Monday, February 27, 2017

Cessna 172S Skyhawk, McAir Aviation LLC, N2461N: Fatal accident occurred February 27, 2017 in Berthoud, Colorado

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office: Denver, Colorado
Textron Aviation; Wichita, Kansas
Lycoming Engines; Milliken, Colorado 

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report / National Transportation Safety Board:

McAir Aviation LLC:

NTSB Identification: CEN17FA111
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, February 27, 2017 in Berthoud, CO
Aircraft: CESSNA 172S, registration: N2461N
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. 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.

On February 27, 2017, about 0741 mountain standard time, a Cessna model 172S single-engine airplane, N2461N, sustained substantial damage when it collided with a reservoir while maneuvering near Berthoud, Colorado. The flight instructor and pilot receiving instruction were fatally injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by McAir Aviation, LLC, under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site. The local instructional flight departed Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (BJC), Broomfield, Colorado, at 0724.

According to the operator, the purpose of the accident flight was for the pilot receiving instruction to demonstrate his ability to enter and recover from aerodynamic spins and was in conjunction with his required training toward receiving a flight instructor certificate.

According to a preliminary review of air traffic control (ATC) radar track data, the first radar contact with the airplane was at 0724:01 (HHMM:SS) shortly after it departed runway 30R at BJC. After takeoff, the airplane proceeded northbound toward Longmont, Colorado. At 0734:30, the airplane crossed over Colorado Highway 66 at 10,000 feet mean sea level (msl). At 0736:12, the airplane was located about 1 mile east of the Highland Reservoir No. 2 at 10,300 feet msl. According to preliminary calculations, based on available radar data, the airplane turned to a westerly course and decelerated to an aerodynamic stall speed. Between 0736:53 and 0737:07, the airplane descended from 10,300 feet msl to 9,300 feet msl. The calculated average descent rate was about 4,300 feet per minute during the approximately 14 second descent. Following the rapid descent, the airplane climbed to 10,800 feet msl and completed a turn from an east course to a west course. At 0740:35, about 1 mile south of the Culver Reservoir (also known as Blue Mountain Reservoir), the airplane completed a 90-degree right turn and decelerated to an aerodynamic stall speed. Between 0741:03 and 0741:40, the airplane descended from 10,800 feet msl to 6,800 feet msl. The calculated average descent rate was about 6,500 feet per minute. At 0741:40, the airplane descended below available radar coverage at 6,800 feet msl (about 1,700 feet above the ground).

An eyewitness to the accident reported that she was outside feeding her horses when she observed the accident airplane flying overhead. She reported hearing a reduction in engine power before seeing the airplane pitch nose down and enter a spin toward the ground. She stated that the airplane completed about 5 turns in the spin before it descended below a tree line located between her position and the reservoir. She reported that the airplane rotated slowly throughout the spin maneuver and that she did not hear the engine regain power. The witness also indicated that it was very common for airplanes to complete similar maneuvers in the airspace near her property.

Another eyewitness reported that he initially heard the airplane overfly his residence. He stated that he heard a reduction in engine power and then saw the airplane through his residence window descending nose down in a spin. The witness reported that the airplane was rotating slowly during the spin maneuver. He also noted that he did not observe any smoke or flames originating from the airplane. The airplane descended below a tree line located between his residence and the reservoir. Although the witness did not see the airplane impact the reservoir, he reported hearing a sound consistent with a ground impact.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the 58-year-old flight instructor held a commercial pilot certificate with single engine land and instrument airplane ratings. He also held a flight instructor certificate with single engine and instrument airplane ratings. He was employed by McAir Aviation as the chief pilot in charge of flight instruction. His last aviation medical examination was on June 24, 2016, when he was issued a second-class medical certificate with a limitation for corrective lenses. A search of FAA records showed no previous accidents, incidents, or enforcement proceedings. The operator reported that the flight instructor had more than 6,600 hours of total flight time.

According to FAA records, the 23-year-old pilot receiving instruction held a commercial pilot certificate with single engine land and instrument airplane ratings. The commercial certificate was issued on August 31, 2016. His last aviation medical examination was on January 6, 2015, when he was issued a third-class medical certificate with no limitations or restrictions. A search of FAA records showed no previous accidents, incidents, or enforcement proceedings. A pilot logbook was not recovered during the on-scene investigation.

