Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP, N157SF: Fatal accident occurred March 03, 2020 near Logan County Airport (KAAA), Illinois

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

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Springfield, Illinois 
Lycoming Engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania 
Textron Aviation; Wichita, Kansas 

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:  https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf


Location: Lincoln, IL
Accident Number: CEN20FA110
Date & Time: 03/03/2020, 0847 CST
Registration: N157SF
Aircraft: Cessna 172
Injuries: 3 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Aerial Observation 

On March 3, 2020, about 0847 central standard time, a Cessna 172S, N157SF, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Lincoln, Illinois. The air transport pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 aerial survey flight.

According to the owner of the airplane, the purpose of the flight was to conduct an aerial survey of a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest near Lincoln. Shoener Environmental contacted Synergy Flight Center and coordinated with the pilot to conduct several flights. Shoener Environmental reported the purpose of the aerial survey was to aid in the environmental assessment of potential wind turbine installations in the area. At the time of the accident, the pilot was employed as the chief flight instructor at Synergy Flight Center, however he was also employed as a regional airline pilot.

Synergy Flight Center conducted the first aerial survey flight with Shoener Environmental on February 29, 2020 and the second aerial survey flight occurred on March 2, 2020. The first two flights were conducted with another flight instructor from Synergy Flight Center. For the accident flight, the owner reported the pilot was flying with two ecologists from Shoener Environmental and the ecologists would use cameras to document the bald eagle nest. Prior to the flight, the pilot requested to line service personnel that the airplane be "topped off" with fuel. Synergy Flight Center completed putting 27.8 gallons of 100 low lead fuel in the airplane at 0759.

A preliminary review of L3Harris Technologies OpsVue track data showed that after departure at 0804, the airplane traveled south near Le Roy, Illinois, before traveling southwest near Heyworth, Illinois. The airplane continued a southwest path toward Lincoln. To the northwest of Lincoln, the airplane entered a right-hand descending turn, orbiting around a heavily wooded area that is intersected by the Kickapoo Creek and highway I-55. The track data showed that during the turn, the airplane was losing altitude, losing ground speed, and the track data was lost at 0846. The last track data indicated the airplane was about 1,075 ft msl, at an estimated ground speed of 50 kts, and was traveling to the southwest.

Figure 1
The L3Harris Technologies OpsVue track data, showing the area of the accident in yellow, and oriented to the north. The track data is shown in green.

The airplane impacted the southbound lanes of the interchange of I-55 and state routes 10 and 121. A postimpact fire ensued and fire fighters utilized water to extinguish the fire. There were no injuries to any personnel on the ground. A postaccident examination of the airframe and engine found no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures. The postaccident examination of the wreckage did not reveal evidence of a bird strike or snarge.

Postaccident testing by Synergy Flight Center of their fueling system at the Central Illinois Regional Airport (BMI), Bloomington, Illinois, found no abnormalities with their 100 low lead fuel.

A preliminary review of weather data prior to and at the time of the accident found no evidence of low-level wind shear occurring near the accident site at the altitude the airplane was performing the orbiting turn.

The four-seat airplane was equipped with a Garmin G1000 all-glass avionics suite and a stall warning system. The Cessna 172S Pilot's Operating Handbook states that the stall speed (power off) for the flaps up position is 53 kts calibrated airspeed (KCAS) and for the flaps down position is 48 kts KCAS. This document further discusses stalls and states in part:

The stall characteristics are conventional and aural warning is provided by a stall warning horn which sounds between 5 and 10 knots above the stall in all configurations.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Air Safety Foundation has published Safety Advisor (Operations and Proficiency Number 8) Maneuvering Flight – Hazardous to your Health? This document discusses aerial work and states in part:

