Attempt at low pass ends fatally for three

Aircraft: Piper Malibu. Injuries: 3 Fatal.Location: Monroe, Mich. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot, 58, had a private pilot certificate and an instrument rating. At the time of his last medical certificate application, he reported a total flight time of 1,600 hours. He had no FAA record of previous incidents, accidents, or enforcement actions.

The accident happened while he was performing a high-speed pass over the runway. A witness stated that as the airplane leveled low over the runway, the propeller began striking the runway surface. The damage from repetitive propeller strikes resulted in a loss of the thrust and airspeed necessary for flight. The airplane hit the ground and caught fire.

The post-accident examination revealed the pilot was operating the airplane outside of its certified weight and center of gravity limits.

Forensic toxicology performed on the pilot showed the presence of Hydrocodone and Dihydrocodeine, indicative of the pilot using disqualifying sedating cough or pain medications. These medications can impair performance in high workload environments. The level of medication found in the pilot’s blood at the time of the accident could not be determined.

Additionally, Nortriptyline was detected in the pilot’s tissues, indicating that the pilot was being treated for an unreported psychiatric condition. While the medications and possible psychiatric condition could have had degrading effects on the pilot’s performance, the investigation was not able to determine what role they may have played in the accident sequence.

Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to attempt a low, high-speed pass over the runway that resulted in the airplane’s impact with the runway and terrain.

NTSB Identification: CEN11FA253

This March 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. Jerry says

    First, let me say that I was an eyewitness to this accident. Unfortunately, Ms. Godlewski relied heavily on the “Probable Cause” narrative for her article and not on the “Factual Report.” Probable Causes are written by a desk jockey in Washington, D.C. and often contain conjecture and assumptions. Factual Reports are written by the accident investigator. That is the reason Probable Cause reports are not admissible in court. Had Ms. Godlewski done due diligence she would have discovered that the Probable Cause narrative is under appeal as it contained false statements contrary to statements collected on site by the investigator in charge. It should also be noted that Ms. Godlewski’s statement “A witness stated that as the airplane leveled low over the runway, the propeller began striking the runway surface” does not appear in either report and is a work of fiction. Finally, for anyone to assume they “know” what happened without having been witness, and to make a statement like “If it was just him then he deserved it, of course” is unconscionable. No one “deserves” to die in an airplane crash consumed by fire!

    • Richard Baker says

      If it were just him then his stupidity caused his self=selection from the gene pool. Unfortunately, 2 others died because this moron thought he was some sort of Top Gun graduate. Why was the aircraft so low? Obviously, seeing his prop strike the runway didn’t happen, right?

      • Jerry says

        First, no one witnessed the pilot leveling off and the subsequent prop strike. Second, it was the testimony of the person at the Unicom in the FBO and the pilot in the traffic pattern behind the accident aircraft that it was their belief the pilot intended to land. There is no evidence to suggest that the pilot intended to do a high speed pass! It was found that the prop strike was due to the landing gear still being retracted. Whether this was due to pilot error or mechanical malfunction cannot be determined. Your comments are based on assumptions not supported by the facts and certainly not made by the NTSB investigator on site who is considered an expert. A lot can be learned from detailed review of the factual reports from accidents so long as they are approached with an open mind, without presumption and free of the arrogance of judgement.

  2. AK John says

    What a shame! If you are hitting the prop on the runway, this is well below what I would consider as a low pass. Holy smoke. Sounds like severe poor judgement, although I am skeptical that this is a medication induced event. If he was flying at high altitude and became disoriented or incapacitated to a degree that preceeded a loss of control, then I could take stock in a medication theory. Sounds like he was playing fighter pilot trying to impress his friends.

    • Richard Baker says

      AK John:
      Agree. Last time I checked, a Piper Malibu wasn’t an F-14 and I’m doubting that he was a fighter pilot. What a shame for the families of the 2 other passengers.

  3. Richard Baker says

    The sad part is the other two fatalities. If it was just him then he deserved it, of course. The sky, even more so than the sea, is terribly unforgiving of even the slightest mistake. He forgot that, if he ever knew.

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