Fuel exhaustion brings down Pacer

Aircraft: Piper Pacer. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Elgin, S.C. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was on a cross-country flight. While en route, a witness observed an airplane flying at a slow airspeed between 200 and 300 feet above the ground, and noted that the engine was revving up and down as if it was running out of fuel. The nose pitched up, then the airplane went down behind a line of trees where it crashed and exploded in flames.

The post-accident examination revealed the fuel selector was on the right main tank and the tank was out of fuel.

The airplane had two 18-gallon fuel tanks with a total capacity of 36 gallons. The cruise airspeed for the airplane is 126 mph. The straight-line distance from the departure airport to the crash site is 607 miles. According to the engine-operating manual, the engine will burn 7.2 gallons of fuel per hour at 75% power and 6.3 gallons of fuel per hour at 65% power. In a no wind condition at 75% power, it would take four hours and 50 minutes to fly from the departure airport to the accident site. At 65% power it would take five hours and 33 minutes to fly to the accident site. Based on a straight line, no wind, and non-maneuvering flight profile, available fuel range would be about 523 nautical miles. These calculations do not account for fuel consumed during the start, taxi, and take off sequence. The pilot exceeded the fuel endurance, and the engine lost power. Also, the high-pitch attitude of the airplane observed by the witness could have resulted in the stall.

Probable cause: A total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion resulting from the pilot’s inadequate preflight planning. Contributing to the accident was that the pilot did not maintain an adequate airspeed, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall.

NTSB Identification: ERA11FA210

This March 2011 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.


  1. Buford Suffridge says

    As for the fire, I don’t know anything about the tanks on a Piper Pacer, but would guess his “usuable” fuel was gone. My Cessna 182 holds 92 gallons but only 88 are usuable, leaving 4 gallons which would, Heaven forbid, be plenty to cause an explosion.

  2. Randy Coller says

    1. I was on Naproxen for a while before hip replacement. No effects except for reducing pain. Did not affect mental capacity in any way.
    2. Pilots need to stop running out of fuel. Every pilot should adopt a personal minimum for fuel and adhere to it.
    3. If a pilot runs out of fuel in flight they should either voluntarily give up their certificate because they are too stupid to fly or have their certificates permanently revoked by the FAA.

  3. Jeff says

    Naproxen is an anti inflammatory sold over the counter as in Alieve and used as a pain reliever particularly in those with sore joints. So what is the big deal? He ran out of fuel, wasn’t drugged up!

    • RudyH says

      We just don’t know…post-mortems don’t have the pilots ‘mind events/condition recorded’ when there are mind-altering substances with known side effects involved. That’s why I bring this forward. Othere that I would hope the stuff is OK for the majority of aviators under the influence of it while in flight.

    • Lee Ensminger says

      I, too, wondered about that. If the fuel was exhausted, how could it “explode in flames?” Did it crash into a car with a full gas tank? Hit a propane tank? The bottom line, though, is there was no way he was going to complete that flight on one tank of fuel!

  4. RudyH says

    Another pilot with Naproxen detected in the post-mortem…..see Mar 13th, C-150 student pilot blows it big time, also Naproxen in the post-mortem. Time for the AME’s to track this chemical for side effect trends…..

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