Fuel contamination

The ATSB investigation into an aircraft’s collision with terrain in Queensland has highlighted the vital importance of avoiding fuel contamination, and the value of using all safety equipment, including shoulder harnesses, in case an accident does occur.

On 19 June 2012, the Cessna 182P departed Mayvale Station, about 53 km from Cunnamulla, Queensland to conduct an aerial inspection of the property. The pilot, who was the only person on board, would later recall that, shortly after becoming airborne, at about 80 to 100 ft, the aircraft lost airspeed. Then, while conducting a forced landing, the aircraft clipped a tree. The next thing he could recall was being on the ground, out of the aircraft and unable to stand. The aircraft had collided with the ground and come to rest inverted. 

Although the aircraft was fitted with a single shoulder strap harness, the pilot had only fastened the seat belt. In order to afford the best possible protection against injury in the event of an accident, aircraft occupants should fasten both the seat belt and shoulder harness, where provided, particularly for takeoff and landing.

A search was mobilised when the pilot failed to return and could not be reached by radio. Three hours after the accident, the seriously injured pilot was found. Although the aircraft was fitted with an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), it had not activated, and a personal ELT carried by the pilot in the aircraft was inaccessible. 

The day before the accident flight, the pilot refuelled the aircraft from drum stock kept as an emergency fuel supply. The pilot did not test the drum fuel for water or contamination. Following the accident, a considerable amount of water was found in a number of fuel samples taken from the aircraft, and in a sample taken from the drum. 

Checking fuel for water and other contaminants is something pilots can never be too careful about. The following publications provide further information relating to refuelling and fuel checks: 

Pilots are encouraged to leave a flight note with a responsible person, and carry their personal ELT on them, so that it is readily available when most needed.

Read the ATSB investigation report AO-2012-083

You can find this and other investigations in the ATSB’s Aviation Short Investigation Bulletin. The bulletin highlights valuable safety lessons for pilots, operators and safety managers.

Last update 04 March 2016