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10 Most Common Causes Of Fatal Aviation Accidents

The FAA is continuously trying to improve safety, and as part of that, they've released their top 10 causes of fatal GA accidents, with a specific accident for each type.

10) Thunderstorms Or Windshear

Weather is obviously one of the most hazardous parts of flying. This photo below is a Cessna 210 that flew into a level 6 thunderstorm. The pilot at the controls was Scott Crossfield, an accomplished Naval test pilot, and the first pilot to fly twice the speed of sound. Before he departed, he received a weather briefing, however he didn't get weather updates during his flight. The airplane broke apart in-flight, with wreckage found at three different locations.


9) Midair Collisions

Most midairs happen near airports, and in this accident, a Cessna 172 entered the traffic pattern and collided with a helicopter. Unfortunately, the 172 didn't make radio calls prior to entering the pattern, and the helicopter was unaware of them. The helicopter was able to land safely, but the 172 entered a spin, impacting the ground.


8) Systems Failure

This Cessna 335's attitude indicator failed in poor weather. The pilot became spatially disoriented and crashed.


7) Fuel Exhaustion Or Contamination

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


6) Flight In IMC

This King Air 200 was on a localizer approach, but the pilots were 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

Sometimes the NTSB and FAA don't have enough information to determine the cause of an accident. In this crash, the NTSB and FAA believe the aircraft flew into a severe downdraft in mountainous terrain, based on radar data.


4) Low Altitude Operations

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


3) Powerplant Failure

In this crash, the aircraft had a right engine cylinder failure. 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 medivac flight. The pilot was cleared for a visual approach into Bozeman, MT at night. Unfortunately the pilot identified the wrong airport, overflew Bozeman, and impacted terrain.


1) Loss Of Control In Flight

In this accident, the pilot lost their right engine immediately after takeoff. The pilot lost directional control, rolled inverted, and impacted the runway.


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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