Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Cirrus SR22T GTSx, N333LZ: Fatal accident occurred June 21, 2021 in Mercer, Madison County, Tennessee

George Edward Cates

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.

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

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Memphis, Tennessee 
Cirrus Aircraft Corporation; Duluth, Minnesota 

Skylane Partners LLC

Location: Mercer, TN 
Accident Number: ERA21FA263
Date & Time: June 21, 2021, 09:30 Local 
Registration: N333LZ
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On June 21, 2021, about 0930 eastern daylight time, Cirrus Design Corporation SR22T, N333LZ, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Mercer, Tennessee. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

According to preliminary air traffic control communications obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration, the airplane departed Memphis International Airport (MEM), Memphis, Tennessee, about 0900 on an instrument flight rules flight plan, with an intended destination of Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), Asheville, North Carolina. The pilot established radio communications with the
Memphis Center while climbing to 3,000 ft mean sea level (msl). The controller instructed the pilot to climb to 15,000 ft msl; however, after the airplane climbed to 6,600 ft msl, it began to lose altitude. The pilot advised the controller that the airplane was experiencing engine issues associated with manifold pressure. The pilot then requested to divert to McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport (MKL), Jackson, Tennessee, where the airplane was maintained. The pilot further stated that he was not declaring an emergency. The controller cleared the airplane to MKL, with a descent to 3,000 ft msl at the pilot’s discretion. The controller then transferred communications to the MKL controller. The pilot established communications with the MKL controller while the airplane was descending through 3,900 ft msl for 3,000 ft msl. He asked for the RNAV Runway 20 approach to MKL and requested a pilot’s discretion descent to the ground to maintain airspeed. The controller advised the pilot that he needed to maintain 2,500 ft msl, which was the minimum vectoring altitude (MVA). The airplane subsequently gradually descended below the MVA and the controller advised the pilot that the Bolivar Airport (M08), Bolivar, Tennessee, was located on his right side; however, the pilot continued to MKL. When the airplane was at 720 ft msl, the pilot reported that he was attempting to land in a field. The controller advised the pilot  that radar contact was lost; however, he asked the pilot the altitude of the airplane, and the pilot stated 600 ft msl. The controller also asked the pilot if he “intended to use the parachute,” and the pilot responded “negative…busy landing.” No further communications were received from the pilot.

The wreckage was located in a field on the edge of a tree line about 10 miles southwest of MKL. The airplane came to rest upright on a magnetic heading of 360°. Several large tree branches were lying beside the wreckage. The left wing’s leading edge had tree impression marks along the length of the wing. The spinner dome had tree bark wedged in the creases of the dome. One propeller blade was fractured and found about 20 ft from the main wreckage. All three landing gears were separated but remained under the main wreckage. The empennage remained attached to the fuselage. The horizontal stabilizer remained attached to the empennage and exhibited impact damage. The vertical stabilizer remained attached to the empennage; however, the rudder was separated from the vertical stabilizer at the top and mid-point hinges. Control cable continuity was established to all flight control surfaces from the flight controls to the cockpit. The Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) was found intact. The safety pin was out of the handle, but the system was not activated. Both wings remained attached to the fuselage and exhibited impact damage. The engine remained attached to the fuselage; however, the engine mounts were fractured in numerous places. The propeller remained attached to the engine.

The airplane was recovered to a salvage facility for further examination. The bottom spark plugs were removed and exhibited normal wear. The propeller was rotated by hand through 360° of motion and crankshaft continuity was established through the valvetrain. Thumb compression was attained on all cylinders. A lighted borescope was used to examine the pistons, valves, and cylinder walls and all exhibited normal wear. Both turbochargers rotated smoothly by hand. The left turbocharger housing showed cracking and melting at the attachment flange. The waste gate was removed, and a small metal fragment was wedged between the housing and the valve, which was about 75% closed. The waste gate controller mounting bracket was fractured and the connecting rod was bent. The metal fragment was sent to the National Transportation Safety Board Materials Laboratory for identification.

The wreckage was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N333LZ
Model/Series: SR22T
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC 
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: MKL,422 ft msl 
Observation Time: 09:30 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 10 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 28°C /23°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 12 knots / 17 knots, 230°
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 2200 ft AGL
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.87 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Departure Point: Memphis, TN (MEM)
Destination: Ashville, NC (AVL)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 35.465254,-89.056968

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation may contact them by email witness@ntsb.gov, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email assistance@ntsb.gov.  You can also call the NTSB Response Operations Center at 844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290. 

