Sunday, May 12, 2019

Aerodynamic Stall / Spin: Cessna 150C, N7929Z; fatal accident occurred December 16, 2017 in Castalia, Nash County, North Carolina

Stephen Ward Merritt 

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Greensboro, North Carolina
Textron; Wichita, Kansas 
Lycoming Engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Castalia, NC
Accident Number: ERA18LA048
Date & Time: 12/16/2017, 1440 EST
Registration: N7929Z
Aircraft: CESSNA 150
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Aerodynamic stall/spin
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On December 16, 2017, at 1440 eastern standard time, a Cessna 150C, N7929Z, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain after takeoff from a farm field in Castalia, North Carolina. The commercial pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was owned and operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed in the area, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight, which was destined for Triangle North Executive Airport (LHZ), Louisburg, North Carolina.

The purpose of the flight was to recover the airplane from the field after a student pilot performed a precautionary landing there the previous day. The student reported that he had reduced engine power and airspeed after encountering turbulence; the engine subsequently became unresponsive to throttle inputs, and the student performed a successful landing to the field.

The student pilot accompanied his father (who was an airline transport pilot), a mechanic, and the accident pilot (who was the owner of the airplane) to the field to retrieve the airplane. The accident pilot and the mechanic sampled the fuel, examined and test ran the engine, during which no anomalies were observed, and subsequently determined that the airplane was ready for flight. The field was oriented east/west and was about 1,000 ft long and 500 ft wide. The eastern and southern borders of the field were bisected diagonally by high-tension power lines that were oriented northeast/southwest, and an estimated 40 ft above the ground at their lowest point. The southern border consisted of a small pond and a creek bed (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Overhead View of Accident Site (Google Earth)

The student pilot and his father reported that the pilot "walked the field" and stated his takeoff/departure plan, which was to begin the takeoff roll to the west along the northern border of the field and arc the airplane's takeoff path 90° to the south. Once airborne, the pilot would fly the airplane beneath the powerlines, over the creek, and then climb to cruise altitude.

The property owner also witnessed the accident and recorded the takeoff with his cell phone. Review of the video and measurements taken by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed that, 300 ft after the airplane began its takeoff roll, the airplane turned sharply left toward the powerlines. After 400 ft, the airplane pitched up sharply and banked steeply left as it lifted off. The airplane neared the apex of its climb about 50 ft above the ground in about a 60° left bank, when the camera panned down and the airplane was no longer in frame. Shortly thereafter, the camera panned back up in time to capture the airplane's collision with terrain. Throughout the takeoff roll, initial climb, and the flight to ground contact, the engine was heard accelerating smoothly and running continuously at high power without interruption.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Flight Instructor; Commercial
Age: 70, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Multi-engine Land; Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: Unknown
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): Airplane Single-engine
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 2 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 01/11/2017
Occupational Pilot: Yes
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 
Flight Time:  8400 hours (Total, all aircraft), 100 hours (Total, this make and model)

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplane. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued January 11, 2017. He declared 8,400 total hours of flight experience on that date. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: CESSNA
Registration: N7929Z
Model/Series: 150 C
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1963
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 15060029
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 10/20/2017, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 1499 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 2068 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Lycoming
Engine Model/Series:
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 150 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

According to FAA records, the airplane was manufactured in 1963. Its most recent annual inspection was completed on October 20, 2017, at 2,068 total aircraft hours.

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KLHZ, 369 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 10 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 1440 EST
Direction from Accident Site: 248°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility:  10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: Calm /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: /
Wind Direction:
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: /
Altimeter Setting: 30.21 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 8°C / -5°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Castalia, NC
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: LOUISBURG, NC (LHZ)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: EST
Type of Airspace: Class G

At 1440, the weather reported at LHZ, 10 miles west of the accident site, included clear skies, 10 miles visibility, and calm winds. The temperature was 8°C, the dew point was -5°C, and the altimeter setting was 30.21 inches of mercury. 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 36.086944, -78.138056 (est) 

The wreckage was examined at the accident site by two FAA inspectors and all major components were accounted for at the scene. The instrument panel and engine compartments were separated from the cockpit but remained attached by wires, cables, and floor structure. The propeller was partially buried, and the engine and instrument panel displayed thermal damage from a small postcrash fire.

