An airplane crash that killed six people near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2016 was caused by the pilot’s mismanagement of the aircraft’s fuel supply system, federal investigators said.
Three couples were returning home to Oxford, Mississippi, from a dental seminar in Florida when the twin-engine Piper crashed just a few hundred feet from the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport runway Aug. 14, 2016. All six people aboard the plane were killed at the scene.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the airplane crash and said in its final report that the airplane was serviced to capacity with fuel before its flight, enough to allow it to fly for about five hours.
But about one hour and 45 minutes after reaching the flight’s cruise altitude of 12,000 feet, the pilot reported a failure of the right engine fuel pump and requested to divert to the nearest airport.
About seven minutes later, the pilot reported that he “lost both fuel pumps” and said that the airplane had lost its engine power. The pilot continued toward the Tuscaloosa airport and the plane descended until it collided with trees about 1,650 feet short of the runway, bursting into flames.
“According to the pilot’s operating handbook, after reaching cruise flight, fuel should be consumed from the outboard tanks before switching to the inboard tanks,” the NTSB report says, noting that the pilot was supposed to switch from the outboard fuel tanks to the inboard fuel supply once the outboard’s fuel was depleted.
The NTSB noted that the outboard had about one hour and 45 minutes’ worth of fuel – about the same amount of time that had elapsed between departure and the pilot’s report of a fuel emergency.
A flight instructor who previously flew with the pilot told NTSB investigators that the pilot’s training in the airplane did not include single-engine operations and emergency procedures. Investigators found the lack of experience and training contributed to the airplane crash.
“It is likely that the pilot failed to return the fuel selectors from the outboard to the inboard tank positions once the outboard tanks were exhausted of fuel; however, the pilot misdiagnosed the situation as a fuel pump anomaly,” the NTSB said. The error starved the engine of fuel, resulting in a total loss of engine power.
The airplane crash killed dentists Jason Farese and Lea Farese; dentist Michael Perry and his wife, Kim Perry, a nurse practitioner at the University of Mississippi; and dentist Austin Poole and his wife, Angie Poole.