The accident airplane was a 2005 Cessna model 172S, serial number 172S10043. A 180-horsepower Lycoming model IO-360-L2A reciprocating engine, serial number L-31665-51A, powered the airplane through a fixed-pitch, two blade, McCauley model 1A170E/JHA7660 propeller, serial number ZF23025. The airplane had a fixed tricycle landing gear, was capable of seating four individuals, and had a certified maximum gross weight of 2,550 pounds. The airplane was issued a standard airworthiness certificate on November 29, 2005. Intentional spin maneuvers were approved when the airplane was operated within the constraints of the utility category. Operation of the airplane in the utility category was limited to a maximum takeoff weight of 2,200 pounds. According to airplane dispatch documentation, the airplane's HOBBS hour meter indicated 6,053.7 hours before the accident flight. The airplane's HOBBS hour meter indicated 6,054.2 hours at the accident site. Postaccident calculations established that the airframe had accumulated a total service time of 4,703 hours. The engine had accumulated a total service time of 5,994.6 hours since new. The engine had accumulated 1,862 hours since being overhauled on December 21, 2012. The propeller had accumulated a total service time of 4,703 hours and 1,862 since being overhauled on January 4, 2013. The last annual inspection of the airplane was completed on October 25, 2016, at 4,552.1 total airframe hours. A 100-hour inspection was completed on January 12, 2017, at 4,651.2 total airframe hours. The rudder return springs were replaced on January 24, 2017, at 4,668.8 total airframe hours. According to maintenance records, the rear bench seat and rear restraints were removed on February 13, 2017. A postaccident review of the maintenance records found no history of unresolved airworthiness issues. The airplane had a total fuel capacity of 56 gallons (53 gallons usable) distributed between two wing fuel tanks. A review of dispatch records established that the airplane departed with 27 gallons (162 pounds) of fuel. The dispatch records also included a weight-and-balance calculation worksheet for the accident flight. According to the worksheet, the combined weight of the flight instructor and pilot receiving instruction was 325 pounds, the airplane departure weight was 2,173.5 pounds, and the calculated arm was 40.3 inches aft-of-datum. The postmortem weights of the flight instructor and pilot receiving instruction were 204 pounds and 150 pounds, respectively. A postaccident weight-and-balance calculation, using the postmortem weights and a fuel consumption rate of 11 gallons per hour, established that the airplane was operating within the constraints of the utility category at the time of the accident.

At 0756, the automated surface observing system (ASOS) located at Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport (FNL), about 15 miles north-northeast of the accident site, reported: wind 050 degrees at 5 knots, clear sky, 10 mile surface visibility, temperature -7 degrees Celsius, dew point -9 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 29.68 inches of mercury.

The airplane wreckage was located partially submerged in Culver Reservoir (also known as Blue Mountain Reservoir) at an altitude of 5,142 feet msl. Airbags were used to float the airplane to the shore where the airplane was subsequently recovered by a crane. All major structural components and flight controls remained intact. The aileron and flap control cables were disconnected, at the wing root turnbuckles, and both wings were removed to transport the wreckage to a secured facility. The elevator and rudder cable circuits were not disconnected during wreckage recovery. On January 28, 2017, the aircraft wreckage was examined at Beegles Aircraft located in Greeley, Colorado. The leading edge of the right wing was crushed upward and aft to the front spar at an approximately 45-degree angle. The leading edge of the left wing was crushed flat. The aft fuselage and tail cone were compressed on the right side and buckled slightly outward on the left side. The engine was compressed up and aft into the firewall. Aileron control cable continuity was established from the left and right aileron bell cranks to the center wing area where they had been disconnected to facilitate recovery of the wreckage. The aileron autopilot roll servo cables were on the capstan and attached to the bell crank. The aileron cables remained installed on the left and right control column sprockets and were wrapped around the interconnect pulley. A measurement of the wing flap actuator was consistent with the flaps being fully retracted at the time of impact. Elevator control cable continuity was established from the forward elevator bell crank to the aft elevator bell crank. The forward bell crank was bent due to floor compression damage sustained during impact. The elevator autopilot pitch servo cables were on the capstan and the bridal cables remained attached to the control cable. Rudder control cable continuity was established from the rudder torque tubes to the rudder horn. The rudder stops exhibited normal wear signatures. The rudder return springs remained attached to the rudder assemblies and no anomalies were noted with their installation. The rudder torque tube bearing block covers exhibited fracture features consistent with impact related damage. The parking brake cable on the left side left brake pedal was fractured. The pilot side left brake master cylinder connection rod was fractured near the brake pedal attachment. The postaccident examination did not identify any foreign object debris within the cabin, cockpit, wings, or the aft fuselage that would have impinged on any flight control cable circuit. Both structural seat pans exhibited downward deformation. A headset bag was located under each of the cockpit seats; however, the headset bags were trapped by the deformed seat pans. A fuel sample was obtained from the fuel strainer assembly which tested negative for water contamination using water-detection paste. The postaccident examination revealed no evidence of a mechanical malfunction or failure that would have precluded normal airplane operation.

