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Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

Almost, but not quite

Fuel mismanagement accidents are occurring at a rate of more than three per week. This accident underscores the need for proper preflight planning plus the ability to evaluate fuel consumption in flight.

On February 28, 2004, a Cessna T210M was substantially damaged during a forced landing following a loss of engine power near Grape Creek, Texas. Visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed, while an IFR flight plan was filed for the 580-nautical-mile business trip. The flight originated from Greeley, Colorado, and was destined for the San Angelo Regional Airport, near San Angelo, Texas.

Approaching San Angelo, the pilot notified air traffic control that he was critically low on fuel and requested a straight-in approach. The pilot was then vectored for a surveillance approach, and cleared to descend to an altitude of 4,300 feet msl. Nine minutes after reporting critical fuel, the pilot radioed that the engine was "quitting" and said, "We're out of gas...we're out of gas."

The pilot descended in instrument meteorological conditions until he reached an approximate altitude of 3,000 feet msl (about 1,100 feet above ground level). The controller informed the pilot that there was a highway approximately three nautical miles south of his position and ranches in the vicinity.

Once the pilot broke out of the clouds and saw the ground, he turned the airplane into the wind and landed in a partially obstructed field. Upon landing, the airplane struck several mesquite trees.

Examination of the airplane revealed that the right fuel tank contained approximately one cup of fuel, and no fuel was in the left. Both the left and right fuel caps were secure and intact.

The pilot reported that he had completed a preflight and checked all fuel tanks to make sure they were full before departing. The NTSB report did not contain any information regarding whether the pilot completed any fuel calculations prior to departure. When he was approximately 20 miles northeast of the San Angelo Airport, at 11,000 feet msl, the engine stopped producing power.

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's improper in-flight planning, which resulted in a loss of engine power caused by fuel exhaustion. At the time of the accident, the pilot had accumulated more than 6,500 hours of flight experience.

Fuel exhaustion is easily preventable, yet in 2004, more than 136 accidents resulted from poor fuel management. Calculating endurance before the flight and double-checking it in the air is imperative, especially during a long cross-country. If you are unsure about how much fuel is left, land and refuel.

For more information about fuel management, download the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Fuel Awareness Safety Advisor.

Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kristen Hummel

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