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6 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon by John Stewart

In 400 hours of flying over 40 years as a pilot I have had only 1 or 2 degrees of separation from 4 fuel mismanagement incident/accidents.  Score:  2 dead, 1 maimed, 3 walked away.

Long ago I checked out in a F35 Bonanza.  A few years later the same plane I flew killed a doctor.   It was his second flight in the Bonanza.  The NTSB report states  that he instructed the line people to only fill the left tank.   He took off with the selector on the right side tank and the engine died about 5 minutes after being airborne.  The pilot and passenger died shortly after the engine.  When the plane was autopsied all systems we found to be functional.  The late doctor failed to select the left tank as the checklist requires and didn’t bother to fill the right tank.

Not that long ago I joined a Bonanza A-36 partnership.  One day one of the partners informed us that the A-36 was at an airfield somewhere in the Nevada desert.  He dead-sticked the Bonanza after the engine died.   He also told us   (the partners) that we needed to arrange for a pilot and mechanic to fly or drive out and rescue the plane.  We sent our mechanic and favorite CFI out to check out the plane.  After a thorough check out our CFI started the plane and flew it home.   The explanation was that the partner switched from main to aux tanks and the engine died.  Instead of switching back to the original tank or the other main tank he saw an airfield and executed a pretty good dead stick landing.  There was nothing wrong with the plane and it had enough fuel to fly home.  Fuel mismanagement was only one of the flaws of this pilot/partner  and a year later the partnership was dissolved and the plane sold.  The partner (Dr X-also a doctor) subsequently bought a B36TC (2 degrees of separation).  He took off one day on a 600 mile cross country with his son.    The plane crashed into a house ½ mile short of the destination airport runway.  There was no fire.  The pilot (Dr X, my former partner) was maimed but his son walked away. The NTSB reported that after interviewing the line service guy at the departure airport the airplane was not filled to capacity.  A specified amount of fuel was added but the plane definitely departed with partially filled tanks. The final NTSB report cited fuel exhaustion as the cause of the crash.  With only 2 souls on board weight wasn’t an issue.  The pilot’s fuel calculation was 99.95% correct.  Since it was the same pilot-associate in the same make/model of airplane I figured 2 degrees of separation.

During my hiatus from PCFlyers a friend and I bought a Cessna 182D.  After a couple of years we considered a third partner.  The partner candidate was a mid 30’s civil engineer.  Married with 3 kids.   The family engineering firm already owned a 210 but he wasn’t allowed to fly solo because he was a low time pilot and did not have an instrument rating.   Our mechanic knew the 210 and it was immaculate.  He did consulting around the state and flying provided a lot of utility for him.  Most of his business flying was M-F with worked well with our weekend flying.  Flying our 182 also allowed him to built time so he could eventually fly the company 210.  We brought him on as a probationary partner.  One day I get a call from my friend informing me that the probationary partner crashed our plane.  (That’s why I am back with PC Flyers)

The 182 consistently flew 4 ½ hours on full tanks.  He had been flying a lot but failed to log his previous 90 minute flight.  He confessed that in his mind he had 90 more minutes of fuel than the plane had.  I am not sure he checked tanks prior to take off and he didn’t fill the tanks prior to takeoff  (I am not sure why-I think fuel was cheaper at the destination).   The destination was in the middle of the Sierras.  At the destination the valley was fogged in.  He turned around to return to home base and about 5 minutes later the engine died.  He had about 90 seconds to figure out a plan.  Only the valley behind was fogged in, the rest of the sierra’s were clear.    With mountains  all around   he dead sticked the 182 into a river next to a highway.  He and his daughter walked away.  The CHP was there within minutes.   There was no mystery as to the cause although the locals opined that there must me more gravity up there in the sierras.  It was an incredibly preventable crash followed by super pilot skill.  (1 degree of separation here-my plane involved)

Obviously fuel mismanagement is the easiest mistake to never make.  What has surprised me is how many planes I have flown,  planes I have owned,  or pilots I have know have been involved.

The count:  2 dead, 1 maimed, 3 walked away