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.