Fuel starvation brings down 172

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According to the Cessna 172 pilot, she was conducting an aerial photography flight. She departed Laredo International Airport (KLRD), about 40 gallons of fuel, with the fuel selector valve selected for both fuel tanks.

During straight and level flight, she switched the fuel selector valve to the slower-burning tank, and then after about two hours she switched it back to both. She monitored the difference in consumption for the remainder of the flight, changing tanks as needed to keep it balanced. She added that based upon experience, she had fuel for about 5.5 hours of flight on full fuel tanks.

The airplane was at an altitude of 5,300 foot mean sea level when it began shaking and the engine rpm dropped to about 900. She recalled that she moved the fuel selector valve from one side to both and attempted to restore engine power by adjusting the fuel mixture control and the engine throttle control, with no improvement.

She pitched the nose of the airplane down for best glide speed and prepared for a forced landing to a gravel road near Aguilares, Texas. During the forced landing, the airplane bounced and veered off the road and into a field. As the nose landing gear came down, it stuck in the grass, and the airplane nosed over and came to rest inverted. Both wings and the fuselage were substantially damaged.

The first responders reported to the FAA inspector that immediately after the accident, fuel was leaking from the right fuel tank but not the left fuel tank. After the airplane was righted, about four gallons of fuel were recovered from the right fuel tank and the left fuel tank was empty. It is unknown how much fuel, if any, leaked out while the airplane was inverted.

According to the Cessna Pilot Operating Handbook for the Cessna 172P, the fuel tanks have a total capacity of 43 gallons of fuel, with three gallons of unusable fuel. It also noted under Cruise Performance that, if properly leaned, the fuel consumption is between 6.4 and 7.3 gallons of fuel per hour.

Probable Cause: The loss of engine power due to fuel starvation.

NTSB Identification: 98881

This January 2019 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.

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