This May 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: Cessna 182. Injuries: 1 Minor. Location: Puyallup, Wash. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The airplane had just undergone maintenance, including replacement of the fuel-sending units, which required draining of the fuel tanks. The pilot was under the impression that the mechanic had added 20 gallons of fuel to both main tanks after the task was completed so he did not physically check the fuel level in the tanks, but noted that both fuel gauges indicated the same amount of fuel prior to flight. The pilot took off. The engine lost power when the airplane was about 500 feet above ground level.
The pilot started a steep 180° turn with the intention of landing on the taxiway parallel to the runway. However, local law enforcement was conducting an exercise on the field, and when they responded to the perceived emergency they drove down the taxiway. The pilot opted not to land on the taxiway but was running out of altitude and options. He decided the grass area between the taxiway and runway was too soft to use for landing because of recent rainfall. Next to the airport is a port-a-potty maintenance and storage facility. The pilot chose to fly the airplane into a 50-foot-square block of the plastic port-a-potty units, which had a pile of wood chips behind them. As the airplane settled, it nosed over, and came to rest in the wood chip pile.
By the time the FAA inspector arrived on the scene the airplane had been moved to a hangar. The inspector noted that maintenance personnel drained no fuel from the left tank and 20 gallons from the right tank. The left wing was intact. The right wing was damaged. The fuel selector was in the OFF position.
On a follow-up exam, investigators added five gallons of fuel to the left wing tank. The engine started immediately without hesitation. It accelerated smoothly to 1,800 rpm, and a magneto check revealed no anomalies. The engine was decelerated to idle rpm, the engine ran smoothly, and shutdown was unremarkable. The airplane had a recording engine data management unit installed. Data indicated that fuel flow dropped to 0 six seconds prior to a loss of rpm.
Probable cause: A loss of engine power due to fuel starvation as a result of the pilot’s failure to verify the fuel levels in the tanks, and, his failure to select the proper fuel tank.
For more information: NTSB.gov