Monday, August 31, 2020

Fuel Exhaustion: Cessna 150H, N7152S; fatal accident occurred September 20, 2018 near Festus Memorial Airport (KFES), Jefferson County, Missouri

Michael Gunnar Metzger

Jacob Alexander Metzger


The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; St. Louis; St. Ann, Missouri
Textron Aviation; Wichita, Kansas
Continental Motors; Mobile, Alabama

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Festus, MO
Accident Number: CEN18FA384
Date & Time: 09/20/2018, 2230 CDT
Registration: N7152S
Aircraft: Cessna 150
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Fuel exhaustion
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On September 20, 2018, about 2230 central daylight time, a Cessna 150H, N7152S, sustained substantial damage when it was involved in an accident near Festus, Missouri. The pilot and passenger sustained fatal injuries. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

The pilot and his son were relocating the airplane from New York to Festus Memorial Airport (FES), Festus, Missouri. Fuel receipts showed that the pilot refueled the airplane three times during the trip. The first stop was Chautauqua County/Dunkirk Airport (DKK), Dunkirk, New York, about 19 miles from the departure airport, where the pilot obtained 13.4 gallons of fuel. The second refueling stop was about 226 miles away, at Knox County Airport (4I3), Mount Vernon, Ohio, where the airplane was fueled with 16.56 gallons. The third refueling stop was about 174 miles away at Greensburg Municipal Airport (I34), Greensburg, Indiana, where the airplane was fueled with 13.62 gallons at 1906. The distance from I34 to FES was about 275 miles.

The pilot and passenger communicated with the pilot's fiancée via text message during the trip. They told her that the airplane was experiencing a "small electrical problem" and stated that their estimated time of arrival (ETA) would be determined "at the next fuel stop… just before dark." After their fuel stop at I34 they estimated their ETA at FES would be about 2215. They then asked her to stand on the end of the runway with a flashlight to help guide the airplane in for landing.

They also stated that they would attempt to activate the airport lighting system with a handheld radio, but they were unsure if the radio had enough battery power to perform the task. During the last leg of the flight, they indicated that they had "picked up a head wind" and further extended their ETA until 2220.

The pilot's fiancée reported that she went to the end of the runway with the flashlight on, and the pilot attempted to land, but she was unsure if the airplane touched down on the runway due to the dark night conditions. She further reported that the airplane was "blacked out" and did not have any exterior lights on.

The last text message from the pilot stated, "keep light on." After several minutes of not seeing or hearing the airplane, she tried contacting the pilot multiple times with no response before contacting law enforcement. The wreckage was located the following morning in a tree-covered swamp about 1/4 mile southeast of the departure end of runway 19. 

Pilot Information

Certificate: Airline Transport; Commercial
Age: 56, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Multi-engine Land; Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): Helicopter
Restraint Used:
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane; Helicopter
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 2 Waiver Time Limited Special
Last FAA Medical Exam: 04/26/2018
Occupational Pilot: Yes
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 08/24/2018
Flight Time:  (Estimated) 6733 hours (Total, all aircraft), 1122 hours (Total, this make and model), 6162 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 217 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 45 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft)

At the time of the accident, the pilot was employed as an airline pilot. He previously worked as a helicopter air ambulance pilot and a military helicopter pilot. The pilot held a mechanic certificate with airframe and powerplant ratings. According to the pilot's employer, the pilot's most recent flight with the company was on September 19, 2018. The pilot's last check ride occurred on August 24, 2018.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, while the passenger held a FAA third class medical certificate, he did not hold any airman certificates, and did not have any reported flight time on the date of his examination. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna 
Registration: N7152S
Model/Series: 150 H
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1968
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 15067852
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 08/10/2018, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 1600 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 2066.2 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Continental Motors
ELT: C91 installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: O-200-A
Registered Owner: Eugene Metzger
Rated Power: 100 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

The Cessna 150H pilot's operating handbook (POH) stated that the maximum capacity for both fuel tanks was 26 gallons total (13 gallons in each tank). The POH further stated that the usable fuel amount for all flight conditions was 22.5 gallons total, and the unusable fuel amount was 3.5 gallons total.

The Textron Aviation Pilot Safety and Warning Supplements discussed electrical power failures. This document states in part:

The pilot should maintain control of the airplane and land when practical if an electrical power loss is evident.

If an electrical power loss is experienced, continued flight is possible, but should be terminated as a soon as practical. Such things as fuel quantity and engine temperature indicators and panel lights may no longer work.

Review of the maintenance records revealed no evidence of uncorrected mechanical discrepancies with the airplane.

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Night/Dark
Observation Facility, Elevation: KCPS, 413 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 25 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 0353 UTC
Direction from Accident Site: 25°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility:  10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 5 knots /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None / None
Wind Direction: 180°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 29.91 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 27°C / 19°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Greensburg, IN (I34)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Festus, MO (FES)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 2015 EDT
Type of Airspace: Class G

According to information from the U.S. Naval Observatory, sunset at FES on the day of the accident occurred at 1902, and the end of civil twilight was 1928. Moonrise was 1656, and the moon transit was 2206. The phase of the moon was listed as waxing gibbous with 83% of its visible disk illuminated.

Airport Information

Runway Surface Type: Asphalt
Airport Elevation: 433 ft
Runway Surface Condition: Dry
Runway Used: 19
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width: 2202 ft / 49 ft
VFR Approach/Landing: Forced Landing; Go Around 

The airport lighting system at FES was comprised of runway edge lights (medium intensity runway lights) and runway end identifier lights. A pilot could activate the lighting system while airborne by keying the aircraft's microphone on the airport's common traffic advisory frequency. The FES runway lighting system could also be manually activated by a switch on the outside of the main hangar.