Aerial work includes photography, pipeline patrol, banner towing, and crop dusting. These activities require a significant division-of-attention at low altitudes. Pilots performing aerial work are generally highly qualified and use excellent judgment. But, if something goes wrong, there is little time to recover. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna
Registration: N157SF
Model/Series: 172S
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Synergy Flight Center, LLC
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KAAA, 597 ft msl
Observation Time: 0235 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 4 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 5°C / -5°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: Calm / ,
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.86 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Bloomington/Normal, IL (BMI)
Destination: Bloomington/Normal, IL (BMI) 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 2 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: Unknown
Total Injuries: 3 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 40.165833, -89.418056 (est)

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

Mitchell W. Janssen
August 11, 1997 - March 3, 2020

Mitch Janssen

Mitchell W. Janssen, 22, of Princeville passed away on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 in Logan County.

Mitchell was born August 11, 1997 in Peoria, the son of Steven and Stephanie (Gilles) Janssen. He is survived by his parents, and one brother, Justin Janssen, all of Princeville; grandparents, Ray and Jackie Gilles of Princeville; one great- grandmother, Joan “Jo” McNeely of Princeville; and three uncles, Chad (David Barroga) Gilles of Las Vegas, Jerry (Teri) Thomas of Metamora, and Rick (Lisa) Thomas of Norwood. He is preceded in death by grandparents, William and Judie Janssen.

Mitchell graduated from Princeville High School in 2015, where he was a standout athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball. He obtained his private pilot’s license on September 17, 2014, from the Synergy Flight Center in Bloomington, IL. He completed ATP Flight Schools in Las Vegas and Dallas, TX where he became a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor. He was a member of the Central Illinois Outlaws travel baseball team during high school. He then attended Bradley University, studying family and consumer sciences, earning scholastic honors and playing collegiate baseball for the Braves as a pitcher. Bradley placed him one summer in Lafayette, IN to play with the Lafayette Aviators. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 2019. Mitchell was a commercial pilot at Air Wisconsin Airlines and a certified flight instructor at Synergy Flight Center. He was a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers, but had a special love for the Bradley Braves. His adventurous spirit found him traveling to new and exciting destinations with many of his friends.

Mitchell’s family will receive visitors on March 7th, 2020 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Princeville High School gym. A service to honor and celebrate Mitchell’s life will be March 8th, 2020 at 2 p.m., with a 1 hour visitation prior to - also at the high school. Burial to be held at a later date.  Memorial contributions may be made to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation on behalf of the Bradley baseball team fundraiser, “WE ARE #VSCANCER”.  Haskell Funeral & Cremation Services in Princeville is handling arrangements.

Matthew "Matt" Hanson
1986 - 2020

Matthew "Matt" Hanson, 33, Fort Collins, Colorado; formerly of Green Bay, passed away due to a plane crash on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. He was born on June 24, 1986, in Green Bay to Dean and Mary (Loew) Hanson.

Matt was a 2004 graduate of Bay Port High School and graduated in 2008 from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point with a degree in Biology. He went on to get his Master's at Florida Atlantic University earning his degree in Environmental Science in 2012. Matt did his thesis on bald eagles in the Everglades. His friends referred to him as "bird nerd" - birds were his thing. His first job in Florida was with U.S.G.S. He was currently working at Schoenoer Environmental.

Matt loved the outdoors and was such a free spirit. He went out on a limb to move to Fort Collins to discover his life. Matt loved any kind of nature, whether it was water, woods or mountains. He took every opportunity to be outside - anything outdoors, he did it. Every weekend he was in the mountains. Matt grew up hunting with his dad, grandpa, uncle and friends. He was the youngest member of the "County Line Gang." He continued to carry on the tradition while hunting in the Colorado mountains.

Matt was an outgoing and sociable guy. He made many friends wherever his travels took him; often friendships were made over a Craft beer.

Matt was a very handy, kind hearted, genuine, caring, smart, compassionate and silly man.

