Aviation safety investigations & reports

Fuel exhaustion involving a Piper Pawnee PA-25, VH-SSO near Bacchus Marsh, Vic., on 18 May 2014

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


Download final report
[Download  PDF: 349KB]

On 18 May 2014, the pilot of a Piper PA-25, registered VH-SSO, took off from Bacchus Marsh aeroplane landing area (ALA) with a glider in tow. During climb the pilot noticed a momentary engine power loss, following which the glider pilot released the tow rope. The pilot of the PA-25 immediately re-joined the circuit via the downwind leg. The engine responded normally to throttle inputs following the momentary power loss, but after the pilot turned onto the base leg of the circuit, the engine surged briefly then stopped. The pilot conducted a forced landing but the aircraft landed heavily and was substantially damaged. The pilot was uninjured. Subsequent inspection found that the aircraft fuel supply was exhausted.

The gliding club that operated the PA-25 used aircraft flight time to determine when a refuel was required. According to this system of fuel management, a refuel was required at 1284.1 hours flight time, but the flight time following the accident was almost 1284.9 hours. The pilot was familiar with this system, but it was ineffective in alerting the pilot of the need to refuel on this occasion. The aircraft was fitted with a warning light to alert pilots to a low fuel level condition, but the light did not illuminate during flight on this occasion.

The pilot was not expecting to fly on the day of the accident and did not follow his usual pre-flight routine, which normally included a physical check of the aircraft fuel state. The pilot may have been suffering from an elevated level of fatigue having had very little sleep during the evening prior to the accident.

In response to this accident, the Gliding Federation of Australia planned to remind all glider towing pilots of the importance of fuel management and fatigue awareness. This accident highlights the importance of careful attention to the fuel state of an aircraft, and the need for caution when usual pre-flight preparation is interrupted or abnormal. This accident also serves to remind pilots to carefully consider the possible effects of fatigue before engaging in flying operations.


Aviation Short Investigation Bulletin - Issue 35

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 349KB]


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: 18 May 2014   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 15:35 EST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): near Bacchus Marsh    
State: Victoria   Occurrence type: Fuel exhaustion  
Release date: 15 October 2014   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Aircraft model PA-25-235  
Aircraft registration VH-SSO  
Serial number 25-7405602  
Type of operation Aerial Work  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Departure point Unknown  
Last update 14 November 2018