A review of FAA Notices to Airmen for the day of the accident found no malfunctions or failures of the airport lighting system listed for FES.

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 38.190000, -90.384444 (est) 

The wreckage was situated about one quarter of a mile south east of the departure end of runway 19 and about 440 ft above mean sea level.

Flight control continuity was established for the airframe. All structural components of the airplane were located at the accident site. The airplane sustained substantial damage to both wings, the fuselage, and the empennage. Both wings sustained substantial impact damage from contact with trees. The fuel tanks remained intact, and a total of about 2.25 gallons of fuel were extracted from the two fuel tanks. The propeller blades did not exhibit chordwise scratches or torsional deformation

The alternator and the voltage regulator were examined and functionally checked. The alternator performed normally with no malfunctions or failures; the voltage regulator was inoperable. The voltage regulator was manufactured around 1976. There was no life limit or replacement interval specified. Review of the airplane's maintenance records did not indicate how long the voltage regulator had been installed on the accident airplane.

With the exception of the voltage regulator, no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airframe and engine were noted.
Figure 1 - View of the fuel being extracted to a five-gallon plastic bucket. 
(Courtesy of Continental Motors). 

Medical And Pathological Information

The Jefferson County Office of the Regional Medical Examiner, St. Charles, Missouri, conducted an autopsy of the pilot. The cause of the death was attributed to "craniocerebral trauma."

The FAA's Forensic Sciences Laboratory performed toxicology tests on specimens from the pilot; testing was negative for carbon monoxide, ethanol, and drugs. A test for cyanide was not performed.


  1. I am thinking that they were using cell phone GPS for navigation and the flashlight on the phone for lighting.

  2. Wow. Tragic ending to not having the wherewithal to recognize the "chain" of events...This would be a good addition to the ASI docuseries.

  3. How does one get to become an airline pilot with such a lack of aeronautical decision making skills? Violating FARs, landing with a flashlight?

  4. old pilots and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots; just about covers it.

  5. Always told my students not to trust the Cracker Jack Box fuel gauges in the 152 ... but I guess even that wouldn't have made a difference here.

  6. Tough to identify the exact cause of what brought him down other than a chain of events that are just so questionable. An ATP telling a wife to bring a flashlight so he can land is just stupid.

    1. I think it was his son's fiancee with flashlight .. although I would hope the ATP would have been the one flying the plane ... RIP to all :(

    2. I am assuming which I hate to use that word, that Dad told him to do it, with Dad being the PIC

    3. Why is not a runway light activation possible from a ground station?
      The lady could have pushed a button to activate the runway lights instead of holding a flashlight.

  7. The entire chain of events lacks critical thinking and common sense. So many unanswered questions

  8. sorry for everyones's loss,,but sum the of many Bad/or questionable decisions usually equates to a negative outcome ....preventable!

  9. "...the FES runway lighting system could be manually activated by a switch located outside the main hangar."
    Guess no one told them.

  10. "...the FES runway lighting system could be manually activated by a switch located outside the main hangar."
    Guess no one told them.

  11. From the pics it looks like the plane went in on its nose at pretty high speed. When the engine quit and they were gliding in near total darkness all they could do was crash straight ahead at minimal controllable airspeed. That would be better than a stall/spin into the ground. All pilots know this but at the critical time they try to keep it flying by muscle power.

  12. At the time of the accident, the pilot was employed as an airline pilot. Flight Time: (Estimated) 6733 hours (Total, all aircraft), 1122 hours (Total, this make and model), 6162 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 217 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 45 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft)

  13. At the time of the accident, the pilot was employed as an airline pilot.

  14. I live near Festus airport. These links show the lighting system activation switch. The fiancee drove past this wall enroute to the runway.

    1. No sign to identify the switch. Can't expect her to use unmarked equipment.

    2. If the pilots could've been bothered to bring an extra set of batteries for their handheld radio then THEY could've activated the runway lights by pressing the mike on their handheld transceiver.

      It's a bizarre phone call for the fiance to receive. "Hey we need YOU to show up at the airport and bring a flashlight." That's a weird phone call to receive.

    3. Those hand held transceivers typically have a Li-ion battery battery pack, so they would have to have purchased and charged a matching spare pack before the trip.

      They don't give the impression of being good at planning for contingencies, no surprise to not be able to swap out the depleted pack. Might not have remembered to charge the radio before the flight, either.

  15. So sad...
    Best way to light the runway would be with a car. No fence seen on the air nav picture that would have prevented a car from getting near and lighting the threshold.

  16. I am not a pilot. I do understand how magnetos work to provide ignition to a healthy airplane engine, but how do you start an engine with a battery so weak that the running lights don't even work. Are there two batteries, one for the starter and one for the cabin like in boats?

    1. One battery. Hand prop start is not difficult, particularly with two people so that throttle is managed & brakes held.

  17. This is incredible... and I don't mean that as "wow, cool!" I mean it was forehead/face palm how in the hell were these guys pilots. I've made some boneheaded decisions but never ones in the air where you're basically cheating death on the reg to think "meh, radios dead, LOL" and "meh, tell her to bring a flashlight (WTF?!) LOL" and "eh, it's dark, we'll see it." My god the stupid on this one just hurts.