Cell Phone 'Selfies' Blamed for 2014 Small Plane Crash in Colorado

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2015-02-04 Print this article Print
Plane crash distraction

An NTSB report said that the crash appeared to be caused by pilot distraction due to the use of a cell phone camera to take selfies just before the plane's impact.

The NTSB has ruled that a May 2014 small plane crash that killed a pilot and his passenger in Colorado was likely caused by the disorientation of the pilot who was using a cell phone camera to take "selfies" in the plane's cabin at night.

In a recent report, the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates all civilian airplane crashes and incidents in the United States, said the cause of the crash of the Cessna 150 aircraft on May 31, 2014 in Watkins, Colo., was determined after looking at evidence found at the crash scene, including recordings of earlier flights made with a GoPro portable on-board camera.  

The flight in which the crash occurred was not recorded, but investigators said they found evidence that led them to conclude that the taking of selfies contributed to the crash of the plane.

"The GoPro recordings revealed that the pilot and various passengers were taking self-photographs with their cell phones and, during the night flight, using the camera's flash function during the takeoff roll, initial climb, and flight in the traffic pattern," the NTSB report stated. "A post-accident examination of the airplane did not reveal any pre-impact anomalies that would have precluded normal operation."

Instead, based on the distribution of the wreckage over the crash site, "which was consistent with a high-speed impact, and the degraded visual reference conditions, it is likely that the pilot experienced spatial disorientation and lost control of the airplane," the report continued. "The evidence is consistent with an aerodynamic stall and subsequent spin into terrain. Based on the evidence of cell phone use during low-altitude maneuvering, including the flight immediately before the accident flight, it is likely that cell phone use during the accident flight distracted the pilot and contributed to the development of spatial disorientation and subsequent loss of control."

The report also noted that "a review of the pilot's logbooks did not show that he met the requirements for night flight with passengers or under meteorological conditions that require instrument flight procedures, according to the NTSB.

The doomed flight killed the pilot and owner of the plane, Amritpal Singh, 29, according to a Feb. 3 story by The Denver Post. "The plane, a Cessna-150 two-seater built in 1970, took off just after midnight on May 31, 2014 from Front Range Airport in Adams County. It was reported missing by Singh's family at 3:45 a.m. and the plane's wreckage was found at about 7:30 a.m." the next day, the paper reported.

Singh's passenger, Jatinder Singh, 31, was also killed, the news story reported.

The NTSB report said that the airplane departed on the local night flight in instrument flight rules conditions with 7 miles visibility and overcast clouds at 300 feet above ground level (AGL). "Radar data showed that the airplane departed the runway, made one flight around the traffic pattern, and landed 6 minutes later," according to the report. "The airplane departed again to the west, did not remain in the traffic pattern, and reached an altitude of 740 feet AGL. The airplane made a left turn, which tightened as the airplane descended about 1,900 feet per minute. The airplane impacted a field and bounced one time before it came to rest upright."

The GoPro camera that was recovered from the aircraft's wreckage included video files that were recorded on May 30 and May 31, 2014, with the final GoPro file recorded during the 6-minute flight in the traffic pattern, according to the NTSB report.

The final ruling on the crash also attributes the probable cause of the incident to "the pilot's distraction due to his cell phone use while maneuvering at low-altitude."


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