Low light, low altitude bad combination

Aircraft: Cessna 180. Injuries: 2 Fatal. Location: Santa Paula, Calif. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: According to a witness, the Cessna was doing touch-and-goes at the airport around sunset. It then departed to the west toward a river. It didn’t climb higher than 100 feet above ground level and the engine sounded normal.

A second person who lived near the accident site reported hearing the sound of an airplane for a few seconds before the sound suddenly stopped. Then the witness saw a fire near the river.

Investigators determined that the airplane hit an unmarked telephone line that was about 85 feet above the ground.

The recorded sunset was about nine minutes prior to the time of the accident, and the end of civil twilight was about 21 minutes later. Investigators suggested that due to the lighting conditions at the time of the accident, the pilot could not see the telephone line.

No evidence of mechanical malfunctions were discovered during the accident investigation.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from a telephone line while flying at a low altitude in dusk lighting conditions.

NTSB Identification: WPR11FA304

This July 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. Rich says

    Altitude is your friend.

    Even unlighted towers can stick up 200 feet.

    And power lines across a river or ravine?
    No thanks!

    • Bluestar says

      Especially altitude, once your wheels leave ground you’re in danger zone unless you have plenty of runway. I like to climb and start a turn to circuit height as soon as safely possible.

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