This January 2009 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.
Aircraft: Ryan Navion. Injuries: None. Location: Three Forks, Mont. Aircraft damage: Substantial.
What reportedly happened: Prior to departure the pilot noted that both wing tip tanks were full of fuel and that the main tank was at least 2/3 full. He determined that he had adequate fuel for the flight. After takeoff, he repositioned the fuel selector to draw fuel from the right tip tank, and later, while en route, switched the fuel selector to the left tip tank. As the plane approached the airport, the pilot became distracted while talking with a passenger. He did not follow the pre-landing checklist and failed to reposition the fuel selector to the main tank. When the airplane was about 2.5 miles from the airport, the engine lost all power. The pilot repositioned the fuel selector to draw fuel from the main tank in an effort to restart the engine, but was unsuccessful. The pilot made an off-airport landing in rough terrain.
Probable cause: A total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation as a result of the pilot’s inadequate fuel system management. Contributing to the accident were the pilot’s diverted attention and failure to perform the pre-landing checklist.
For more information: NTSB.gov