Fuel exhaustion brings down Cherokee

Aircraft: Piper Cherokee. Injuries: None. Location: San Angelo, Texas. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was on the second leg of a cross-country flight when the engine lost power.

He performed a forced landing in a field.

According to the FAA inspector who examined the airplane, the left fuel tank had 17 gallons of fuel and the right tank was empty.

The inspector confirmed that there were no mechanical anomalies or failures with the airplane, engine, or related systems prior to the accident.

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

NTSB Identification: CEN11CA376

This April 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. David Gaeddert says

    Further, “electric fuel pump on, switch tanks” is part of engine out training. Was mental/pharmacological state of accident pilot checked?

    • RudyH says

      Won’t happen until personal injury or post-mortem…..is why so many of these neglectful type incidents perpetuate….

  2. David Gaeddert says

    This student pilot has a few hours in a Piper Cherokee, PA-28. 17 gallons is “up to the tab”, an indication in a tank with 24 gal. useful. Due to low wing config, we need a fuel pump to lift fuel to engine, can only draw from one tank at a time. High wing Cessnas can use gravity feed, both tanks at once. Preflight check, and switching tanks every hour is SOP. Cherokee is heavy enough an inattentive person could miss the out of trim of 17 gal. on one side, 0 gal on the other. Procedures, checklists, just plain pay attention.

  3. larry maynard says

    I don’t know anything about Cherokees either. But wouldn’t you think that he would notice that one side is heavier and the aircraft needs trim/and or a switch to the other tank? I set the timer on my RV8A for thirty minutes per side. It only burns about 7.5 gallons an hour in hot weather. You can definitely tell it needs to be trimmed and/or tanks switched after a half an hour. This is one of those preventable accidents that just leaves you shaking your head in wonderment.

  4. Buford Suffridge says

    I don’t know anything about a Cherokee, but how about just leaving both tanks on as I do with my 182? One of the first items on the pre-flight check list is, “both tanks on.”

  5. John says

    Why cant plane builders put a simple alarm,to announce the plane is low on fuel,switch tanks.
    How easy would that be,simple….cuz people are. Stupid!!

  6. Randy Coller says

    Every one of these stupid fuel accidents costs the rest of us in increased insurance rates. The shame alone in running out of fuel or being too stupid to get it to the engine should be enough to keep anyone from running out of fuel.

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