Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Fuel Starvation: Cessna 172M Skyhawk, N92036; accident occurred May 15, 2020 in Colchester, McDonough County, Illinois

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Springfield, Illinois

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf


Location: Colchester, IL
Accident Number: CEN20CA181
Date & Time: 05/15/2020, 1630 CDT
Aircraft: Cessna 172
Aircraft Damage:Substantial 
Defining Event: Fuel starvation
Injuries: 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

The private pilot reported that he checked the fuel tanks prior to takeoff. It was dark in the hangar where he used a wire to check the fuel level in the tanks. He was not wearing his glasses and he thought he had "an inch or so" of fuel. The pilot thought that was enough fuel and departed on a cross country flight where he flew the airplane towards a local lake. During the flight, the engine "sputtered" and lost power. The pilot turned towards the destination airport but lost airspeed, so he lowered the airplane's nose and did a forced landing impacting trees below. A postaccident examination revealed that the airplane sustained substantial empennage, fuselage, and wing damage. The fuel tanks were empty and there was no fuel odor anywhere at the scene. The emergency locator transmitter (ELT) battery was recently replaced. However, at the time of the crash, the ELT switch was in the OFF position. The pilot reported that there was no mechanical malfunction/failure of the airplane during the flight. 

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 73, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s):None 
Restraint Used:
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present:No 
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: BasicMed
Last FAA Medical Exam: 08/19/2018
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 08/01/2018
Flight Time: (Estimated) 942 hours (Total, all aircraft), 942 hours (Total, this make and model), 5 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 5 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft) 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna
Registration: N92036
Model/Series:172 M 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture:1973 
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate:Normal 
Serial Number: 17261541
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 07/03/2019, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2300 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 3948 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer:Lycoming 
ELT: C91 installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: O-320-E2D
Registered Owner:On file 
Rated Power: 150 hp
Operator:On file 
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KMQB, 707 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 8 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 1635 CDT
Direction from Accident Site: 57°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Scattered / 3400 ft agl
Visibility:  10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling:
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 3 knots /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: Unknown / Unknown
Wind Direction: 360°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 29.97 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 23°C / 14°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Colusa, IL (IL84)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Macomb, IL (MQB)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1545 CDT
Type of Airspace: Class G

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Serious
Latitude, Longitude: 40.451111, -90.790833 (est)

COLCHESTER — Around 4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 15th, 75-year-old James Nixon made an emergency crash landing at Argyle Lake State Park after his Cessna 172M Skyhawk ran out of fuel.

The pilot sustained minor injuries after the plane became stuck in the treetops roughly a mile from the nearest roadway, according to a press release from McDonough County Sheriff Nick Petitgout.

Nixon, from Dallas City, Illinois, placed a call to emergency services at 4:30 p.m., at which point agencies from all across the county converged on the park. Entrances were blocked by 5 p.m., and firetrucks were seen relocating to a rendezvous point at the northernmost edge of the park along North 1300th Road around 5:30 p.m.

An AirEvac helicopter with Lifeteam 144 was spotted flying over the park for more than half an hour, reportedly attempting a rope rescue, according to a Facebook post from the Illinois Central Fire Society. Petitgout said Nixon was eventually rescued from the tree and treated for minor injuries.

Involved in the rescue were members of the Colchester Fire Department, McDonough County Sheriff’s Department, Illinois State Police, Illinois Conservation Police, Emmet Chalmers Fire Protection District, and the Blandinsville Fire Department.



  1. Sometimes you luck out and the bendy treetops do the catching and holding without a branch hitting anyone inside the cabin. Much better than a spin into dirt.

  2. I guess it's true ... better to be lucky at flying than be good at flying.