The commercial-rated pilot and passenger — who owned the airplane — were conducting a cross-country business flight. Several witnesses reported seeing the Beech G35 overhead.
One witness stated that the engine made a “sputtering” sound like it was running out of gas. She stated the airplane was flying north and then turned west when it began to “nose dive” out of sight.
A review of the radar data revealed that the airplane approached the destination airport from the southeast and proceeded north, tracking above the runway about 400 feet above ground level (agl).
The airplane then climbed to 900 feet agl and continued northbound. About eight miles north of the destination airport, the airplane was about 1,100 feet agl and then entered a left turn and descended.
The last radar point showed the airplane on a southwest heading and about 350 feet agl.
The airplane hit the ground with its left wing low, cartwheeled to the right, and came to rest upright in a harvested corn field in Eaton, Colorado. The main wreckage was found about 460 feet southwest of the last radar point. Both men died in the crash.
According to investigators, the airplane likely encountered low-level wind shear and clear air turbulence and a wind shift that switched from a gusting headwind to a gusting tailwind in a short amount of time.
The right main fuel tank, which the selector valve indicated was selected at the time of the accident, was found empty and was not breached. The engine carburetor did not contain any fuel.
The pilot reported that the main tanks were full and the tip tanks were empty, so it is likely that the airplane contained 60 gallons of fuel before departure. The radar data revealed that the accident flight was 3 hours and 16 and minutes long. The engine would have consumed about 40 gallons of fuel from initial taxi to the accident site. This should have left about 20 gallons remaining in the tanks, which would have been enough to fly to the destination airport in addition to reserve fuel.
The G35 was equipped with a single fuel quantity indicator gauge for the six fuel tanks; only one tank could be monitored at any given time. Switches on the instrument panel allowed the pilot to select which tank to monitor on the gauge.
The pilot and airplane’s new owner had limited experience in the airplane and with the airplane fuel indicating system, so they likely had the fuel indicator selected to another fuel tank and did not appropriately monitor the level of fuel in the right main tank, which was selected to feed the engine.
Based on witness statements and the evidence obtained on-scene, it is likely that the engine was starved of available fuel. Once engine power was lost, the pilot then failed to maintain control of the airplane while flying in gusting wind and low-level wind shear conditions.
Probable cause: The pilot’s loss of airplane control in gusting wind conditions and low-level wind shear, following a loss of engine power due to fuel starvation. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to properly monitor the fuel level inflight because of his unfamiliarity with the fuel system.
NTSB Identification: CEN16FA011
This October 2015 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.
The absolute one thing with which a pilot should be thoroughly familiar before leaving terra firma in an airplane is its fuel system. Without that thorough knowledge he/she will as did this pilot risk the likelihood of returning to earth for an unscheduled landing with the possibility of it being fatal. Who in their right mind would gamble with their life that somehow everything will work out for the best but people do it all the time without a second thought. GA accident statistics are testimony to that fact.
Stu Brown says
The fuel system in this airplane requires the first 45 minutes of flight use fuel from the left main tank. The pressure carburetor returns about 3 gallons per hour to the left main, regardless of where the fuel selector is set. With all tanks full, fuel drawn from any other tank will be pumped overboard. It’s very easy to run this airplane out of gas.