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Did A Pilot Selfie Really Cause This Accident?

Were selfies really the problem in this Cessna 150 accident? Take a look at the sequence of events, and tell us what you think.

1) It was a late night flight

The Cessna 150 crashed at 12:22 AM, two miles west of Front Range Airport near Denver, CO.

Adams County Sheriff's Office

2) The weather was IMC at the time of the crash

5 minutes before the aircraft's first takeoff at Front Range airport, the Denver International METAR, which is 5 miles northwest of the accident site, reported 2.5 SM visibility and ceilings overcast at 300 feet. 5 minutes after the crash, a special observation METAR at Denver International reported 6 SM visibility, clouds scattered at 200 feet, clouds broken at 500 feet.

mathewpiatt

3) The pilot wasn't in contact with ATC

However, the flight path was captured on radar.

Thundershead

4) Front Range tower was closed, and the airport was Class G airspace at the time of the crash

Front Range Airport is a part-time tower controlled Class D airport, but at the time of the flight, the airport tower wasn't operating. Night Class G VFR weather minimums are 1 SM visibility and clear of clouds, as long as you are within 1/2 mile of the airport in the traffic pattern.

FAA

5) The pilot had a GoPro on board

While the camera recorded video prior to the accident, the accident itself was not recorded.

6) The airplane made one flight around the pattern

The Cessna 150 departed Front Range runway 26 at 12:04 AM, and made one trip around the pattern, reaching an altitude of approximately 900 feet AGL. From GoPro footage, it appears the pilot took a picture of himself using a cell phone during climbout. The pilot was using his cell phone during the landing rollout as well.

vissago

7) The flight entered Class E airspace in the pattern, according to radar data

According to radar information the Cessna 150 entered Class E airspace, which started at 700 feet AGL. Class E VFR weather minimums are 3 SM visibility, 500 feet below clouds, 2000 feet horizontal from clouds, and 1000 feet above clouds.

martin cruze

8) It isn't known if the pilot was IFR current

While the pilot was instrument rated, the NTSB reviewed the pilot's logbook, and they weren't able to determine if he had met the currency requirements of 61.57 (c).

Matthew Piatt

9) It also isn't known if the pilot was current to carry passengers at night

From the NTSB's report, the pilot also had not logged night landings to show that he was current under 61.57 (b).

Brian Futterman

10) The accident sequence started on the second takeoff

The Cessna 150 took off from runway 26 a second time at 12:18 AM, and began drifting left of the runway centerline. Approximately 2 minutes later, the plane made a right turn to the northwest, climbing to an altitude of 640 feet AGL.

Aleksander Markin

11) Left turn begins

The airplane began to turn left, reaching an altitude of 740 feet AGL. The left turn tightened, and the airplane began descending at 1,900 feet per minute.

NTSB

12) The left wing struck the ground first

It appears the plane entered a graveyard spiral, and when it hit the ground, the left wing struck first, followed by the left main gear, the propeller, and then the right wing.

NTSB

What do you think really happened here? Did the cell phone and GoPro cause the accident? Where did the error chain start? And maybe the most important question is: with very poor weather at night, why did the flight take place at all?

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 colin@boldmethod.com.

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