Fuel starvation leads to fatal accident

This October 2010 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: Beech A35. Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious. Location: Blue Diamond, Nev. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The accident happened during a cross-country flight. The pilot flew the airplane about 1.5 hours with the right fuel tank selected. When the engine lost power, she switched the fuel selector to the left tank, then tried the auxiliary fuel tank positions in an attempt to restart the engine. The engine did not restart. The pilot made a forced landing on a highway. During the landing roll the plane hit a dirt embankment and veered to the right as the landing gear collapsed.

None of the fuel tanks were damaged in the accident. The right fuel tank was empty and the left tank was almost completely full. It could not be determined whether there was fuel in the auxiliary tank. After the accident, the fuel selector was found selected to the right tank position. Examination of the fuel selector confirmed that the selector switch operated normally, however, the “fuel selector not engaged” light was not functioning.

The pilot should have switched tanks earlier in the flight and did not properly manage the airplane’s fuel consumption. Although the fuel selector was found in the right tank position, it could not be determined whether the pilot placed the selector in that position or if the fuel selector was not engaged when she moved it to the left and auxiliary fuel positions. Under either circumstance, the engine was starved of fuel, which resulted in a loss of engine power.

Probable cause: The pilot’s improper fuel management, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation.

For more information: NTSB.gov. NTSB Identification: WPR11LA004

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