Aircraft: Cessna 172. Injuries: 4 Fatal. Location: Wendover, Utah. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The private pilot, 57, who had logged more than 186 hours, rented the airplane from an FBO to fly himself and three passengers to a business meeting. According to the FBO’s records, the pilot’s last flight in one of its airplanes was in May 2011.
There was no record of the pilot obtaining a weather briefing prior to the flight. Two hours after takeoff, he contacted ATC requesting that the controller identify his airplane on radar. He was unsure of his location and low on fuel. ATC gave him radar vectors to a nearby airport where he could obtain fuel. He attempted to land on a runway with an 80° crosswind of 24 knots with gusts to 28 knots.
According to the Pilot’s Operating Handbook, the maximum demonstrated crosswind component of the C-172 is 15 knots, but this is not a limitation. Surveillance video showed the airplane flying almost sideways down the runway and touching down several times before climbing back into the air. When it was between 300 and 400 feet above ground level, the airplane turned to the right, then plunged to the ground.
The post-accident examination revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions.
Based on the weights of the pilot, passengers and baggage, combined with fuel, investigators determined the airplane had been 299 pounds over gross weight and at the time of the crash the CG had shifted to 124.8 inches, which put it 2.3 inches outside the aft limit.
Generally, as the CG moves beyond the aft limit, there is an increasing likelihood that the plane will enter a realm of decreasing pitch stability and have tail-heavy flight characteristics. Investigators determined that the sudden change from a 24-knot left crosswind to a 24-knot tailwind during the pilot’s execution of the right-hand turn towards the downwind leg of the landing pattern, combined with some pitch sensitivity due to the CG location, most likely induced an aerodynamic stall and subsequent loss of lift that was not anticipated nor compensated for by the pilot.
Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain adequate airspeed during the downwind turn, resulting in an aerodynamic stall, in-flight loss of control, and spin. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s inadequate preflight planning and exceeding of the approved weight and balance envelope.
NTSB Identification: WPR11FA242
This June 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.