Champ hits powerlines

Aircraft: American Champion Scout. Injuries: 2 Serious. Location: Soda Spring, Idaho. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The purpose of the flight was so the pilot-owner could gain more experience flying from the rear seat. The front-seat pilot, who held an ATP rating and was acting as safety pilot, said he completed a series of stalls and steep turns before flying over a mountain range west of Afton that the owner was familiar with.

They were flying over a snow-covered valley at an altitude between 200 to 300 feet AGL when he saw a set of high tension powerlines that were perpendicular to his location. He thought that the airplane was high enough to maintain clearance from the wires but initiated a slight climb to gain extra clearance. As the airplane approached the powerlines, the owner of the airplane verified that the pilot had the powerlines in sight. The pilot acknowledged that he saw the powerlines and thought he had enough altitude to maintain clearance. However, the airplane hit the wires and crashed.

Recorded data retrieved from a handheld GPS revealed that during the last eight minutes of the flight, altitude varied between 18 and 384 feet AGL. The last recorded data point prior to the powerlines showed the airplane at an altitude of about 137 feet AGL. Representatives from the electric company reported that the airplane struck one of three static wires that were dull gray in color, located about 81 feet above the ground. The static wires were about 26 feet above a set of three main transmission lines that are shiny in color. The representative added that company employees reported that they had difficulty seeing the top static wires in lighting conditions similar to the day of the accident.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from powerlines while maneuvering at a low altitude in a valley.

NTSB Identification: WPR11LA137

This February 2011 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.


  1. Jay says

    This happened to me landing on a snow covered runway on an overcast day in light snow flurries. I could not distinguish the ground from the sky in my flair

  2. Ray Klein says

    Beware of the “flat light” phenomenon. A snow covered featureless valley, low altitude and/or an overcast sky will disorient you very quickly. Altitude/horizon judgement will be difficult at best. Seaplane pilots are familiar with this over glassy water.

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