After takeoff, the pilot proceeded south until reaching the Mississippi River when he proceeded to fly along the river at a low altitude.
As the Cessna 172 approached a bend in the river near Ramsey, Minnesota, he entered a shallow left turn to follow the river. The airplane hit power lines spanning the river that were located about 200 yards beyond the bend. Both the pilot and passenger died in the crash.
Ground-based video footage and witness statements indicated that the airplane was at or below the height of the trees lining both sides of the river shortly before encountering the power lines.
One witness initially thought that the pilot intended to fly under the power lines due to the low altitude of the airplane. Several witnesses also noted that the sound of the engine seemed normal and steady before the accident.
The power lines were below the level of the trees on either side of the river.
Red aerial marker balls were installed on the power lines at the time of the accident.
Weather conditions were good at the time of the accident, however, the sun was about 9° above the horizon and aligned with the river. It is likely that the position of the sun in relation to the power lines hindered the pilot’s ability to identify the hazard as he navigated the bend in the river at low altitude.
In addition, the location of the power lines relative to the river bend minimized the reaction time to avoid the lines.
FAA regulations prohibit operation of an aircraft less than 500′ above the surface in uncongested areas unless approaching to land or taking off, and at least 1,000′ from obstacles in congested areas. They also prohibit operations in a reckless manner that endanger the life or property of another.
Based on the available information, the airplane was less than 100′ above the river and within 400′ of the residences located along the river during the final portion of the flight.
The pilot’s flight instructor described the pilot as “reckless” because of his habit of low-level flying.
While the location of the bend in the river and the position of the sun relative to the power lines may have hindered the pilot’s ability to see and avoid the lines, it was the pilot’s decision to operate the airplane along the river at a low altitude contrary to applicable regulations and safety of flight considerations that caused the accident.
Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to fly along the river at a low altitude contrary to applicable regulations and safety of flight considerations which resulted in the impact with the power lines. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s inability to see the and avoid the power lines due to their proximity to a bend in the river and the position of the sun at the time of the accident.
NTSB Identification: CEN18FA011
This October 2017 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.