Too much sun and not enough fuel proves fatal

General Aviation News will often reprint accident reports from the US’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), including a March 2010 report about an accident involving a Beech K35 Bonanza in Boulder City (Nevada) that proved fatal for the pilot.

According to the investigation, the 45 year old pilot had about 300 hours in the Bonanza when he made a cross country flight to an airport he had already visited several times. However and on this flight, the pilot contacted the airport 15 miles short of his destination to say that he was low on fuel and that he would be needing to land immediately.

The airport was located to the west and it was late in the day. Hence, the pilot reported that he could not see the airport and he would need help locating it. A few minutes later, he requested a straight-in landing as his engine had quit and he was gliding. Witnesses would later report seeing the aircraft strike power lines and then crash east of the airport.

An inspection of the aircraft wreckage revealed around five gallons of usable fuel in the left main tank with the remainder of the fuel tanks either breached or containing less than a usable amount of fuel. In addition, the sun was 16° above the horizon directly in the direction of the runway – meaning the glare likely prevented the pilot from seeing the wires he crashed into.

Hence, the cause of the accident was ruled a loss of engine power due to fuel starvation resulting from the pilot’s fuel miscalculation. A contributing factor was his failure to maintain clearance from the power lines because he likely could not see them because of the sun.

In other words and besides proper fuel management, be aware that late in the day of for that matter, early in the morning, it might prove difficult to see obstructions even at airports you are very familiar with (let alone airports you are not familiar with).

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