The pilot departed on a two-hour banner tow flight in the Cessna O1-A with 58 gallons of fuel. After one hour, he returned to the airport to pick up a different banner for the second hour of the flight.
The first pick-up attempt was unsuccessful. He then briefly circled the pick-up location and then completed the pick-up on the second attempt.
During the initial climb, the engine experienced a total loss of power. The pilot released the banner and conducted a forced landing to a saltwater bay in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Post-recovery examination of the fuel tanks revealed that the right main and auxiliary tanks were full of fuel and contained some saltwater. The left auxiliary tank was full of fuel and contained some saltwater, and the 18-gallon left main tank was empty and dry and contained no traces of either fuel or water.
The pilot reported that the entire flight was conducted on the left main fuel tank.
During a subsequent test run using the fuel that was onboard the airplane at the time of the accident, the engine operated with no anomalies or malfunctions.
Interpolation of fuel consumption chart data revealed that the engine could consume between 7 and 10 gallons per hour (gph) during cruise flight and, according to an engine manufacturer representative, it could consume up to 21 gph during a full-power climb.
According to the pilot, the engine power loss occurred during the fifth climbout of the flight. According to the Pilot’s Operating Handbook, the fuel selector should be placed on the fullest tank before descent.
Although the fuel selector was found in the right main tank position, the pilot did not recall switching the fuel selector to the right tank, and it is likely that he moved the fuel selector following the loss of engine power.
The NTSB determined the probable cause as the pilot’s improper in-flight fuel management, which resulted in fuel exhaustion in the selected tank and a subsequent loss of engine power due to fuel starvation.
NTSB Identification: ERA14LA167
This March 2014 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.