refuellers had about 10 L of fuel syphoned from the right inner tank. Fuel was observed to drain from both engine nacelles and pool on the apron whilst the pilot was preparing to start the engines. The flow diminished when the fuel mixture controls were selected to the cut-off position. The pilot decided to start the left engine after an attempt to start the right engine was unsuccessful. Immediately after the engine fired, there was a violent explosion in the underfloor area, igniting the fuel which lay beneath the aircraft. Flames entered the cockpit through the damaged floor, causing minor fire damage before aircraft engineers extinguished the fire with portable extinguishers. Although injured, the occupants were able to vacate the aircraft without outside assistance. An investigation revealed a significant pre-existing fuel leak from the right inner fuel tank. The leak resulted from deterioration of the top rear seam of the fuel bladder. As the fuel tank compartment was not fitted with a discrete fuel drain, fuel leaking from the bladder flowed along the inner skin of the wing and entered the underfloor area of the fuselage. The aircraft had been inspected for the re-issue of a Certificate of Airworthiness three months prior to the accident. That inspection had failed to detect the deterioration of the right inner fuel tank. Fuel loss had been observed after previous refuellings but was assumed to have emanated from the fuel tank vent.

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 24KB]
General details
Date: 25 June 1988   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1510 approx    
Location: Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport    
State: New South Wales    
Release date: 16 September 1991   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Serious  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Aircraft model PA-31  
Aircraft registration VH-DRE  
Serial number 31P-56  
Type of operation Business  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Departure point Sydney NSW  
Departure time N/A  
Destination Brisbane Qld