The private pilot and one passenger departed on the approximate 35-minute personal flight with an unknown quantity of fuel onboard the Cessna 172.
Later that evening, they departed to return to their home airport in night visual meteorological conditions without adding additional fuel during their stop.
While on final approach to their home airport in Gilmer, Texas, the engine lost total power and the plane hit trees and terrain. The pilot died in the crash.
The passenger stated that the engine did not sound any different during the accident flight than on any of the previous flights and that there was no indication of a problem with the airplane when the engine lost power.
Post-accident examination of the wreckage revealed no usable fuel within the airplane’s fuel system, and no mechanical anomalies that would have precluded normal operation. Therefore, it is likely that the airplane experienced a total loss of engine power as a result of fuel exhaustion.
While it is unknown what preflight fuel planning the pilot performed and the extent of his preflight inspection, it is apparent that both were inadequate. Had he performed both properly, he likely would not have run out of fuel.
Recorded GPS data showed that the pilot flew the traffic pattern 400-600′ lower than the recommended 1,000′ above airport elevation and turned to the base leg of the traffic pattern farther from the runway than recommended.
Had the pilot flown the traffic pattern at the recommended altitude and distance from the runway, it may have been possible for the airplane to glide to the runway following the loss of engine power.
Probable cause: The pilot’s inadequate preflight planning and inspection, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to maintain an appropriate traffic pattern altitude and distance from the runway, which may have allowed the airplane to glide to the runway following the loss of engine power.
NTSB Identification: CEN16FA083
This January 2016 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.