Crash Analysis 2012

Here’s an impressive GoPro video that shows a plane crash from inside the cockpit (Don’t worry, no one dies; the plane takes the worst hit). It finely illustrates what happens when one combines a heavy aircraft with “Get-home-itis.” Watch the video, and then read my amateur accident analysis.

This occurred at the Bruce Meadows Airport (U63) in Idaho on Saturday, June 30, 2012 in a Stinson 108. The airport is located at 6370 feet ASL, making it a very high altitude airport. The runway is 5000 feet long, so a long takeoff roll is not uncommon at this elevation.

Here’s the breakdown by time:
0:24 takeoff power applied
0:51 rotation / flight in ground effect
1:02 settles on ground (abort opportunity #1 and clear warning sign)
1:16 leaves ground effect
1:30 end of runway
1:30 resettles into ground effect (abort opportunity #2 and CLEAR WARNING SIGN)
1:45 leaves ground effect
2:00 option of landing in open field available (abort opportunity #3 and last chance for crash-free landing)
2:25 pilot continues, upslope, into wooded area
2:25 stall warning horn is audible
2:55 crash into trees at full power

This is a good lesson in the hazards of weight and density altitude, both of which were probably a factor. Unfortunately, the pilot didn’t respond appropriately to the multiple warning signs that would’ve prevented this outcome. For instance, the plane settled back into ground effect twice, with plenty of open runway, then open field remaining. At 2:00, the pilot continued upslope at treetop level instead of landing on ample field remaining. Watching the video, its almost hard to believe that the pilot continued. I suspect the pilot has had this experience before, and had so far gotten lucky.

Remember, Complacency Kills!!

It’s easy to see how the accident chain, and the failure to recognize critical warning signs, contributed to this avoidable outcome. As a pilot for 11 years, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, a couple of them very harrowing, and fortunately I have yet to bend an airplane or land off-airport. So far.

Here’s the accident chain, in my opinion: (Most of this is pure speculation, based on my experiences as a pilot)
1. Easier, quicker, and cheaper to haul everyone out in one trip.
2. Pilot doesn’t calculate the weight and balance, based on his experience, leading to too much fuel and too much baggage and people on board.
3. Pilot dosen’t consider and/or calculate takeoff performance and density altitude. (Speculation, but considering the objectivity of the video, this seems very plausible.)
4. Pilot fails to abort at 1:02. Settling back on the ground is a very bad sign.
5. Pilot fails to abort at 1:30. The end of the runway has passed, and he has settled back into ground effect. This is a clear warning sign. In my training, I was taught that if you weren’t off the ground and climbing by time 60% of the runway had passed, abort. Obviously, in the backcountry this is often not practical.
6. Pilot continues, apparently into rising terrain. Abort is still possible up to around 2:00 into the flight, into the open field. At this point the pilot could have unloaded everyone, flown the gear back to the airport, and had the passengers walk back to the runway. Plane and people would be okay.

Conclusion: Pilot’s failure to abort takeoff with runway remaining. Contributing factors were: weight and high density altitude.
Check out my post on weight versus density altitude here: http://caverpilot.com/flying/weight-vs-density-altitude/

As a pilot, I have empathy for the pilot and glad he survived as well as everyone else. This is a great learning opportunity for pilots, and I’m happy the passenger put the video on YouTube.

Notes: There’s a lot of nasty comments about the pilot’s yoke-mounted iPad on YouTube. Let me explain – the iPad is an inexpensive moving map GPS. Yoke-mounted GPS units have been present in small aircraft as long as they’ve been made. Earlier versions by Garmin, et. al, cost 1000s of dollars. A dash-mounted GPS, which must be certified by the FAA, can cost upwards of 20,000 dollars! It afford situational awareness (you can see right where you are at!) and is not a distraction. In fact, the yoke-mounting means the pilot doesn’t have to look as far down or over to view the screen. Very common and popular!

Here’s information from the YouTube post:

This is unprecedented footage of a small airplane crash from inside the cockpit from two different views. Miraculously, everyone survived. The pilot will make a full recovery and the rest of us escaped with superficial injuries and feel very lucky to be alive . This trip was much anticipated and due to our excitement we had our Gopro cameras filming at various times. After flying up into the mountains for a morning hike in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness we were planning on flying to a small mountain town for dinner. Due to warming temperatures there was an increase in density altitude and we had a hard time getting adequate lift. The cameras were left on for a couple of hours during the aftermath. Thank you to all the many individuals who eventually came to our aid and took the time and effort to help in any way they could. We appreciate you more than you know.

-Thanks to my brother Aaron who helped by editing and posting this video experience. Please visit his project helping others in need at www.OriginallyNew.com

There is lots of media coverage and post-accident photos of this incident. Here’s a few links:
http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/brief.aspx?ev_id=20120701X65804&key=1
http://www.katu.com/news/local/Amazing-first-person-video-of-a-plane-crash-in-Idaho-wilderness-165578526.html
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/video-plane-crash-cockpit-wilderness-idaho-195341487.html

My history:
I was trained at Minuteman Jet Center in Missoula, Montana, by Art Dykstra, who is an incredibly talented instructor and pilot. My course was via a “Cessna Pilot Center,” “Cleared For Takeoff,” by King Schools. It was very well programmed and thorough. I am fortunate to have had such excellent training in well-maintained aircraft! I have over 375 hours, mostly in Cessna 172s, 182s, and 150/152s. I have also flown Warriors and Super Cubs. (Moose Creek, Idaho, baby!!)

Disclaimer: I am not an accident investigator, and the opinions expressed herein are mine alone.

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