Airliner runs out of fuel!

On the 1st January 1953 an Aer Lingus DC3 with 22 passengers en route to Birmingham from Dublin forced landed 14 miles SW of Birmingham airport after both engines failed. The captain subsequently executed an excellent engine out landing in marginal visibility and a very low cloud base into a farmer’s field. There was extensive damage to the aircraft, one wing was partially removed by a tree during the landing but there were no fatalities and only one serious injury which was a deep cut to the first officers face.

The subsequent enquiry concluded that Captain Hanley had, before departure, mistakenly selected both engines to run from the starboard tank rather than each engine to run from its own respective tank, this resulted in both engines failing in the Lichfield area at around 5000 feet. This selection error went unseen by the first officer who failed to monitor the captain. The court of enquiry went onto say that Captain Hanley and FO Whyte also failed to diagnose the loss of power and engine failures and made no attempt to change tanks or to check for carburetor icing. They also further censured Captain Hanley for putting both propellers into fine pitch during the descent.

JP– A classic case of total loss of situational awareness and  bad crew cooperation with both crew members failing to monitor what the other one was doing which is vitally important when it comes to fuel management.  It would also seem that both crew members were not fully familiar with the aircraft although they both were very experienced on type. They both failed to check for carburetor icing and the captain incorrectly selected the propellers to fine pitch after the loss of both engines.

At around that time the Aer Lingus DC3’s had suffered a spate of incidents in which a considerable amount of water had been found in the fuel tanks during morning pre flight checks and on one occasion this had resulted in engine failure during taxiing. It may have been the case here that Captain Hanley thought that he had diagnosed the problem when it happened as being caused by water in the fuel tanks and resigned himself to a forced landing. If so this reinforces our problem and decision making acronym DODAR with the R standing for REVIEW.

Captain Hanley had his licence removed and never flew again. The FO had his licence revoked for a year but never flew again. The great sadness here is that all either pilot had to do was to turn the fuel selectors so that both engines ran off the port tank and they would have been able to restart both engines as there was plenty of fuel in that tank.

So whatever aircraft you are flying always check fuel selection as well as fuel quantity and know your fuel system intimately. It is also of course very important to monitor fuel burn as well as fuel available.

There is an old saying that the two most useless things in aviation are the runway behind you and the fuel in the bowser, which implies that you are OK if you are carrying plenty of fuel. As you can see from this accident having plenty of fuel in the aircraft is not much good unless it can be fed into the engines! This aircraft had enough fuel to fly back to Dublin but it all ended up draining into a ditch in Worcestershire! So we can change that saying to, “ The two most useless things in aviation are a two man crew who do not work as team”!


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