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Pilotless Plane Flew Until Gas Tank Empty

A single-engine plane that took off without a pilot and flew 90 minutes crashed because it ran out of fuel, investigators said Monday.

Tanya Wagner, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman in Des Plaines, Ill., said investigators are still trying to determine exactly why the plane went aloft Sunday, narrowly missing another airplane and a hangar as it rolled.

The propeller-driven Aeronca Champ stalled on a taxiway after arriving at the Urbana airport in west-central Ohio. Its pilot, Paul Sirks, 52, of Dayton got out to restart it by hand-turning the propeller.

After a half-dozen tries, the aircraft’s engine backfired and finally started. But the pilotless plane was not secured. It took off and eventually climbed to about 12,000 feet before crashing in a field.

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