Failure to check fuel leads to fuel exhaustion

This March 2009 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 210. Injuries: 2 Serious. Location: Madera, Calif. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was entering the traffic pattern at his home airport. He switched to the left tank. As he continued in the pattern he asked his pilot-rated passenger if he would like to make a landing for currency. When the passenger said yes, the pilot changed his planned full-stop landing to a touch-and-go. The touch-an-go was normal, but during the initial climb, the engine lost all power and the pilot executed a forced landing into a vineyard.

The investigation confirmed that both fuel tanks were empty at the time of the forced landing. It was further determined that the fuel tank dip tube that the pilot used to determine fuel levels prior to a flight earlier that day was not specifically designed for, or calibrated to, the Cessna 210. The investigation also determined that the pilot did not check the fuel quantity of the left tank when he switched to it upon entering the pattern, and that he switched to that tank only because after a previous momentary fuel flow interruption from the right tank, the owner had made switching to the left tank in the pattern a standard procedure for this airplane regardless of the fuel quantities in each tank.

Probable cause: A total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion as a result of the pilot’s failure to properly monitor the airplane’s fuel quantity and to correctly ascertain the fuel on board prior to takeoff.

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