Pilot selects wrong fuel tank

Aircraft: Cessna 210. Injuries: None. Location: Wolfe City, Texas. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot departed his private airstrip and was en route to a local airport to purchase fuel when the engine lost power.

While trying to restart the engine, he moved the fuel selector from the left wing tank to the right wing tank and activated the boost pump. He was unable to restart the engine and made a forced landing to a cow pasture.

The post-accident examination of the airplane revealed a quart of fuel was drained from the left wing tank and 16 gallons of fuel was drained from the right wing tank.

Probable cause: A total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation as a result of the pilot’s improper fuel management.

NTSB Identification: CEN12CA006

This October 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. says

    I used to fly two different 210’s and there was no “both” position for the wing tanks. This was because the excess fuel returned by the engine fuel pump had to go back to the tank from which it came, via a header tank in the floor for each main tank. These aircraft had fuel injection, which required more pressure than available in a gravity fed carbureted system.

    When one chose a tank the selector also connected the return line to the appropriate header tank. This also permitted any vapor to make its way back to the selected header tank and wing tank.

    It sounds as if this pilot may have run out of fuel in the left tank at an altitude too low to get the engine started again.

  2. Bluestar says

    Agree with John, although not familiar with the 210, if it has a selection for both why not use that. I don’t think uneven tanks trump safety, after all you aren’t flying a 737.

    • Tom says

      Wake up America. Not having the correct fuel selector setting is a SYMPTOM of a problem and not THE problem. The problem comes from not being a spiritual minded person and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to the inner man. What you say? Are we just “secular” beings armed only with a thorough check list or are we those that understand the shield of faith and the sword of the spirit? Those that are ill informed may never know how keeping the “main thing the main thing” will SAVE them when the chips are down and the Devil comes calling on the person unskilled in spiritual matters. The TRUTH will make you free. Blessings.

      • Bluestar says

        Hold on there Lucifer, check lists save lives, regardless of training and familiarity, anyone can miss an item.

      • Sarah A says

        All the Faith in the world is not going to save you if you have the fuel selector set to a tank with no fuel. It might provide you some comfort as you descend without power to a possible deadly crash landing. Still I will put my money on correct pilotage over faith.

        • Tom says

          Sarah. Sorry but you missed the point. Faith doesn’t get God to change the fuel selector and, by the way I use a check list every time but it’s not the check list that I use every time that “saves” me. It’s the “still small voice” inside of the born again believer that will guide the pilot to do the right thing if he/she is trained to listen to that voice. It’s the “edge” you don’t want to be without. Mumbo jumbo to those untrained in these matters. The Bible says that for those who are perishing the cross is foolishness but to us who ARE BEING SAVED it is the power of God. Check it out in 1 Corinthians 1:18. Go ahead and rely only on your human brains and wits and keep God out of the equation and you are setting yourself up for a fall because pride (trusting ONLY in yourself) comes before the fall. Proverbs 16:18

        • Bluestar says

          That’s right Sarah, Lots of Godly faithful have died flying planes, probably hearing little voices like Tom hears.

          • Sarah A says

            With that sort of attitude he would be little more then an accident looking for a place to happen. Blind faith that your Faith will keep you out of harm is a dangerous attitude. God gave them a brain and it is up to them if they use it. It sounds a bit like the old joke of the man stranded on his rooftop by a flood refusing help because “God Will Save Me”. In the end he dies and going before God asks “Wht did you not save me ?”. Gods response is “I sent you two boats and a helicopter but you turned them away”.

            That is enough about religion untill Sunday, lets get back to airplanes. The accident was caused by a careless pilot and the moral is to be sure how much fuel you have and where it is located. Also make sure you have enough fuel in the first place.

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