Saturday, May 15, 2021

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

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board 

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Springfield, Illinois

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

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. 

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's inadequate preflight of the fuel quantity which resulted in a loss of engine power due to fuel starvation during cruise flight.


Personnel issues Preflight inspection - Pilot
Aircraft Fuel - Fluid level
Environmental issues Tree(s) - Contributed to outcome

Factual Information

History of Flight

Prior to flight Aircraft inspection event
Enroute Fuel starvation (Defining event)
Emergency descent Off-field or emergency landing
Landing Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

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)


  1. I hope "an inch or so" means from the top or filler neck...

  2. why are there so many mishaps like this?? This is one that you can control....FUEL LEVEL!...the rest not so much