Lack of oil kills engine

Aircraft: Cessna 152. Injuries: None. Location: Miami, Fla. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The student and flight instructor reported that, during their preflight inspection, 4.5 quarts of oil was in the engine sump and the fuel tanks were full. Another quart of oil was added to the engine before takeoff.

About 1 hour 40 minutes into the flight, the engine began to run rough, then quit. Attempts to restart it were unsuccessful. The flight instructor took the controls for a forced landing in a field. The airplane nosed over on touchdown.

During the recovery of the wreckage, the fuel tanks were drained, and each tank contained about one quart of fuel. There was no oil or fuel on the ground under the wreckage. The oil dipstick showed no oil on the stick. About 1-1/3 quarts of oil were drained from the engine. According to the engine manufacturer, the minimum safe quantity of oil in the sump is two quarts.

Examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of an oil leak anywhere on the engine or airframe. The engine showed evidence of seizure due to a lack of lubrication. The engine oil and filter were reportedly changed during a 100-hour inspection that occurred three days before the accident. Investigators stated that although the crew reported that they departed with sufficient oil and fuel, the physical evidence did not support that assertion.

Probable cause: The pilots’ operation of the airplane with an insufficient supply of engine oil, resulting in engine seizure and total loss of engine power.

NTSB Identification: ERA12LA405

This June 2012 accident report is are 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. John says

    According to the NTSB Factual report, “No oil or oil residue was observed on the engine firewall, engine, or cowling. The engine propeller could not be turned. While in conversation with the operator’s lead mechanic (who was present in the recovery of the aircraft), the FAA inspector was informed that the oil temperature line for the engine was removed after the accident and installed on another engine to test for leaks. The mechanic stated that the oil temperature line leaked when installed on the other aircraft. The FAA inspector had not been provided release of the wreckage from the NTSB and was unaware, nor present when the test had been performed. She informed the lead mechanic the NTSB had not given permission to the operator to remove or test any oil lines.”

    So, how could there NOT be oil inside the engine compartment and cowl if there was oil in the engine at the time of the pre-flight AND an oil line leaked all over a gallon of oil in slightly more than an hour of flight? The competence of the CFI is in question from the nearly empty fuel tanks and the obviously sketchy pre-flight of fuel/oil status. Ditto for the mechanic for cleaning up the engine compartment and destroying/altering evidence necessary to determine the cause of the accident. I hope the student got a “good” price for both aircraft rental and instruction.

  2. Tom says

    Who ever said that “Kick the tire and light the fire” knew what she/he was talking about? This is amazing that either a student or instructor would have taken the runway with no fuel or oil. Absolutely amazing. Obviously the AME should have caught this mental discrepancy during the last 3rd class medical “examination”. “Yes, doctor I always check my liquids before takeoff” would be passing and “What liquids doctor?” would fail the examination. This liquid test could be just after the liquid urine sample is taken – oil brown – fuel blue – urine yellow or something similar would be beneficial.

    On a more serious note, could we just dispense with this ADS-B(“S”) thing and while you’re at it a little mogas at every airport would help. Thanks.

  3. richard says

    Even if it had oil, with only 2 qts. of fuel, that engine wasn’t going to run much longer anyway.

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