This March 2009 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.
Aircraft: Cessna 180. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Townsend, Mont. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The 20,0450-hour pilot, who held multi-engine, instrument and instructor ratings, was on a day-time cross-country flight in visual meteorological conditions. A witness near the accident site reported observing a high-wing airplane similar to the accident airplane flying about 20 to 30 feet above the ground at a high rate of speed. The witness stated that the airplane was low enough to startle a herd of elk near the flight path. The witness continued watching the airplane as it pitched up and to the left, making a 180° turn steep enough to allow him to see the tops of both wings.
There were no known witnesses to the accident sequence. The wreckage was located near the base of a mountain range about two days later, after being the subject of a missing airplane alert notice. The ground scars, tree damage, and impact damage to the airplane were indicative of a high-speed controlled flight collision with trees and, subsequently, the ground.
Examination of the airframe and engine revealed no evidence of any pre-impact mechanical anomalies.
Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from trees and terrain while maneuvering at a low altitude.
For more information: NTSB.gov