In addition to his parents, he is survived by his sisters, Michelle Hanson and Jaclyn (Joshua) Sullivan; nieces, Olivia Sullivan and Amelia Sullivan; maternal grandmother, Louise Loew; and numerous uncles, aunts, cousins and friends.

Matt was preceded in death by his maternal grandfather, Robert Loew; paternal grandparents, Evander and Marvelene Hanson; and an uncle, Dale Hanson.

The best way to honor Matt is to plant a tree, recycle or to do something to better planet Earth.

Visitation will be at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 2597 Glendale Ave., from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Tuesday, March 10; followed by the Mass of Christian Burial at 12 noon with Rev. James Lucas officiating. Blaney Funeral Home is assisting the family. To send online condolences, please go to www.BlaneyFuneralHome.com.

Kevin G. Chapman
October 6th, 1989 ~ March 3rd, 2020 (age 30)

On Tuesday morning of March 3rd, 2020, Kevin G. Chapman, of Urbana left this world. He was 30 years old.

Kevin was born on October 6, 1989 in Lansing, Michigan.  He moved to Urbana, IL in June 2002 and graduated with honors from Urbana High School in 2008.  He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from SIU Carbondale and a Master’s degree in Ecology from Utah State University.  Kevin worked as a wildlife technician with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and as an ecologist for a number of fish and wildlife projects in Oregon and Washington. He most recently worked out of Urbana as a project biologist with Shoener Environmental Inc. 

Kevin loved the outdoors, whether for work or fun, and embraced any opportunity to hike, camp, or have a casual fireside beer. His friends and family will remember Kevin for his loving and genuine spirit, the enriching intellectual conversations, his wonderfully absurd sense of humor, and his passion for games of all kinds. Kevin was always dependable. Whether you needed support during a difficult time, help with a project, or someone to build memories with, Kevin was consistently the first one there.

He is survived by his parents, Kenneth and Kena Jo Chapman of Urbana, his brother, Kristopher Chapman of Champaign, grandparents, Kenneth and Joan Helkaa of Ypsilanti, MI, as well as his loving aunts, uncles, and cousins. He was preceded in death by his grandparents Lee and Norma Chapman of Salem, IL.

Kevin’s earthly remains will be interred in the Columbarium at First Presbyterian Church in Champaign, IL. A celebration of Kevin’s life will be held in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church, 302 West Church Street, Champaign at 2 pm, Monday, March 16, 2020. All are welcome to attend.

Kevin was passionate about environmental issues and was committed to educating and inspiring others to serve and support the natural world. Donations in his name can be made to the National Wildlife Federation (www.nwf.org), The Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org/en-us), or the Champaign County Humane Society (www.cuhumane.org)

Kevin Chapman

Mitch Janssen


  1. So unfortunate... I wonder if loss of power was involved. Maybe gliding towards the highway just to discover it was rush hour. May they Rest In Peace.

    1. I agree about the power loss. All air crashes have a chain of events.March 3,2020 was a very windy day.I checked the WX for KAAA and the time closest to the crash.The wind had began picking up latter than the crash time and may have not been a factor.{AUTOMATED REPORTING]I know this area well and the plane may have also hit the guardrail.The occupants didn't have a chance. Massive explosion! Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families....

  2. Only speculation....Loss of power and got into the guardrail. Apparently couldn't make it to a better place to land.May all rest in peace.

  3. Loss of power, while possible, is improbable. This was a very well maintained aircraft under the care of a reputable company, and piloted by a well-trained pilot. Hopefully, the NTSB will discover enough clues to answer at least some of our questions and give a modicum of closure to family and friends.
    Condolences to all.

  4. Yea that is confusing, plenty of open space to set a 172 down. I can't see from the pics, maybe a wing clipped a sign and spun it into the median and ignited? If ANY traffic I'd probably choose the field, keeping in mind power lines and posts can be hard to see until too late. RIP to those involved, they were very unlucky.

