Related Accidents / Incidents

Numerous fuel exhaustion accidents and incidents have occurred on transport category airplanes caused by errors in fuel loading, fuel leaks, or by flight crew errors in managing fuel during flight.

Fuel Leaks

TAM Flight 3804, August 30, 2002 - Fokker 100

The flight departed São Paulo, Brazil for a flight to Campo Grande. At cruising altitude, "FUEL FILTER" and "FUEL LOW PRESS" messages appeared for the number 2 engine. Subsequently, a fuel imbalance between the main fuel tanks developed. Fuel loss appeared to be rapid, so the crew decided to divert to Aracatuba. Both engines flamed out due to fuel exhaustion when the aircraft was 16 miles from the airport. An emergency landing was conducted in a farm field. The cause of the fuel loss was attributed to a fuel line failure, resulting in a fuel leak.

Improper Fuel Loading

Air Canada Flight 143, July 23, 1983, Boeing 767-200

Photos of Air Canada Flight 143 after landing on a race track in Gimli, Manitoba
Photos of Air Canada Flight 143 after landing on a race track in Gimli, Manitoba

The flight was destined for Edmonton, Alberta, having originated in Montreal, Quebec, with a planned stop in Ottawa. While in Ottawa a problem was discovered with an inoperative Fuel Quantity Indicating System (FQIS). Prior to departure from Ottawa, an error was made when calculating the fuel load using an alternate tank quantity measurement employing the onboard fuel measurement sticks. The error resulted in the airplane departing Ottawa with a significantly deficient fuel quantity. While in cruise at 41000 feet, the first signs of fuel exhaustion (low fuel pressure on the left engine) became apparent, and a descent was initiated for a planned diversion into Winnipeg. After initiating the descent from 41000 feet, the left engine failed, followed by the failure of the right engine as the airplane descended through 35000 feet. Unable to reach the diversion airport of Winnipeg, an emergency landing was conducted at an abandoned airstrip in Gimli, Manitoba. The Captain, an experienced glider pilot, and former Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilot, was familiar with the airport at Gimli, having been stationed there during his RCAF career. At the time of this incident, the airport had been converted to an auto sports complex and the emergency landing was conducted during race activities.

Improper Fuel Management

Photo of United Airlines Flight 173 wreckage
Photo of United Airlines Flight 173 wreckage
Photo copyright Jeff Schroeder - used with permission

United Airlines Flight 173, December 28, 1978, McDonnell Douglas DC-8

On December 28, 1978 a McDonnell Douglas DC-8-61 turbofan powered airplane operated by United Airlines and registered as N8082U, crashed into a wooded suburban area while on approach to Portland International Airport, Portland, Oregon.

Upon approach to Portland International Airport, the aircraft experienced a landing gear malfunction indication and could not determine if the landing gear had been safely extended. The flight crew elected to hold at 5,000 feet to troubleshoot the landing gear anomaly, and prepare the aircraft for an emergency landing. With one exception, about 38 minutes into the hold, little was said concerning the amount of fuel onboard and what was needed to complete the approach to the airport. Approximately one hour after beginning the hold, and during the approach to the airport, the aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed approximately six miles northeast of the airport.

Of the 189 people onboard the aircraft, ten were killed and 23 were seriously injured.

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Overhead view of Avianca Airlines Flight 52 accident site
Overhead view of Avianca Airlines Flight 52 accident site

Avianca Airlines Flight 52, January 25, 1990, Boeing 707

Avianca Airlines Flight 052, a Boeing 707-321B, was a scheduled international flight from Bogota, Colombia, to John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport, New York. Poor weather conditions in the Northeast of the US led to the flight being put into holding three times for a total of 1 hour and 17 minutes. During the third hold period the flight crew reported that the airplane could not hold longer than 5 minutes, as it was running out of fuel, and that it could not reach its alternate airport, Boston-Logan International. Subsequently, the flightcrew executed a missed approach to JFK. While trying to return to the airport, the airplane had a loss of power to all four engines and crashed in a wooded residential area in Cove Neck, Long Island, New York. approximately 16 miles from the airport.

The crash was determined to be the result of fuel exhaustion brought about by poor flight crew planning and communication both with air traffic control, and among the flight crew. There were 158 passengers and crew on board. 65 of the 149 passengers, and 8 of the 9 crew were killed.

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