Fuel selector mix up for Cessna

Aircraft: Cessna 140. Injuries: 1 Serious. Location: Burlington, Wis. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot took off with the fuel selector set to the right fuel tank, which was full of fuel.

About 30 minutes after departure, he made a touch-and-go landing at his destination airport. During the climb out when the airplane was about 100 feet above the runway, the engine lost power. The pilot entered a left turn and attempted to land on an adjacent grass runway, but the airplane came down short of the runway.

The post-accident examination revealed that the left fuel tank was empty and the right fuel tank was full. Examination of the airplane’s fuel selector revealed that the fuel selector indicator handle was improperly installed. When the fuel selector indicator handle was placed in the right fuel tank position, the fuel was actually coming from the left fuel tank.

There was no record in the airplane’s maintenance logbook that indicated replacement of the fuel selector valve, the fuel selector indicator handle, or the fuel selector placard.

A flying club purchased the airplane from a private owner. The private owner reported that he bought the airplane in 1990. The fuel placard that came with the airplane at that time did not comply with the placard found in the airplane’s operations manual.

The previous owner reported that when he was preparing to sell the airplane to the flying club, he decided to make a fuel selector placard that was identical to the one found in the operations manual. He reported that he made the placard and provided it to the mechanic of the flying club so that the mechanic could install it. However, the mechanic at the flying club reported that he did not install the fuel selector placard, and that the previous owner had installed it prior to the airplane being purchased.

Investigators were not able to determine who performed the maintenance on the fuel selector and had improperly installed the fuel selector indicator handle.

Probable cause: The improper installation of the fuel selector indicator handle, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation.

NTSB Identification: CEN11LA448

This June 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. peter says

    what should have happened is the aircraft maintenance crew should’ve checked the plane thoroughly to make sure it was all ok.

    the pilot of the plane should have visually verified which tank had the least fuel and done his run ups on the fullest tank.

    the pilot was not supposed to try to land back on the runway as the load factor of the aircraft would have increased and therefore his stall speed would also increase… he should have chosen a field 30 degrees of either side of the nose and landed at that field.

  2. says

    Wow! Clearly, this one could be difficult to verify for someone who doesn’t know the plane intimately. I wonder if the pilot actually verified the fuel levels visually. Based on the reported fuel selector position, it looks like he did.

    The larger problem here is the lack of detailed inspection of the aircraft by the club mechanics, before commissioning it for flight by its members.

    • peter says

      its a combined fault of the engineers and the pilot but either way the pilot should have don’t his C F MOST checks
      C= carb heat on
      F= fuel selector and fuel pump
      M= Mixture
      O=Objects tied and secure
      S= switches and seatbelts
      T= terrain around you.
      I guarantee that if he had followed that he would have regain power…

  3. Bob McBride says

    That’s an odd one. I guess when you have a “new” plane you need to be extra careful and put some fuel in all tanks, take a test flight, switch tanks and monitor fuel gauges and engine performance at a safe altitude.
    Another case of an accident that the always learning pilot can benefit from. Thanks.

  4. Rich says

    What a blunder.

    Not that it matters as far as the mislabeling is concerned but I wonder why the selector wasn’t on Both?

    Of course “both” may actually have been “off” but at least the incorrect positioning might have been detected and corrected way before this incident.

  5. John Jardine says

    This is scary. I guess in an abundance of caution, one cannot trust the valve indicator and needs to monitor the fuel level indicators in order to confidently have a handle on fuel management. Maybe more accurately: a prudent pilot needs to cross-check all indicators in order to determine whether one is not operating correctly.

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