Student runs out of fuel

Aircraft: Cessna 120. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Cordele, Ga. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The student pilot was endorsed for solo flight in Cessna 120 and Cessna 150 aircraft. He also had an endorsement to make repeated solo cross-country flights.

Review of the pilot’s personal flight log revealed that between Feb. 23, 2009, and the date of the accident, the pilot logged 109.7 hours, including 104.3 hours in the Cessna 120.

A lineman employed by the FBO stated he fueled the Cessna 120 with 16.3 gallons of fuel two days before the accident. On the morning of the accident, the lineman briefly spoke with the pilot. The pilot said he did not need fuel, and that he planned to refuel later.

The lineman later saw the pilot performing touch and go landings and asked him again via radio if he required fuel, to which the pilot replied that he would do it later. The airplane was not refueled before the accident flight.

A witness saw the Cessna 120 take off and climb on the runway heading. Two additional witnesses heard the takeoff and climb, then the sound of impact. The airplane crashed a half a mile from the departure end of the runway.

An examination of the wreckage revealed signatures consistent with the engine not developing power at impact. There was no evidence of any pre-impact mechanical malfunctions or failures.

Additionally, no evidence of fuel or fuel spillage was observed at the accident scene or within any of the disassembled airframe or engine components.

According to the pilot’s personal flight logs, he had flown the airplane for 2.3 hours since the last refueling and before departing on the accident flight. With a full fuel load, the airplane had an estimated fuel endurance in cruise flight of between 3.6 and 7.8 hours, depending on engine power setting. The exact duration of the accident flight could not be determined, however, based on witness statements, it was likely longer than 0.5 hours.

Probable cause: The pilot’s inadequate fuel planning, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion.

NTSB Identification: ERA11LA503

This September 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.


    • Bluestar says

      I can’t entirely agree with that statement. You can get in a situation beyond your control. All the planning doesn’t guarantee success, it only increases a possible successful outcome. You still need common sense to control the situation’s best chance for survival

    • BJS says

      My rule for fuel management is simple. I never pass a gas pump without topping off the tanks. It doesn’t matter if my last flight was ten minutes.

      Also the answer to his not having his ticket at 109.7 hours might be similar to mine. I had 140 hours at my check ride because my CFI was at times not available for as much as two months.

  1. Greg Ellis says

    The article mentions that this was a student pilot. He had 109.7 hours and was still a student pilot? Money was probably not an issue because he was apparently putting a lot of hours on the airplane which is not cheap. So I wonder what was preventing completion of his license….

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