24 Pounds Kills 3 People In Airplane

As pilots the safety of passengers and the aircraft are our responsibility, and everything we do should be centered around those two concerns. When we don’t things often go bad as demonstrated by the following narrative.

On January 12, 2008 a private pilot flew a Cessna 172L, N7100Q, from the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) to the Venice Municipal Airport (VNC) and returned to PIE around 3:30pm in afternoon.
As the aircraft returned to the airport the pilot was instructed to enter a downwind for runway 22, and those instructions were received, acknowledged and the aircraft was observed entering the downwind for 22 as instructed.

However, when the controller cleared the aircraft to land on runway 22 the pilot made a left turn before reaching the approach end of runway 22 and appeared to be lining up for runway 27. The tower controller questioned the pilot to verify he was lined up for runway 22 the pilot responded “zero zero quebec, sorry about that”.

Witnesses observed the aircraft making a right turn with what appeared to be 90 degrees of bank followed quickly by rolling left with a 45 degree bank, then rolling wings level, pitching nose up 10 to 15 degrees and the stalled going down in Tampa Bay.

All three occupants of the aircraft died in the ensuing crash into the water.

The NTSB issued its probable cause as “The pilot’s failure to maintain airspeed while maneuvering for approach to land. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s operation of the aircraft above the design gross weight.”

During its investigation the NTSB noted that the certified gross weight limit for the aircraft was 2300 pounds with CG limits of 38.5 to 47.3 aft of datum. At the time of the accident the aircraft was estimated to weigh 2324 pounds and the CG was 42.92 inches aft of datum. The calculated weight did not include some headsets, a step stool and a pilot bag.

The private pilot had begun his flying career n September 23rd 2002 obtaining his private pilot’s license on August 9th 2004. His last flight had taken place on October 7th 2007, and his last biennial flight review was completed on August 14th 2006. According to the pilot’s logbook he had accumulated 171.7 hours of flight time by January 12th 2008 when the accident occurred.

How did 24 pounds kill 3 people in an airplane?

All pilots should know that the stall speed of an aircraft increases as the weight of the aircraft increases, resulting in a narrowing in the difference between stall speed and the speed at which the aircraft is operating. In this case the aircraft was approaching to land, presumably at a lower speed than cruise speed.

Add to this the over gross weight and excessive bank to try and correct the approach to land on the wrong runway and you have all the ingredients necessary for an accident.

But as I examine the details surrounding this accident it occurs to me that there is more to it than the probable cause issued by the NTSB. For example, from the pilot’s first flight in 2002 until the fatal accident in 2008 some 63 months had expired. Dividing the pilot’s total time by 63 and he has averaged only 2.72 hours per month for his whole flying career. It had been nearly 3 months between his last flight and the fatal flight, and almost 1 ½ years since his flight review.

Sometimes pilots forget that flying airplanes can be dangerous, and that we must always err on the side of safety. Upon examination of the accident aircraft it was found that all seatbelts were unclasped, and given the lack of currency and the pilot’s urgency to correct a simple problem this flight resulted in a fatal accident.

Any flight instructor or experienced pilot will tell you that the first 300 flight hours or so for any pilot are the most dangerous. The lesson here is that we must always fly our airplanes in a conservative, safe and precise manner avoiding abrupt maneuvers to correct inadvertent mistakes.

A great example of the proper way to handle an emergency was Captain Sullenberger’s landing of his airplane in the Hudson River.

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.

— Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group

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