  5. I have seen this before in flight training ... even with more experienced pilots ... simulated engine failure where are we going to go? and the pilot picks a narrow road or a busy obstructed hi way instead of some better choices close by. Hey, he took off on asphalt and now wants, really badly, to land on asphalt.


  6. Background of passengers makes it a possibility that the flight included conducting some type of aerial survey. Risks of maneuvering at lower altitude and reduced speed would come into play if so.

    1. Preliminary report confirms the aerial survey activity.

  7. A bunch of young guys tree-topping a Cessna looking for bald eagles. Gee, what could go wrong?

  8. Aerial survey work can include fixation on something you want to turn back and have a better look at, which can lead to an accelerated stall. Here is an example:


  9. This is why Aerial survey work should be done by a drone

    1. And everyone should walk to work, and park all cars. The sky is not falling. Sadly,accidents happen daily. Prayers sent for the loved ones family and friends. So So sad.

    2. Turns out that this flight was to photograph just one eagle nest that was near to paved roads. Use of the aircraft was not necessary. Drone photography would have given a better photo result, any way you look at it.

      Perhaps after this accident the company will adapt and use aircraft for general or initial survey work but use a drone for specific detail follow up when appropriate. This was not a long lonely pipeline in a remote location.

  10. With little more than one big pile of plane burning in one contained area, no big skid marks up to the fire and pile of melted aluminum I say.... Low altitude STALL/SPIN into asphalt, i.e. Road !
    Our Prayers for these young men, God Bless. I lost a friend in an accident about the same as this....... the outcome was the same.

  11. This accident may have been prevented if the pilot had done a better job of evaluating the flight scenario and had properly addressed the risks involved with low level flight over a heavily wooded landscape.

    1. And the pilot evaluation should have offered only straight line flybys where his focus would simply be to maintain level flight and constant airspeed. Turning back for another pass would then be done at a distance, using appropriate altitude & airspeed during the turn.

      The set up for the next pass after the turn would re-establish the desired conditions and drag straight on by again. Repeat as much as desired, steady as she goes, only significant risk is unplanned power loss.

      Orbiting about a point with photographers that need minimum possible airspeed should have been off the table for low level flight. Send someone back in a pickup truck with a drone if 360 orbit photography is desired.

  12. Aft CG, low altitude, slow flight, turn, stall, spin, crash.

  13. Forget the birds, just fly the plane.

  14. From my experience flying fixed wing and operating drones for wildlife surveys, drones are not the right tool for bird surveys/photography missions. Birds will generally get spooked or dive bomb the drone, especially raptors.

    As for this flight, close to full fuel, three adults, turning slow flight while maneuvering for a photo. Why is the data track jagged on a calm day? Distracted by what? Mechanical, teetering on a stall,the biologist... Pilot flies the plane and observers/biologist collect the data. If you don't get it the first turn, orbit again.

    RIP and condolences to friends and families!

    1. Regarding the jagged appearance of the OpsVue data track: Location data points used in the track may represent a combination from several sources and methods that the OpsVue software draws on.

      All data points and methods have +/- accuracy limits. The straight line point to point plot between data points and the zoomed-in field of view in this example exaggerate the visual effect of the differences that result.

  15. Risk assessment and evaluation of the flight in this scenario should have been better.

  16. heavily loaded 172, low and slow, steep turns, pull back a little to correct in the choppy air ..accelerated stall for sure

  17. Wouldn't the stall system have triggered and alerted the pilot to speed up? This seems such an avoidable accident.

    1. Yes, avoidable. Never should have been that slow and low in the turn. They were orbiting the eagle nest and things happened quickly. Stall horn starting to sound or not, there simply was not going to be enough time/height available for recovery.

      Ground elevation at the center of the circling area is 548 feet, track data was able to see the airplane down to 1,075 feet, so the pilot only had 500 feet AGL (or less) available to do stall recovery while in a banked turn. As the previous comment stated, "pull back a little to correct"...