Fuel valve failure contributes to fatal crash

Aircraft: Beech A23. Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Minor. Location: Laytonsville, Md. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot, accompanied by a flight instructor, was practicing takeoffs and landings. The first two went well. Before the third takeoff, the pilot verified that the flaps were retracted for takeoff and that the fuel selector valve was positioned on the left fuel tank.

He applied power and released the brakes. As the airplane rolled down the runway, it lifted off, then settled back onto the runway. The pilot noted that the airplane was not performing as well as on the previous takeoffs. The airplane eventually became airborne, but did not climb normally.

The pilot veered to the right in an attempt to avoid trees at the end of the runway. The flight instructor took the flight controls as the right turn became steeper and the airplane began to descend. According to a witness, the airplane entered a spin before hitting the ground.

The post-accident examination of the fuel selector revealed it was in a mid-range position, with neither the left or right tank selected. When the fuel selector was placed to the center position, similar to where it was found after the accident, fuel would not flow through the fuel selector.

It is likely the pilot did not turn the fuel selector completely so that it was not locked in the detent, which restricted fuel flow and resulted in a loss of engine power. In addition, the main fuel line and the return fuel line were removed and there was no fuel present.

An engine teardown was performed and the fuel manifold was disassembled. Dry rot was noted on the manifold diaphragm and it was leaking. Investigators determined that the leak might have reduced fuel consumption, but not a significant amount. It is likely that, because of the loss of engine power, the airplane would not have been able to adequately climb above the trees off the end of the runway.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to ensure that the fuel selector handle was correctly positioned, which resulted in an interruption of fuel to the engine and a loss of engine power during the takeoff, which necessitated a turn away from the trees at the end of the runway and the subsequent stall.

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA458

This July 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. Ron Reynolds says

    These fuel levers have always been a problem. I would think a simple modification to create a lift or push and turn lever that is gated so it will not drop into place unless it is in the correct positions. If the pilot said the plane was performing poorly, why did the instructor allow the takeoff to continue? When the plane settled back on the runway, pull the power and stop. Better to run off the runway than spin it in. Discretion is the better part of valor.

    • Sarah A says

      One rule of thumb is that if the aircraft is not performing well on the ground it is not likely to perform any better in the air. Like you said if the aircraft appeared to be performing poorly than that was the time to abort and at the very least taxi back for a run-up before attempting flight again. Unless they were running out of runway, and I doubt it, then the abort was the only safe and sane course of action but they seemed to be in a mindset that once they started the takeoff they were going to follow through to the end, whatever that might be. Too many of these accidents seem to be caused by a pilot who locks themself into a course of action when there are indications clear indications that a change is needed, That is one for the Psych’s to figure out I guess.

      • Local airport rat says

        Yes, there were running out of runway. Check your sectional, the Laytonsville,MD airport is 2,000′ long.

        Unless you are in a C-150 by yourself touching down on the numbers it is always a full-stop-taxi-back at this field.

  2. Dennis Reiley says

    You would think that after more than a century of using fuel selection switches that someone would come up with a design of a positive left/right with no possibility of it being in a neutral or off position.

    • RudyH says

      ..as in a detent that would lock in the selected position. Did the same thing with Piper Arrow with selector stopped midway between positions…engine stopped during taxi.

  3. drew says

    looks like another case of blame the pilot rather than the worn out fuel pump diaphram

    perhaps the fuel selector was fiddled with during the emergency ( as trained) not the cause of it

  4. Dale Rust says

    What am I missing here …?? “the first two (T.O.’s & ldgs) went well” … I must assume that the student (pilot) “fiddled” with the fuel selector, i.e., went through the motions, like he/she was attempting to impress the instructor on supposed thoroughness of the presumed checklist, and “over fiddled” with the fuel selector, when, in fact, if the first two “went well”, why fiddle?? One must assume that if the first two went well, the selector was initially correctly positioned.

    • Sarah A says

      I would imagine that the Yakeoff Checklist had an item to “Select the Fullest Tank” and that is exactly what they did. After the usual startup, taxi and then two circuits of T/O and Landings it was probably time to switch to keep the load balanced. You can’t leave the selector on the Right tank forever and expect all to go well.

      • Paul says

        I don’t care what the checklist says, why mess around with a fuel selector during a touch and go when things are generally hectic anyway requiring mostly heads up and eyes out for the sake of directional control while on the runway scanning inside only briefly enough to check airspeed and possibly engine parameters and the tach.

        There are do-lists and checklists. In this scenario, the fuel selector is a do-list item. If it’s so urgent to change it over while rolling on the runway during a touch and go, then make a full stop, taxi back and change the fuel selector before taking off again.

        Making the fuel selector a checklist item with it being felt for rather than going heads down to observe it while continuing a touch and go is a perfect setup to screw it up which is exactly what happened. The fuel selector has to be directly observed, not just felt for, to ensure it is properly selected to prevent it from being incorrectly positioned and risking shutting off the flow of fuel.

        • Sarah A says

          If you read closly the narrative says “He applied power and released the brakes”. That and other details indicate that they were doing full stop taxi back procedures rather that Touch and Go. Yes I would agree if they were in the midst of a Touch and Go the last thing to be concerned with is the fuel selector valve position as there is a significant time factor that must be considered in task priority on most GA runways.

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