Control continuity was established from the flight controls to the flight control surfaces. One aileron control cable displayed fractures consistent with overstress.

A detailed examination was performed on the airframe and engine at a recovery facility in Griffin, Georgia. The examination revealed no pre-impact mechanical anomalies that would have precluded normal operation. 

Medical And Pathological Information

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Raleigh, North Carolina, submitted a Report of Investigation on the pilot. No autopsy was performed because the pilot died in a physician's care on December 17, 2017. The probable cause of death was "multiple blunt force injuries."

The FAA Forensic Sciences Laboratory did not perform toxicological testing on the pilot as no samples were submitted.

Steve Merritt

RALEIGH — Stephen Ward Merritt, 70, passed away December 17th, 2017, surrounded by his family and friends.

Steve was born December 14th, 1947, in Rose Hill, North Carolina.  He graduated from New Hanover High School in Wilmington in 1966, earning the distinction of Eagle Scout during this time. Steve graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1970.

After one tour in the U.S. Navy, Steve went to work for the Sea Pines Company in Hilton Head Island, running the aviation assets of the company and managing the Hilton Head Airport. This began Steve’s lifelong association with and passion for flight. As an avid aviator, he worked for the North Carolina DOT Aeronautical Division for several years before founding Capital Printing Corporation of Raleigh. Steve served as the lead technical advisor for NCDOT during the centennial celebration of the Wright Brothers First Flight at Kill Devil Hills. Most recently, Steve was the Airport Manager for Franklin County, N.C., where he promoted the economic development importance of a quality airport for Franklin County.

Steve used aviation as the means through which he gave back to the world. Among other volunteer flight missions, he served as a volunteer coordinator for pilots across America to join together to fly medical supplies into Haiti just days after the earthquake. Steve also founded and was the president of Bahamas Habitat which helped with relief efforts in the Caribbean via the use of private aircraft and volunteer pilots which included, among many other projects, building Zion Children’s Home on Current Island, Bahamas, to provide a safe home for children in need.

He was also founder of the One Eleuthera Foundation. An animal lover, he was involved in several rescue efforts flying dogs and cats from disaster areas in the Bahamas and Cuba to safety elsewhere. He was very proud to serve on the board of directors of Able Flight, which provides flight and aviation career training to those with disabilities.

As a flight instructor in both regular aircraft and gliders, one of the things Steve loved most was watching the young pilots he had trained take their first solo flights. He was also passionate about introducing Civil Air Patrol cadets to glider flying and training them. Steve was a longtime member of Rotary and a Paul Harris Fellow.

Although he was passionate about flying and volunteerism, Steve valued family first. Whether it was helping his daughter, Sarah, prepare for her next basketball game or helping his son, Holmes, earn his own Eagle Scout, Steve was a devoted father while raising his children along with his loving wife, Jane, with whom he shared 45 years of marriage. He and Jane had the great joy of celebrating the marriages of both Sarah and Holmes during the past year.

Steve was preceded in death by his parents, Eugene Worth Merritt and Rosa Farrior Merritt of Wilmington.

He is survived by his wife, Jane Godwin Merritt; daughter, Sarah Merritt Ryan, and her husband, William J. Ryan, of Raleigh; son, Wellington Holmes Merritt II, and his wife, Brittany Young Merritt, of Decatur, Ga.; sister, Sandra Merritt Brown, and her husband, Larry Richard Brown, of Pittsburgh, Pa.; brothers, Eugene Worth Merritt Jr. and John Douglas Merritt, and his wife, Felicia Huffman Merritt, all of Wilmington; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to Bahamas Habitat; Able Flight; or to provide scholarships to train Civil Air Patrol cadets by mailing a check made out to the Steve Merritt Scholarship Fund, 103 Dumbarton St., Cary, NC 27511.

Original article can be found here ➤


  1. Very tragic. I watched the video, it looks like perhaps the seat slide back when he rotated. I'm sure the NTSB investigated this.

  2. The seats in a C150 cannot go too far aft, so I am not buying that. In addition to turning left during a rotation, a C150/150 can do this to you with all the P-factor involved in a plane designed to have a 100 hp up front.

    This may be one of the more stupid moves I have seen in an airplane and is the reason why GA is in trouble- its the pilots.

  3. Investigation docket --> docket item.