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On 10 July 2015, at about 1400 Eastern Standard Time, a Piper PA-28 aircraft, registered VH-MHI, departed Lilydale, Victoria, for Parafield, South Australia, with the pilot, two passengers and full fuel on board.

At about 1750 Central Standard Time, the pilot contacted Adelaide Centre air traffic control, advised that they were overhead Tailem Bend, and requested a clearance into Adelaide control zone. The controller assigned the pilot a unique transponder code, and the aircraft tracked towards Murray Bridge, South Australia.

About 13 minutes later, as the aircraft approached Strathalbyn, at 4,500 ft, the controller identified the aircraft on the radar display, about 30 NM south-east of Adelaide, and cleared the pilot to track to Port Noarlunga, then expect to track up the coast to Port Adelaide and on to Parafield.

At about 1812, the pilot was becoming increasingly concerned about the aircraft’s fuel status, with both fuel gauges indicating close to empty. Therefore, the pilot requested a clearance to track overhead Adelaide to shorten the distance remaining to Parafield.

When about 15 NM southeast of Adelaide, the engine ran roughly. The pilot changed the selected fuel tank from the left to the right, and assessed that the left tank was empty. The left fuel gauge was indicating empty and the right gauge was indicating just above empty.

At about 1816, the pilot declared a PAN due to low fuel and obtained a clearance to track direct to Adelaide Airport for a landing there. The aircraft subsequently landed at Adelaide on runway 30.

After the flight, the pilot dipped the fuel tanks. The dipstick indicated no fuel in either tank. The pilot assessed there had been less than 20 L of fuel remaining after shutting down the aircraft.

The ATSB reminds pilots of the importance of careful attention to aircraft fuel state.


Aviation Short Investigations Bulletin - Issue 43

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General details
Date: 10 July 2015 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 1822 CST  
Location   (show map):28 SE of Adelaide Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: South Australia Occurrence type: Diversion/return 
Release date: 07 October 2015 Occurrence class: Operational 
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Serious Incident 
 Highest injury level: None 
Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer: Piper Aircraft Corp 
Aircraft model: PA-28-181 
Aircraft registration: VH-MHI 
Serial number: 28-7790350 
Type of operation: Private 
Sector: Piston 
Damage to aircraft: Nil 
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Last update 14 November 2018