The engine had partially separated from the firewall. The top sparkplugs, valve covers, and all rear accessories were removed to facilitate the engine examination. Mechanical continuity was confirmed from the engine components to their respective cockpit controls, with exception of the mixture control rod end that had separated at the shaft but remained connected to the mixture control arm. The fracture of the mixture control rod end exhibited features consistent with an overstress failure. Internal engine and valve train continuity was established as the engine crankshaft was rotated. Compression and suction were noted on all cylinders in conjunction with crankshaft rotation. The upper spark plugs were removed and exhibited features consistent with normal engine operation. A borescope inspection revealed no anomalies with the cylinders, valves, pistons, or lower spark plugs. There were no obstructions between the air filter housing and the fuel servo. The exhaust was crushed upward and aft. The No. 1 and 2 intake tubes were found displaced aft from impact damage. The water was cleaned out of both magnetos with contact cleaner and compressed air. A spark was produced at all leads while the magnetos were rotated by hand. The fuel flow divider, flow transducer and fuel hoses were clear of contaminates. No anomalies were noted with the mechanical fuel pump while it was operated by hand. The fuel flow divider contained fuel. The oil pickup screen was free of contamination. The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft flange. One blade was found relatively straight and the other blade was bent slightly aft. Neither propeller blade exhibited chordwise scoring, rubbing, or burnishing. The postaccident examination revealed no evidence of a mechanical malfunction or failure that would have precluded normal engine operation.

Although the airplane was equipped with a Garmin G1000 avionic suite, the multi-function display was not equipped with a SD memory card that could have recorded flight parameters during the accident flight. The airplane operator confirmed that none of their G1000-equipped Cessna 172S airplanes had a SD memory card installed. There were two Apple iPads and one Apple iPhone recovered with the wreckage. These personal electronic devices were submitted to the NTSB Vehicle Recorder Laboratory, located in Washington D.C., for potential forensic examination.

On February 27, 2017, an autopsy was performed on both pilots at the Larimer County Medical Examiner's Office, located in Loveland, Colorado. Toxicological samples were collected and submitted to the FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

Patrick Blankemeier (left) and James Griffith (right) 

BERTHOUD - Both of the men killed when a small plane crashed into a reservoir southwest of Berthoud were licensed commercial pilots and both had been recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration for meeting or exceeding the agency’s standards.

Patrick Blankemeier, 58, of Arvada and James Griffith, 23, of Denver died in the crash, which happened Monday morning at Culver Reservoir about two miles southwest of Berthoud in Larimer County.

Both suffered multiple blunt force injuries, according to the Larimer County Coroner’s Office.

An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board was working Tuesday to determine the cause of the crash – a process that may take a year or more.

The plane, a Cessna 172 manufactured in 2005, was operated by McAir Aviation, located at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield, where Blankemeier was the chief flight instructor since 2014.

According to FAA records, he held a commercial pilot’s license since September 2005.

Griffith had his commercial pilot’s license since last August, according to the FAA.

It appears both men were licensed to fly before obtaining their commercial certificates, but FAA records that could provide that information were not immediately available.

Both men had valid medical certificates.

Blankemeier and Griffith were flying Monday morning when their plane crashed into Culver Reservoir about 50 feet from shore. According to the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office the two men were submerged in the cold water for 50 minutes before they were pulled from the plane.

They were both pronounced dead at a hospital.

Blankemeier had previously been a flight instructor in California.


LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. – Two people died after they were pulled from a plane that crashed into Culver Reservoir southwest of Berthoud Monday morning.

The Berthoud Fire Protection District confirmed to Denver7 that two people were pulled from the crash and taken to a nearby hospital. The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the two people, both men, died at the hospital.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office says the plane crashed into the reservoir around 7:45 a.m.

Divers with the sheriff’s office entered the water just after 8 a.m., according to the sheriff’s office.

But both men had been in the water for 50 minutes, the sheriff’s office said, and were declared dead at the hospital. Their identities have not been released.

Allen Kenitzer, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Communications, tells Denver7 the plane was a Cessna 172 and confirmed that two people were aboard the plane when it crashed.

The plane was removed from the reservoir just before 3 p.m.


LARIMER COUNTY - Two men are dead after they were pulled from a plane that crashed into Culver Reservoir Monday morning.

The crash was reported at around 7:45 a.m., according to the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office. The victims were pulled from the Cessna 172 after being submerged for 50 minutes.

They were taken to a nearby hospital, where they were pronounced dead.

Allen Jenitzer, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, says they are looking into what caused the crash along with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Witnesses are asked to call the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office at 970-498-5172.

The NTSB says the plane's registration number is N2461N. It is registered to McAir Aviation out of Broomfield. 

Culver Reservoir is located in Larimer County southwest of Berthoud.

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