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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: ERA16FA161
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, April 18, 2016 in Westmoreland, NY
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/22/2018
Aircraft: CESSNA 172, registration: N1863Y
Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Minor.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The private pilot was taking off for a personal flight from a private turf airstrip to return to his home base airport. He initiated takeoff with a 10° flap extension and about 1,130 ft of the 1,344 ft of usable runway remaining, despite a recommendation from the airstrip owner that he begin the takeoff from a point that would have provided an additional 200 feet of runway. After beginning the takeoff, and as the airplane approached the departure end of the runway, the aft fuselage bottom contacted the runway several times due to the pilot's control input, which likely slowed the airplane. Shortly after becoming airborne while in a nose-high attitude, the airplane entered an aerodynamic stall before colliding with a tree and then the ground. After coming to rest, all occupants were conscious and alert, but the rear seat occupant required assistance exiting the airplane. The pilot attempted to assist him from the wreckage, but an explosion occurred about that time. The pilot and rear seat occupant sustained burns and died 6 days and 1 day after the accident, respectively, due to their injuries from the fire.

Examination of the flight controls, engine, and engine accessories revealed no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction that would have precluded normal operation. Extensive heat damage to the engine and engine accessories precluded an operational test of the engine. A sound spectrum analysis of a video recording of the takeoff provided by the airstrip owner revealed that the reduced engine rpm near rotation was attributed to the slow airspeed and not a loss of engine power.

The airplane was within weight and center of gravity limits. Takeoff performance data for the airplane indicated that, given the weather at the time of the accident, the distance required for the airplane to take off was about 786 ft and to clear a 50-ft obstacle was about 1,370 ft with no flaps on a hard surface runway. The chart did not contain figures for a soft, grass runway, which would increase the takeoff distance. Flaps at 10° would decrease the ground run by about 10% but would the advantage was lost to climb over a 50-ft obstacle. A speed study using the video showed that the average groundspeed between becoming airborne and the time of impact was about 47 knots, or 54 mph, which was the stall speed at gross weight and 0° bank angle. Even if the pilot had used the full usable runway distance, his decision to takeoff on this runway was poor given the performance capabilities of the airplane and the fact that the grass runway would likely have increased the takeoff and climb distance beyond that available. Further, it is likely that the pilot, when he noted that the airplane was nearing the end of the runway, increased the airplane's pitch, which resulted in the tail dragging, and lifted off the airplane with inadequate airspeed and exceeded the airplane's critical angle of attack, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The pilot's decision to takeoff on the grass runway given the conditions at the time; his excessive aft control input during the takeoff roll, which resulted in the aft fuselage contacting the runway surface; and his failure to attain sufficient airspeed and exceedance of the airplane's critical angle of attack, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall.