Low Passes Over Boats Preceded Crash


The NTSB says a pilot and instructor flew low passes over two boats on a lake near Fort Collins, Colorado, before their Cessna crashed last September. In its final report on the mishap, which wrecked the 172 and resulted in minor injuries to the occupants, the NTSB cited the probable cause as “the pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from rising terrain while intentionally maneuvering the airplane at low altitudes.” The report says the instructor also gave conflicting accounts of the events to investigators.

The investigators also talked to witnesses who took photos of the aircraft buzzing two boats on a lake near Fort Collins. “After making a very low pass over the boat, the airplane made a steep climb, followed by a steep right turn, and then flew at a low altitude over the second boat,” the report says. “After passing the second boat, the airplane appeared to depart toward a valley.” The instructor told investigators there were issues with the aircraft controls before the crash, but no technical faults were discovered in their examination of the plane.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. “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, a British pilot from the early days of aviation.

    • The Master Rigger who taught me when I worked for and later received my Senior Rigger certificate in ’78 had a large navy blue sign with white letters in the loft that said “The sky even more than the sea is terribly unforgiving of even the slightest mistake” to make it clear that doing it right was important. Don’t know who wrote it but the sentiment is similar to that of Captain Lamplugh for which both quotes are timeless.

  2. Violation of (c) below:

    § 91.119 Minimum safe altitudes: General.
    Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

    (a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

    (b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

    (c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

    • The only pertinent part of that is:

      “…except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.”

      How close was the plane to the boats? 500 feet? Maybe.

      • “Maybe”?
        MAYBE ?!?
        Pardon me if assuming but seems you are minimizing this.
        You did look at the photo, right?
        Boat length maybe 24 feet.
        172 wingspan is what: 36 or 37?
        Consider all the angles or perspectives or depths of field you want but extrapolate those and it still comes up to a flagrant violation unless the 172 fired JATO or banked 90° an instant after the shutter snapped.

    • I was a 23 year skydiver and in the ’90’s, if memory serves, a Cessna 182 jump plane at Dublin, Virginia buzzed the DZ and had a wheel hit a parked van and flipped it with one of the jumpers inside. The jumper in the van survived as did the pilot and, of course, the plane was destroyed. Later FAA came and shut down the drop zone. Read about this in the US Parachute Association (USPA) magazine “Parachutist.”

  3. Immediately to the east of the lake is relatively flat terrain. Looks like they wanted to do more buzzing if they chose to fly up a valley.

  4. Did you ever have a day when a song gets stuck in your head and keeps playing over and over……..

    Dear Ace,

  5. Dear Ace,

    Please return your revoked CFI and airman certificate to the following address in OKC.

    Over and out.

  6. I would love to see the NTSB adopt the truncated, obfuscated literary style of NOTAMs and SIGMETs just for the category of accidents that could be abbreviated as DUMB@$$

  7. My son was up at Horsetooth Reservoir with his dog and watched this happen from a point around the lake. He could not believe that anyone would do such a stupid thing. I find it shocking that there was an (ex)instructor aboard!

    • According to one news report, it was probably a worse influence than beer – the occupants were referred to as a flight instructor and his brother.

  8. During an aircraft accident course had a wise old instructor say “If the pilot survives, you’ll never find out what REALLY happened”. I guess we can multiply that times two since there was a flight instructor there too.

  9. With a lifetime of flying behind me now, I’m going to speculate that every one of us on here did some really stupid s##t in our early years…or maybe still doing so occasionally, hope not. Most got away with it. They didn’t. Getting away doesn’t make it right….but we did it.