Fuel miscalculation leads to off-airport landing

This June 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 182.
Location: Cheneyville, La.
Injuries: 1 Minor.
Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The private pilot reported that shortly after takeoff, engine power began to fluctuate. He elected to return to the airport as a precaution. While turning toward the airport, the engine lost all power and the pilot prepared for a forced landing to an open field. Prior to the forced landing, he noticed freshly dug ditches on both sides of the field, so he turned to an adjacent field to the right of his initial landing spot.

The engine began to surge when the airplane was about 300 feet above the ground, which extended the glide. The airplane touched down on soft ground. The tires sunk in, and the airplane nosed-over. Approximately one gallon of fuel was drained from the right tank, and less than one gallon was drained from the left tank. The fuel was free of water and debris. The pilot reported that he did a preflight inspection of the airplane, but did not visually inspect the fuel tanks. Instead he relied on a fuel flow meter installed in the cockpit, which indicated a total of 43.6 gallons. The pilot reported that the gauge was usually accurate, and he was unaware of what happened to the fuel he thought was onboard.

Probable cause: The loss of engine power while climbing due to the pilot’s failure to refuel the airplane prior to fuel exhaustion.

For more information: NTSB.gov/ntsb/brief2.asp?ev_id=20070626X00802&ntsbno=DFW07CA127&akey=1.

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