Poor planning proves fatal

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.


  1. When the CG gets that far aft and that heavy, it is a scary feeling when you pull back and it wants to just keep on rotating.
    Then it takes an unatural amount of forward stick to stop the rotation.
    And of course at low airspeed one can have insufficient airflow over the elevator to have enough authority to overcome the aft cg and the laws of physics take over.

    Very sad. Especially when he takes 3 other people with him.

  2. Dennis Reiley says:

    Why would an FBO rent an aircraft to a pilot that wasn’t current in that aircraft and worse not providing that pilot with a weather briefing and having him sign an acknowledgment of that briefing?

    It boggles my mind also George.

    • The prior rental was listed as May 4, the accident on June 1, both 2011, this may well be adequate for the rental requirements. The weather briefing IS NOT the responsibility of the F.B.O., it is solely the pilots’ responsibility. The pilot seems to have got himself in too deep but it was the decisions of the pilot, no one else that precipitated this unfortunate accident.

  3. George Nye says:

    Just boggles my mind.

  4. This is so tragic and avoidable. Over weight, probably not enough fuel on departure, bad situational awareness, and then trying to land in such windy conditions. It doesn’t make sense. With all the information us pilots have available to us, this kind of thing should never happen. This flight was doomed the minute the pilot decided to fly.

  5. Phil Jacobsma says:

    Huh? Just turning away from the wind direction would not cause a loss of airspeed. The airplane is embedded in the moving air mass, so it is already being carried along by the wind, and turning won’t cause a loss of airspeed. On the other hand, wind shear or a strong gust might account for the stall. Or it could just be that there simply wasn’t enough airspeed to allow the overloaded aircraft to climb and turn at the same time.

    • Vaughn S. Price says:

      I’m a broken record! Student has not learned, Teacher has not taught! Phil has the best analysis. But the problem is the total lack of teaching how to fly a wing and not the V speeds. Plus Not telling the New Private Pilot where he or she stands on the ladder of proficiency. Bottom Rung. Faa minimum standards are the worst you can be and still stick your passengers neck out. Come on Instructors, Teach Flying the wing, not memorizing V speeds and controlled airspace, leave that to passing writtens before final check ride.

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