Short runway plus lack of experience a bad combo

Aircraft: Mooney M20J. Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious. Location: Sterling, Pa. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The runway measured 2,478 feet in length and had a 2.4% upslope with a hill and trees located just off the end. It was the pilot’s first time landing at the airport.

After landing the pilot and two passengers went to dinner with family members. They returned to the airport after dark for the return flight to the pilot’s home base.

According to the surviving passenger, the pilot initiated the takeoff roll from a taxiway intersection. The airplane became airborne at the runway numbers on the departure end of the runway, which were just before the displaced threshold, and the stall warning horn sounded immediately after liftoff. The left wing hit a tree and the airplane crashed into the woods and caught fire.

Examination of the airframe and engine revealed no evidence of a pre-impact mechanical malfunction or failure.

According to the aircraft manufacturer, the expected takeoff roll for the airplane at the time of the accident was about 1,490 feet on a level runway, given a gross weight at takeoff of 2,714 pounds. Maximum gross weight for the airplane was 2,900 pounds. 
The surviving passenger reported that the pilot did not utilize a checklist and did not complete any weight and balance calculations.

Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to take off on an uphill slope without utilizing the entire available runway, and his failure to abort the takeoff when he realized he wasn’t going to liftoff in time to clear the trees at the end of the runway.

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA327

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. Ray says

    Stop this stupidity!!! Laziness and complacency have no place in aviation. If checklists and proper planning including W/B, fuel, and performance calculations cramp your style then maybe you should take up knitting! I personally grieve for the families but for gods sake no more senseless losses like this.

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