UK investigators have determined that a Pilatus Britten-Norman Islander coastal search and rescue aircraft was forced to crash-land at night in fields on the island of Jersey due to fuel starvation to the engines.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch Special Bulletin provides an initial factual report on the 3 November accident in which the aircraft (G-CIAS) was badly damaged but all five persons on board were uninjured. The aircraft is equipped with air and marine communications and search and rescue equipment, operated by a charity and manned by volunteers.

The aircraft took off from Jersey in the evening darkness to offer assistance to a fishing boat that was in trouble to the north-east of the island, but 15min after take-off one engine started to run intermittently, then the other did the same, and quickly they both stopped.

There was no moon, according to the AAIB, a strong southerly wind generating considerable turbulence. The pilot prepared for a forced landing in northern Jersey, and when he switched on the landing lights he saw he was lucky, according to the AAIB, to find the aircraft was faced with a "benign" landing site in countryside that is mostly rocky and undulating. The landing roll was 140m, the main landing gear collapsed, and the aircraft came to rest against a tree.

Investigating why the engines had stopped delivering power, the AAIB notes that switches indicating which fuel tanks had been selected to supply the engines direct indicated selection of the wingtip tanks, which had no fuel remaining in them.

The tip tanks had been selected on the previous flight and the setting had not been changed, according to the investigator. There was plenty of fuel in the main tanks.