Pilot Then Verified The Fuel Quantity Remaining In The Tanks Using A Fuel Stick And Subsequently Determined There Was Adequate Fuel

Location: Hot Springs, AR Accident Number: CEN23FA258
Date & Time: June 26, 2023, 08:05 Local Registration: N3138T
Aircraft: Cessna 177 Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Personal

On June 26, 2023, about 0805 central daylight time (CDT), a Cessna 177 airplane, N3138T, was substantially damaged during an accident near Hot Springs, Arkansas. The pilot was fatally injured, and the student pilot-rated passenger sustained serious injuries. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal cross-country flight.

According to the passenger, the pilot had recently purchased the airplane and they were flying it to their homebase near Elizabethtown, Kentucky. The cross-country flight began from Las Cruces International Airport (LRU), Las Cruces, New Mexico, after a new interior was installed. On the afternoon of June 25, 2023, about 1435 (all times referenced as CDT), the cross-country flight departed LRU with the intended destination of Avenger Field Airport (SWW), Sweetwater, Texas. The flight landed at SWW about 1753 after being airborne for about 3.3 hours. According to the passenger, upon landing at SWW the right and left fuel gauges indicated “empty” and “3/4”, respectively. According to the airport manager at SWW and related fueling documentation, the airplane was topped-off with 25.8 gallons using the self-serve 100 low-lead fuel pump. The passenger also stated that the airplane’s fuel tanks were full before the airplane departed SWW.

According to airplane track data, at 1849, the airplane departed SWW enroute to Memorial Field Airport (HOT), Hot Springs, Arkansas, as the intended destination. However, due to adverse weather that developed near HOT while enroute, the pilot diverted to J Lynn Helms Sevier County Airport (DEQ), De Queen, Arkansas. According to the passenger, the pilot set the engine speed to 2,300 rpm during cruise flight and that when he attempted to lean the mixture, the engine would start “stumbling” when the mixture control was pulled 1.5-to-2 inches aft of full rich. Additionally, the passenger reported that they heard a “metal grinding” noise when the pilot activated the carburetor heat while on approach to the runway at DEQ. The pilot decided to go around and made an uneventful landing on the second approach. The flight landed at DEQ about 2143, after being airborne about 2.9 hours. According to the passenger, upon landing at DEQ, the right and left fuel gauges indicated “empty” and “1/4”, respectively. The pilot and passenger overnighted in De Queen, Arkansas, before continuing onto HOT the following morning.

On the morning of the accident, the pilot and student pilot-passenger returned to DEQ and attempted to refuel the airplane using the self-serve fuel pump; however, they were unable to dispense any fuel after processing their credit card at the self-serve pump. According to the passenger, the pilot then verified the fuel quantity remaining in the tanks using a fuel stick and subsequently determined there was adequate fuel available to continue to HOT. According to the airport manager at DEQ, although the pilot’s credit card had been processed there was no fuel dispensed and the credit card transaction was subsequently voided.

Additionally, the airport manager stated that the fuel pump operated normally when tested after the accident. According to automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) data, at 0724, the flight departed runway 8 at DEQ and climbed to an enroute altitude between 6,000 ft and 6,500 ft mean sea level (msl). According to the passenger, as they approached HOT the pilot transmitted over the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) that they were low on fuel and that they would continue straight-in toward the airport. The airplane subsequently had a total loss of engine power as it approached runway 5 at HOT.

According to the passenger, the pilot was unable to restore engine power with the throttle and mixture controls full forward, ignition/start switch selected to both magnetos, fuel selector handle positioned to use fuel from both wing tanks, and the carburetor heat on. The pilot also increased airplane pitch and established best-glide airspeed of 70 knots (80 miles per hour).

The passenger stated she repositioned the elevator trim wheel to a “full nose up” pitch trim position while the pilot radioed “mayday” on the CTAF. The passenger stated that the airplane subsequently entered an aerodynamic stall while descending through treetop height above the lake and impacted the water in a near vertical nose-down pitch attitude.

At 0805:27, the final recorded ADS-B data point showed the airplane about 0.71 nautical mile from the runway 5 threshold at HOT. The final ADS-B data point was about 600 ft msl (200 ft above ground level) and about 850 ft west-southwest of the point-of-impact with the lake. Preliminary airplane performance calculations, based on ADS-B track data and meteorological data, showed the airplane’s calibrated airspeed was about 53 knots (61 mph) during the final 4 seconds of recorded data. According to the Cessna 177 Owner’s Manual, the engine-off, wings-level, aerodynamic stall speed at maximum gross weight with flaps fully extended is 46 knots (53 mph). The aerodynamic stall speed increases to 53 knots (61 mph) with the airplane in a 40° bank level turn with the flaps fully extended.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov