On 1 October 2013, at about 1420 Eastern Daylight-savings Time, a Piper PA-28-161 aircraft, registered VH-CCQ, departed from Lilydale, Victoria for a private flight to Charleville, Queensland via Bourke, New South Wales, with the pilot and one passenger on board.
During the cruise, maintaining 8,500 ft above mean sea level, the pilot selected an engine power setting of 65% and leaned the fuel mixture. The pilot conducted fuel calculations every 30 minutes, and changed between the left and right fuel tanks to maintain the aircraft’s balance within the normal operating limits. When approaching Bourke, the pilot calculated the fuel remaining on board based on the fuel gauge indications and the nominal fuel flow, and elected not to land at Bourke for refuelling, but to divert and continue directly to Charleville.
At about 1900, when about 20 NM east of Cunnamulla, Queensland, the engine began to run rough and surge. The pilot assessed that the most likely cause was fuel contamination in the selected right tank and changed to the left fuel tank. The engine continued to run rough and the pilot elected to divert to Cunnamulla.
The engine power then reduced to idle and the pilot configured the aircraft for a forced landing. As it was dark by this time, the pilot selected the landing light on to illuminate a suitable landing site. The light flashed on and then failed. The aircraft landed in a paddock at about 1920, bounced once and during the subsequent landing roll, the aircraft collided with a tree, detaching the left wing. The aircraft was substantially damaged and the pilot and passenger sustained minor injuries.
This incident highlights the importance of thorough pre-flight planning and understanding the implications of both aircraft and pilot limitations.