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Top 10 Causes Of Fatal GA Accidents

"Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Those famous words couldn't be more true in aviation.

Fernando X Sanchez

We don't often write about GA accidents, but the FAA recently released their top 10 causes of fatal GA accidents. They also included an accident investigation for each type. Here they are:

10) Windshear or Thunderstorms

Weather can be one of the most hazardous parts of flying. The photo below is a Cessna 210 that inadvertently flew into a level 6 thunderstorm. The pilot was Scott Crossfield, a Naval test pilot, and the first man to fly twice the speed of sound. He received a weather briefing before his flight, however, he did not receive any weather updates during his flight. Wreckage was found in three different locations, suggesting the airplane broke apart in-flight.


9) Midair Collisions

Most midairs happen near an airport. This photo is of a 172 that entered a traffic pattern and collided with a helicopter. Unfortunately, the 172 didn't make any radio calls prior to entering the pattern, and the helicopter pilot was unaware it was there until they collided. The helicopter was able to safely land, but the 172 entered a spin and impacted the ground.


8) System Failure

This aircraft was a Cessna 335 carrying a Senator onboard. The aircraft's attitude indicator failed in adverse weather. The pilot became spatially disoriented and crashed.


7) Fuel

This Cessna 172 ran out of fuel in-flight. The aircraft had just received an STC (supplemental type certificate) to increase the horsepower of the engine. However, the new fuel burn rate wasn't placed in the flight manual, and the pilot didn't plan for the increase fuel burn.


6) Flight In IMC

A King Air 200 was on a localizer approach, but using a GPS to navigate to the IAF. The pilots inadvertently swapped the initial approach fix with the missed approach point on the GPS, using manually entered fixes. With no glideslope, and incorrect DME data, the plane flew approximately 5 miles past the missed approach point at the MDA altitude. As the pilots executed a missed approach, they impacted the top of a mountain.


5) Unknown/Undetermined

The FAA and NTSB sometimes have no information about a crash - no witnesses, no GPS memory, nothing. Based on radar data, the FAA and NTSB theorize that this aircraft flew into a severe downdraft in mountainous terrain and impacted the ground.


4) Low Altitude Operations

This is a P-3 air tanker that was on a fire bombing run. The flight had an FAA examiner on board performing a checkride. As the aircraft descended over a hill, the left wingtip struck the ground, and the aircraft impacted the ground.


3) Powerplant Failure

This aircraft had a cylinder failure on the right engine. The pilot feathered the prop, but didn't have enough single-engine performance to maintain altitude. The pilot elected to ditch the aircraft in the water. Fortunately the pilot and all the passengers survived.


2) Controlled Flight Into Terrain

This King Air 200 was on a medical flight. The pilot was cleared for a night visual approach into Bozeman, MT. Unfortunately, the pilot had identified the wrong city, overflew Bozemen, and impacted a mountain.


1) Loss Of Control In Flight

In this animation, the pilot lost the right engine immediately after takeoff. Unfortunately, the pilot lost directional control almost immediately, and rolled inverted before impacting the ground.


Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at

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