According to the airplane owner and airport records, the Cessna 210 was topped off at Llano Municipal Airport (KAQO) in Texas, with 46.8 gallons of 100 low lead fuel on March 8, 2020. The owner then flew to Midland Airport (MDD), about a two-hour flight. On March 28, he flew the airplane locally for 1.5 hours.
The next flight was April 28, 2020, when another pilot departed Midland Airpark with a passenger to fly to New Braunfels Regional Airport (KBAZ).
He told investigators that he performed the “standard” pre-flight checks, which included confirming the airplane had about 70 gallons of fuel based on three different factors.
He and the airplane owner discussed the amount of fuel in the airplane when it was flown last and the owner thought it was full.
During the preflight inspection, he noted that the fuel gauges were showing about 70 gallons available.
“Additionally, I visually inspected both tanks and saw that they were about even and while not completely full, they were close to full,” he told investigators.
When asked if he used a stick to verify the fuel level, he said, “I did not ‘stick’ the tanks. They appeared to visually match the gauges.”
To verify the level of fuel he said, “I used the step on the airplane that is there to stand on and look into the tanks.”
The flight cruised about 7,500 feet msl. The pilot started a descent to remain clear of the clouds and checked the weather at KBAZ. There were broken clouds below 3,900 feet with a ceiling of about 3,500 feet. When the pilot called the KBAZ air traffic control tower, he was advised that weather conditions required him to file an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan.
He filed a flight plan and discussed the approach type with an approach controller. The pilot elected an area navigation (RNAV) approach for Runway 17, was cleared to fly to a fix on the RNAV 17 approach, and was cleared to climb to 3,000 feet. The pilot programmed the RNAV 17 approach in the GPS and headed to the assigned fix.
During the climb, the pilot noticed that the airspeed was decreasing and the engine was not producing normal power. He performed an emergency checklist, and subsequently initiated a descent to an altitude where he could see the ground.
He continued with emergency checklists, which included selecting the fullest tank, and activating the auxiliary fuel pump. However, he was unable to increase engine power. The engine remained at 2,500 rpm.
Upon exiting the clouds, he reduced the airplane’s descent rate and evaluated forced landing options. He advised approach control of his decision to land in a field at the end of Canyon Lake. After he realized the flight would not reach the field, he decided to land on the lake with the landing gear intentionally retracted.
He picked a spot in the lake that was clear of boats and trees. Upon reaching a few feet above the water, he “killed the motor,” flared to bleed off speed, and kept the airplane’s nose up.
During the landing, the passenger hit his head on the yoke, sustaining injuries.
Both the pilot and passenger were able to get out of the plane through the window and swam to shore.
An FAA inspector oversaw the recovery of the airplane from the lake. Utilizing five-gallon containers, recovered liquid from one fuel tank filled about 2.5 inches of the bottom of one container and a liquid from the other fuel tank filled about 3.5 inches of the bottom of another container.
The airplane’s wings were removed, and the disassembled airplane was taken to a recovery yard. About 1/2 gallon of liquid consistent with water was recovered from each header fuel tank. No debris was observed on the fuel screen. The fuel manifold was disassembled, and no liquid was observed under its diaphragm.
When recovery personnel added fuel to the engine, it started and was operational during the test run.
Probable Cause: The pilot’s inadequate preflight inspection and fuel planning, which resulted in the loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion.
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This April 2020 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.