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Fuel management issues led to Piper ditching in April, says ATSB

written by Jake Nelson | November 28, 2023

Pilot Michelle Yeates with VH-FEY, the Piper PA28 that later ditched off the WA coast. (Image: Michelle Yeates/LinkedIn)

Fuel management issues likely caused a Piper PA-28 Archer to ditch in the ocean off Leighton Beach, WA, in April, the ATSB has found.

VH-FEY, piloted by Michelle Yeates, whose LinkedIn profile lists her as working for Rottnest Air Taxi, was on its way from Carnarvon to Jandakot via Geraldton when it began to lose engine power. Yeates, seeing that people were on the nearby Leighton Beach, opted to ditch in the ocean.

Both Yeates and her 15-year-old son Jake escaped the damaged single-engine plane unharmed and managed to swim to shore, Yeates telling the ABC at the time that she knew she would be unable to reach Jandakot.

“It’s too far and if I tried I’d land on people’s houses … it would have been really bad,” she said.

“I was only at 1,500 feet, I didn’t have much time to react so I just sent out a mayday to the tower and then just turned around and landed on the water – I tried to get as close to the beach as I could without hitting anybody.”


The ATSB’s investigation has concluded that, though Yeates left Carnarvon with the right amount of fuel, she had not performed regular fuel quantity checks as per regulatory guidance or kept a written log of the fuel consumed from each tank in flight.

ATSB director transport safety Stuart Macleod said the ditching highlights the importance of good fuel management.

“The engine power issues probably occurred due to a lack of fuel in the selected right tank. The pilot responded to power anomalies by carrying out some of the emergency procedures, but did not select the other – left – tank, which contained usable fuel,” he said.

“Pilots must carry out in-flight fuel quantity checks at regular intervals, including a cross check and recording of key data.

“For aircraft with separate tank selections, it is advisable to monitor the fuel consumed, and fuel remaining, for each tank.”

Macleod also noted that intermittent or partial engine loss is an “ambiguous condition” that may interfere with a pilot’s implementation of emergency procedures.

“Unless there is an obvious solution, pilots should prepare for a complete engine power loss and follow the applicable procedures to optimise recovery of engine power,” he said.

WA police in April praised Yeates for successfully ditching the Piper without further damage or injury. Acting inspector Mark Cannon said she and her son were lucky to be unharmed, and added that no fuel had spilled from the plane.

“It’s obviously got to be a scary incident for them, but the pilot did an exceptional job bringing it down,” he said, as reported by the ABC.

“We’re close to a lot of public buildings and stuff so they did very well to put it down where they did.

“Whether she is experienced or not, she did a fantastic job.”

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