General Aviation News recently reprinted a May 2009 accident report from the USA’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). In the Puyallup, Washington incident report, it was noted that the Cessna 182 involved had just undergone maintenance work which had included the replacement of fuel-sending units (requiring the draining of the fuel tanks). The pilot was apparently under the impression that the aircraft mechanic had added 20 gallons of fuel to both main tanks. However, the pilot did not physically verify the fuel level in his tanks but instead checked the fuel gauges which showed the same amount of fuel to be in the tanks as prior to the work.
The pilot took off only to loose power at the 500 foot level. Hence, he opted to do a steep 180° turn in the hopes of landing on the taxiway that ran parallel to the runway. Unfortunately, local law enforcement officials who were conducting exercises in the vicinity drove onto the taxiway in order to respond to the unfolding emergency – meaning the pilot could not land there. Moreover, he decided that:
… the grass area between the taxiway and runway was too soft to use for landing because of recent rainfall. Next to the airport is a port-a-potty maintenance and storage facility. The pilot chose to fly the airplane into a 50-foot-square block of the plastic port-a-potty units, which had a pile of wood chips behind them. As the airplane settled, it nosed over, and came to rest in the wood chip pile.
No fuel was drained from the left tank while 20 gallons was available in the right tank. The fuel selector was also found to be in the OFF position.
Luckily there was only one minor injury while the Cessna’s left wing was intact but its right wing was damaged. In the follow-up exam of the aircraft, fuel was added to the left wing tank and the engine started immediately.
Hence, probable cause for the accident was ruled a loss of engine power thanks to fuel starvation because of the pilot’s failure to verify the fuel levels in his tanks as well as his failure to properly select a fuel tank with fuel in it.