False fuel reading sparks highway landing

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With only one engine working and a mayday distress signal activated, the pilot of a light plane carrying 10 people over the outback was still confident of a safe landing.

Then the other engine died.

The dramatic descent of the Cessna 441 Conquest onto a highway near Broome has been revealed this week in a report published by Australia's transport investigation agency, the ATSB.

Pre-flight checks on March 2, 2018, showed sufficient fuel to complete the scheduled passenger service between Fitzroy Crossing and Broome in northern WA.

But even shortly after takeoff the pilot noticed irregularities, despite the fuel gauges remaining stable.

As the pilot conducted engine checks, the right engine lost power, prompting him to declare a mayday, the report read.

"The pilot advised that the left engine was still operating, and they would be able to reach Broome," investigators reported.

"However, shortly after, the left engine also lost power."

Still at about 4000 feet, the pilot decided the aircraft would not reach Broome and so instead headed for the Great Northern Highway, where he landed. All passengers were uninjured.

"A photo of the fuel quantity gauges taken approximately one hour after landing indicated about 1120 lb fuel on board. Subsequent inspections identified that little or no usable fuel was on board."

Investigations found water - possibly the result of condensation from a humid environment - in the fuel tanks, "resulting in over-reading of the fuel quantity".

Once the water was removed, the gauges functioned properly.

The ATSB noted among its findings that the pilot was able to identify a suitable landing area and conduct a forced landing without injury to passengers or damage to the aircraft.