Aviation safety investigations & reports

Fuel starvation and forced landing involving, PA31, VH-OFF, near Aldinga ALA, SA on 29 January 2014

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 556KB]
Alternate: [Download  DOCX: 800KB]

On 29 January 2014, the pilot prepared PA31 registered VH-OFF for a private flight from Aldinga ALA to Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

To check the fuel quantities, the pilot entered the cockpit, turned on the master switch, and placed the left and right fuel selectors onto the Main tank (inboard) position. The gauge for each tank showed just under half full. He then placed each fuel selector onto the auxiliary (outboard) tank position, where the gauge indicated the right and left auxiliary tanks were each about a quarter full. He did not return the selectors to the main tanks. He estimated that refuelling the main tanks would allow sufficient fuel for the flight with over an hour in reserve. He exited the aircraft while it was refuelled and continued preparing for the flight

The pilot conducted his normal memory pre take-off checks; however on this flight he did not complete his usual final check of reaching down with his right hand to confirm the position of the fuel selectors.

During the take-off, just after rotation both engines began surging, there was a loss of power, and the aircraft yawed from side to side. As there were no warning lights, he retracted the landing gear in an attempt to get the aircraft to attain a positive rate of climb, so he could trouble shoot at altitude.

At about 50 ft, the pilot realised the aircraft was not performing so he selected a suitable landing area. He focussed on maintaining a safe airspeed and landed straight ahead.

The aircraft touched down and slid before coming to rest. The pilot and passenger exited the aircraft.

One of the safety concerns of the ATSB SafetyWatch is fuel mismanagement leading to exhaustion or starvation.


Aviation Short Investigations Bulletin - Issue 29

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 556KB]
Alternate: [Download  DOCX: 800KB]


To download, click the link, then right-click and select Save As.

Copyright in material obtained from other agencies, private individuals or organisations, belongs to those agencies, individuals or organisations and should be credited accordingly.

General details
Date: 29 January 2014   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1132 CDT   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): near Aldinga (ALA)    
State: South Australia   Occurrence type: Fuel exhaustion  
Release date: 08 April 2014   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Aircraft model PA-31  
Aircraft registration VH-OFF  
Serial number 31-7812064  
Type of operation Private  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Departure point Aldinga, SA  
Last update 14 November 2018