By AOPA ePublishing staff
Photo courtesy Mike Ewen/Tallahassee Democrat
Take a mountain pilot, move him to the low country, keep him flying close to the ground, throw in a substantial headwind, and limit refueling possibilities and you’ve got all the necessary ingredients for a fuel exhaustion accident.
That’s what happened to Colorado pilot Bill Hix when he flew his 1972 Cessna 177B to Florida on vacation. Hix, who says he is accustomed to flying at altitudes of 7,000 to 9,000 feet around his Colorado home, found himself flying around Florida on Feb. 27 at altitudes closer to 1,000 feet agl because of turbulence higher up. He also found himself facing an estimated 30-knot headwind.
“That combination of factors caused us to burn more fuel than ever before,” he explained during a telephone interview. “We ran out of fuel, but it wasn’t because we didn’t plan.”
Recognizing that he needed to refuel, Hix landed at Tallahassee Commercial Airport. “But when we got there we saw a ‘No Fuel’ sign and immediately took off again,” he said.
This time he headed for nearby Quincy Municipal Airport, but he didn’t make it, bringing the airplane to rest 40 feet above the ground in an oak tree.
“If that tree hadn’t been there we would have glided in without a problem,” Hix said, adding that he chose to land in the tree rather than risk trying to climb over it and stalling. “Where I fly, they teach you to fly the airplane until it stops moving, and that’s what I did.”
Hix broke his knee and wrist when he fell from the tree after climbing out of the airplane. His wife and a second passenger suffered only minor cuts and scrapes and were rescued from the tree by firefighters.
March 11, 2008
Fuel exhaustion incidents and accidents are among the most common faced by general aviation pilots. To learn more about how to avoid becoming a victim, take advantage of the many resources available from the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, including a Safety Advisor, Safety Hot Spot, and Pilot Safety Announcements on the topic. And be sure to test your knowledge with the Safety Quiz on Fuel Awareness.