This March 2007 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.
Aircraft: Cessna 172.
Location: Paris, Tenn.
Injuries: 2 Minor.
Aircraft damage: Substantial.
What reportedly happened: The airplane was in cruise flight at 3,000 feet MSL when the engine began to sputter. The pilot turned toward the nearest airport while simultaneously troubleshooting the problem by activating carburetor heat and switching fuel tanks.
The engine continued to lose power. The pilot contacted the FBO on the UNICOM radio frequency and was informed the winds were favoring runway 20. The engine quit altogether when the airplane was on base leg. The pilot realized that he did not have enough altitude to glide to the runway and turned toward a cornfield. The Cessna landed hard. The airplane bounced, and nosed over onto its back.
The pilot told the sheriff who responded to the accident that he had run out of fuel. Examination of the airplane by FAA officials revealed no fuel was present at the crash site. When the airplane was turned over by recovery personnel the left and right fuel caps were removed and were found to have a tight seal. The left and right fuel tanks were not ruptured and no fuel was present. About one half ounce of fuel was drained from the left and right fuel tank drains. When fuel was added to the airplane the engine ran normally.
Probable cause: The pilot’s improper fuel management, resulting in a total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion.
For more information: NTSB.gov/ntsb/brief.asp?ev_id=20070522X00607&key=1.