NTSB Identification: CEN18FA011
HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On October 13, 2017, at 1734 central daylight time, a Cessna 172M airplane, N7CF, was destroyed during an in-flight collision with power lines and the Mississippi River near Ramsey, Minnesota. The pilot and passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot as a 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The flight was not operated on a flight plan. The local flight originated from the Princeton Municipal Airport (PNM), Princeton, Minnesota, about 1705.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control radar position data depicted an airplane on a visual flight rules (VFR) transponder code near PNM. The initial contact was recorded at 1708 and the airplane subsequently proceeded south. At 1731, the airplane turned toward the southeast for approximately 1 mile before reversing course toward the northwest and proceeding along the Mississippi River. The final data point was recorded at 1733; the airplane was about 0.25 mile east of the Ferry Street Bridge and about 2.5 miles southeast of the power lines at that time. No altitude (mode C) data was available.
Ground-based video footage, taken by a witness located about 200 yards east of the accident site, depicted the airplane flying at low altitude over the Mississippi River. The airplane appeared to be near treetop level proceeding northwest along the river. It appeared to be intact and in a shallow left turn apparently to follow a bend in the river at that location.
Witnesses reported observing the airplane strike power lines as it flew along the river. Several witnesses noted that the airplane was below the level of the trees that lined both sides of the river. 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 pilot's private pilot certificate was issued in November 2012. On the application for that certificate, he reported 70 hours total flight time. His pilot logbook was reportedly kept in the airplane; it was not recovered. On his most recent application for an FAA airman medical certificate in March 2017, the pilot reported a total civilian flight time of 300 hours, with 35 hours flown within the preceding 6 months.
The pilot's flight instructor informed FAA inspectors that the pilot was "reckless" when he flew because of his habit of low-level flying. The instructor stated that he had counseled the pilot not to fly in such a manner. The pilot's father also informed FAA inspectors that his son was in the habit of flying at low altitudes along the Mississippi River.
A review of the airplane maintenance records revealed that the originally installed engine, a 150-horsepower Lycoming O-320-E2D, was removed and the accident engine, a 180-horsepower Lycoming O-360-A1A, was installed in December 1984. The originally installed propeller was also changed at that time. The engine/propeller retrofit was completed under Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) SA807CE. In December 1986, the airframe was converted from a tricycle landing gear configuration to a tail wheel landing gear configuration under STC SA5433SW. In May 1996, an 18-gallon supplemental fuel tank was installed in the aft baggage compartment under STC SA615NE.
Maintenance records indicated that testing and inspection of the transponder was completed in September 2010. The records contained no subsequent entries related to the transponder. The pilot's mechanic confirmed that the airplane was equipped with automatic pressure altitude reporting equipment having Mode C capability.
According to data obtained from the U.S. Naval Observatory, at the time of the accident, the sun was approximately 9° above the horizon to the west-southwest (249°). Sunset was at 1831 on the day of the accident.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane impacted a set of four power lines installed across the Mississippi River. The river was about 190 yards wide and was bordered by wooded areas on both sides at that location. The power lines were located about 200 yards west of a bend in the river. The river was oriented to the northwest (about 300°) east of the bend. West of the bend, the river was oriented to the southwest (about 250°).
The power lines were installed with dual-pole supports on each shoreline. The poles extended about 47 feet above ground level, which was about the height of the trees along either river bank. According to witness statements, the power lines were equipped with red aerial marker balls.
The airplane was recovered from the river two days after the accident; however, the wings and cabin doors had separated from the fuselage and were not recovered. A postaccident examination did not reveal any anomalies consistent with a preimpact failure or malfunction. A detailed summary of the examination is included in docket associated with the investigation.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy of the pilot was performed at the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office in Ramsey, Minnesota, on October 16, 2017. The pilot's death was attributed to blunt force injuries sustained in the accident. Toxicology testing performed by the FAA Bioaeronautical Research Sciences Laboratory was negative for all drugs in the testing profile.
FAA regulations (14 CFR 91.13) prohibit the operation of "an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another." Furthermore, except when necessary for takeoff or landing, the regulations (14 CFR 91.119) require pilots to maintain an altitude of at least 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a 2,000-foot horizontal radius of the aircraft in congested areas. In uncongested areas, pilots must maintain at least 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, an aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle or structure.
FAA regulations (14 CFR 91.215) require aircraft operated within 30 miles of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from the surface to 10,000 feet mean sea level to be equipped with an operable transponder and Mode C-capable automatic pressure altitude reporting equipment. In addition, the regulations (14 CFR 91.413) specify that a transponder may not be used unless it has been tested and inspected within the preceding 24 months. The accident site was located within 30 miles of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.