The Cessna 172 had completed an aerial photography mission with a pilot and passenger aboard and was en route to the destination airport.
Video and photographic evidence obtained from two devices — a Garmin Aera 560 portable GPS device and a GoPro Hero 4 action camera — located in the wreckage near Rotan, Texas, and an online social media post indicated that the pilot was operating the airplane at high speeds and low altitudes during the accident flight.
Photographs taken from within the airplane showed the canyon, wooden poles, and suspended power lines that the plane eventually hit.
In the final image retrieved from the GoPro camera, the airplane was in a moderate left bank at a similar altitude as the surrounding canyon and power lines and was heading toward the power lines.
Given the image timestamp, the recorded time of the final GPS point, and the relative distance from the final GPS location and the accident site, it is likely that the final image from the GoPro camera depicted the canyon and wires that were struck.
The airplane then hit terrain and came to rest in a canyon about 900 feet from the location where the power lines crossed the canyon. Both people on board the plane died in the crash.
A large portion of power line cable was found wrapped around the engine’s crankshaft about 15 times, indicating that the engine was operating at considerable power output when the crash occurred.
Toxicological testing showed the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana, as well as the inactive metabolites of cocaine in the pilot’s blood and urine specimens. No active cocaine was found in the pilot’s blood specimens, so it is unlikely that the pilot was impaired by cocaine.
Although the pilot likely had a low level of active THC in his system, it is unlikely that impairment from this low level of THC contributed to the circumstances of this accident.
The available evidence indicated that the pilot intentionally conducted low-level flight through a canyon without recognizing that power lines crossed the canyon, which led to the airplane’s impact with power lines and subsequent impact with terrain.
Probable cause: The pilot’s reckless decision to conduct low-level flight over a canyon, resulting in the airplane’s impact with power lines and terrain.
NTSB Identification: CEN18FA227
This June 2018 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.