NTSB Says Midair Pilot Overshot Pattern Turns


The NTSB has cited airmanship and an air traffic control failure in the midair collision of a Cirrus SR22 and a Key Lime Air Swearingen SA226TC at Centennial Airport in Englewood, Colorado on May 12, 2021. The board found that the Cirrus pilot was going at least 50 knots over the recommended speed as he prepared to land. As a result, he overshot his turns from downwind to base to final by so much he ended up crossing the extended centerline of the adjacent parallel runway. That’s exactly where the Swearingen happened to be, and the Cirrus sliced through the twin’s fuselage. The Cirrus pilot activated the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) and settled about three miles from the airport while the cargo plane, missing a big chunk of its fuselage, landed “uneventfully,” according to the report. There were no injuries.

The report also says the Swearingen pilot had no idea the Cirrus was a factor because ATC didn’t advise him as is required when parallel runways are in operation. The two aircraft were being handled by different controllers on separate frequencies and the controller working the Cirrus did issue the required advisory “Had the controller issued an advisory, the pilot of the Swearingen may have been able to identify the conflict and maneuver his airplane to avoid the collision,” the report said.

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. I presume the control cables for the rudder and elevator run through the floor of the Swearingen. That photo reminds me of some of the photos of WW II planes that landed after having parts of their fuselage shot away. Amazing!

    • I know. The final million dollar conclusion sounds like a copy of the initial accident report.

  2. I think the issue list is a little longer than that. We have a speed issue on the part of the Cirrus (I’m not trying to defend the pilot), but there are very serious system design issues with that airport.

    1. The parallel runways are very close to each other (making it very difficult for aircraft on a long final… as was the case here… to visually recognize a transgression into the final for the parallel runway). Watching ADSB data, a very large percentage of the aircraft landing on the right/Cirrus side overshoot.

    2. Using different local control frequencies for the closely spaced parallel runways makes it more difficult for pilots to remain situationally aware.

    3. The Airport Reference Point location (left of the left/Metro runway) means that the OBS technique of runway alignment will result in an overshoot.

    4. The lack of an instrument approach to the right/Cirrus runway eliminates the instrument approach method of runway alignment.

    This isn’t an isolated event… the same basic setup existed at North Las Vegas when that midair happened. Where will it happen next?

    • So, are you suggesting massive reconfiguration of the airports to single runways?

      Re: SA, did both aircraft have ADSB (out and in)? The Cirrus certainly did, and it’s highly likely the Key Lime pilot did too. But!!! That Key Lime pilot was exactly where he was supposed to be while the Cirrus unpilot was blasting through the air at 150% of the appropriate airspeed.

      The airport was VFR. Why would VFR traffic need an instrument approach when extended runway lines are available on multiple EFB platforms, and likely on the panel suite of the Cirrus?

      • I think moving the ARP to a point between the runways, combining the frequencies (if that’s practical) and taking steps to stagger the arrivals would be a start.

        Accidents happen because of a chain of errors… we can’t afford to stop looking after we find the first one.

      • They apparently need final approach guidance when turning a 2-mile final to runways only ~600 feet apart (as we can see from this accident AND the ADSB data for the airport.)

  3. Miles: an NTSB NUMBER would have been helpful to identify the NTSB accident report. The embedded link merely takes the reader to the CAROL page with a date range of all accidents in the month of May for the accident year.

    “The and an air traffic control failure in the midair collision of a Cirrus SR22 and a Key Lime Air Swearingen SA226TC at Centennial Airport in Englewood, Colorado on May 12, 2021.”

    • Sigh. The NTSB accident site is the bane of our existence. What used to work was setting all the filters in the search so that only the report of interest showed up but that no longer seems to be the case. I’ll figure something else out.

  4. Can pilots ever be serious about serious things, and resist the temptation to be funny, sarcastic or overly judgmental? The unspoken message is always, “oh, that guy was dumb, or I couldn’t have done that”. I have been among your group for more than 40 years, but some of you need to grow up and stop acting like an ass.

  5. My only observation of this accident is the fact both of these aircraft have to be precisely flown. I am typed in the SA-227 aircraft. I have flown the Cirrus aircraft as well. I will say you cannot fly the Cirrus like a C-172 or a Piper Warrior. I did analyze accident reports for the engine manufacturer in an effort to determine if the powerplant was the culprit. Needless to say the skill of the operator will definitely determine the final outcome.

  6. Wow. Zero injuries! This speaks volumes about the value of that Cirrus airframe parachute system.

  7. “Had the controller issued an advisory, the pilot of the Swearingen may have been able to identify the conflict and maneuver his airplane to avoid the collision”?. How about not authorizing downwind traffic to enter base at airports with closely positioned parallel runways until the traffic on the other runway has safely passed?

  8. Ronald H.
    I have been researching how tornadoes and vortexes form. In fact I just published a book titled: Science About How Tornadoes And Vortexes Form And How They Are Causing Planes To Crash (Including MH370). My book covers this accident, which was caused by the planes flying into a vortex just as they were trying to land, causing both planes to veer off course and collide with one another. If you contact me I can send you a copy/picture of what I found about this accident.

  9. What no one is willing to look at other research as to what might have caused this accident. What about you Russ Niles? Send me you email address and I will send you a figure of what happened.
    Ronald Hardwig, Professional Engineer