Over-loaded airplane crashes

Aircraft: Cirrus SR20. Injuries: 4 Fatal. Location: Duck Creek Village, Utah. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot had extensive rotorcraft/helicopter flight experience but had accumulated only about 160 hours total flight time in fixed wing airplanes, including about 17 hours in the Cirrus. The pilot’s most recent flight in a Cirrus took place about 18 months before the accident.

The accident happened in mountainous terrain on the second leg of a cross-country flight in daytime VFR conditions. Recorded data recovered from the airplane revealed that about 40 minutes into the flight, the plane reached its highest recorded altitude of 7,847 feet MSL. At this time, the plane was about four miles from a mountain ridge directly ahead, the lowest point of which was 8,470 feet MSL, with terrain elevations of more than 9,000 feet MSL on both sides.

The recovered data revealed that the airplane’s stall warning system activated about three minutes before the accident and remained on for most of the remaining recorded data.

The data indicated that the airplane rolled steeply to the left, briefly recovered and pitched up 10° to 15°, and then rolled to the left in a nearly 67° inverted nose-down attitude before crashing.

Post-accident interviews with personnel from the company that rented the airplane to the pilot revealed that, on a previous occasion, he had been observed overloading the airplane and was advised that he could not take that much baggage on the flight. The company personnel further stated that on the morning of the accident, after the company fueled the plane, the pilot taxied the airplane to another area on the airport where he loaded his passengers and baggage. This location was about 1/4 mile away and was not visible from the company’s facility.

The calculated density altitude at the time of the accident was 9,287 feet, which would have been detrimental to the airplane’s climb performance, especially if it was overloaded.

Investigators determined that, based on the available information, it is likely that the pilot was unable to maintain sufficient airspeed to climb over the high terrain, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall.

Further, it is likely that a combination of the pilot overloading the airplane and the high density altitude conditions would have resulted in the airplane’s reduced climb performance.

Further, the pilot’s lack of experience operating fixed wing airplanes in mountainous terrain likely negatively affected his decision to attempt to fly over the mountainous terrain with the given conditions and contributed to the accident.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain sufficient airspeed and control while maneuvering a heavily loaded airplane over high mountainous terrain in a high density altitude environment. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s lack of experience operating fixed wing airplanes in such an environment.

NTSB Identification: WPR12FA235

This May 2012 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. says

    We all know(except that pilot)s-20 only has about 600 lbs useful fueled and can carry only three adults with very little baggage,I can only feel sorry for the passengers,not the pilot that had more pride than common sense

  2. Lee Ensminger says

    What I didn’t see in this report was whether an attempt was made to fire the recovery chute. Wouldn’t that be on the recorded data as well? Was the airplane outside the parameters of chute deployment? I know it rolled at first, but there was a brief recovery period. Any Cirrus pilots out there with ideas?

    • Greg W says

      From the NTSB report, “The activation handle was in the handle holder…The packed parachute assembly lay on the ground just forward of the vertical stabilizer. The rear harness remained snubbed, and the reefing line cutters had not been activated.” So it would seem that there was not an attempt to deploy the parachute. It also determined, 221 lbs overweight at take-off and 177 lbs over at the time of the accident. They had landed and added more fuel “to balance the load”, (by their own statement at the fuel stop. Was it handling poorly and they attributed it to “balance” and not being overweight?

  3. Brett Hawkins says

    Probably was a combination of luggage AND passengers, and mountain flying experience.

    Everyone knows that most Americans weigh considerably more than their parents at the same age. However, when “selling” a flight to family and friends it is hard to ask them what they actually weigh in order to do your weight-and-balance. This and filling the back of the plane with their stuff makes for a dangereous situation that has caught many pilots.

    • PB says

      You make a good point. I had an experience in a Twin Comanche that had a STOL kit installed, and it got off the ground OK but the climb rate was pathetic. The only possible explanation was that the passengers misled me over their true weight. But to be overweight in that Cirrus to the extent that it was would be hard to explain by just pax lying about a few pounds.

      A Cirrus is not a four place aircraft with baggage and full fuel, even on a good day. And at that altitude? They were doomed.

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