Poor fuel management leads to off-airport landing

Aircraft: Cessna 210. Injuries: 2 Minor. Location: Fowler’s Bluff, Fla. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: According to the pilot, the airplane was in cruise flight at an altitude of about 3,000 feet AGL when the engine lost all power.

Attempts to restart the engine were unsuccessful and he made a forced landing.

The subsequent examination revealed that the right main fuel tank was empty and the left main fuel tank contained about 25 gallons of fuel. The fuel selector valve in the cockpit was found in the “OFF” position. It was not possible to determine which fuel tank was selected when the engine lost power.

Investigators determined that because the right tank had no fuel, it is likely that the fuel selector valve was selected to the right fuel tank, which resulted in all of the fuel in the right wing fuel tank being consumed and the subsequent total loss of engine power.

Investigators determined that following the loss of engine power, even if the pilot had selected the left fuel wing tank, due to the airplane’s proximity to the ground, the fuel likely did not have time to reach the engine for an engine restart.

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

NTSB Identification: ERA12LA306

This April 2012 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. Robert Call says:

    The 182J that I used to fly would burn fuel more quickly from the left tank than the right, eventually resulting in a fuel imbalance. I would use the “both” selection for taxi, take-off and climb and then switch tanks every 30 minutes enroute. Not sure about the design of the fuel system in the 210.

  2. Lee Ensminger says:

    BJS, my former Cessna 172 and my current Cessna 182 both have the ability to draw from both wings at the same time. I’ve never flown a 210, but I’ll bet it does as well. In a Cessna, I don’t know why you would ever select anything but “both,” or “off.” I’m sure there’s a reason somewhere, but I don’t know it.

  3. Is there a reason why airplanes with two tanks are constructed so that both can’t be on at the same time? Not having that ability seems to add one more dimension to an accident waiting to happen. I’m not an engineer, but it stands to reason that taking fuel from both tanks simultaneously would also maintain better balance as well as removing this factor for possible fuel starvation. There is enough to keep with as it is while flying an airplane so it seems ridiculous for manufactures to add another chore to flying?

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