George Edward Cates
September 25, 1937 - June 21, 2021

George Edward Cates was born in Burlington, North Carolina on September 25, 1937 and spent his formative years there and in Macon, Georgia before finishing high school in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Georgia Institute of Technology, graduating in 1959, where he played golf and adopted a life-long addiction to The Varsity restaurant. He finished most prayers with, "Bless Georgia Tech".

After marrying his lifelong partner and love, Bena, he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and began working for Buckeye Cellulose. He left to work in real estate development and later started The Cates Company in 1977, focusing on apartments. In 1994, The Cates Company went public on the New York Stock Exchange and changed its name to Mid-America Apartment Communities (now MAA).

A born servant leader, he focused on nurturing people and building deep relationships whether in business or civic engagement. In addition to the formation of a long-term business that created thousands of meaningful and high quality jobs, he served his community with vigor. Cates served on numerous boards including The Memphis and Shelby Airport Authority; Memphis Botanic Garden (Chair); The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis (Chair); Memphis Rotary Club (Chair); Memphis Light, Gas & Water (Chair); The Memphis Symphony Orchestra (Chair); Methodist Healthcare; First Tennessee Bank; The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees; The University of Tennessee Endowment; and in the last decade was the founding Co-Chair of both Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. and Overton Park Conservancy. Friends and colleagues have consistently pointed out his resistance to taking credit for so many of the things he accomplished, which was his standard operating procedure. He also had a secret weapon at his side in all he did, his wife Bena.

He loved life and lived it fully. He was adventurous and traveled all over the world. His passion for aviation was an important component in building his company, but also in serving others, which he did by flying families with health-related needs all across the country. He was an instrument rated pilot holding multi-engine certification in both turbo props and jets.

Although he didn't seek accolades, he received numerous awards including Georgia Tech's Dean Griffin Community Service Award in 2017.

Most importantly, to him and to those he loved, he was an extraordinary husband, father, grandfather, and friend. All who knew him were blessed by his quick wit, empathy, joy, compassion and love for all. He was intellectually curious and open-minded in an exemplary way. He lived his faith.

He leaves his wife of 60 years (as of June 16th, 2021), Bena Broyles Cates; his son Staley Cates and Staley's children Edward, Edward's wife Avery and their son James, and Staley's daughter Margaret Cates Luna and her husband Matt Luna, as well as Staley's partner Sabine Langer and her children India and Kai; his son Andy Cates and his wife Allison, and their children Stephen and Frances; as well as so many dearly loved family members and friends.

He will be buried in a private family only graveside service with a Memorial service to be set for a later date.

The family asks any gifts in his honor be directed to the Memphis area, including places he cared deeply about such as Overton Park Conservancy, Neighborhood Preservation, Inc, Memphis Fourth Estate, Soulsville, and Alpha Omega Services.

George Cates

George Cates, a Memphis community leader and former chairman and CEO of Mid-America Apartment Communities, Inc., died in a single-engine plane crash on Monday morning near Jackson, Tennessee, said Steve Barlow, president and co-founder of an organization Cates chaired.

Barlow, president and co-founder of Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. in Memphis, said he received the news from Cates' brother. Cates was 83, according to Mid-America Apartment Communities spokesperson Jennifer Patrick.

An airplane pilot taking off from Memphis was killed Monday after the plane crashed in Madison County, Tennessee, according to Tom Mapes, Madison County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer. The sheriff’s office did not release the name of the pilot who died.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said on Twitter that he was saddened by the news of Cates' death and noted Cates’ founding of a successful business and leadership on the creation of the Overton Park Conservancy.

Cates founded the Cates Company in 1977, which went public in 1994 as Mid-America Apartment Communities, Inc. (MAA), according to the Memphis Society of Entrepreneurs’ member page about Cates. He has also chaired boards of several Memphis organizations, including Memphis Light Gas & Water, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, the Memphis Symphony, the Memphis Rotary Club and more, it said.

Cates served as MAA president and CEO until his retirement in 2001 and approached leadership “with a servant heart and a humble style,” said MAA Chairman and CEO H. Eric Bolton Jr. in a statement.

“While some of us had the privilege of working directly with George for a number of years, everyone at MAA today knows something about him through the culture and long-term success that defines our company today,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen characterized the loss of Cates as one that would be felt throughout Memphis.

"In George Cates, there was no more engaged leader and advocate for Memphis. George was a good friend and advisor and his loss will be felt throughout our community," Cohen said in a statement. "His work as founder and board member of the Overton Park Conservancy was typical of the kind of service for which he will be remembered – bringing people together in public places and preserving nature for future generations...His was a very well-lived life.”

Cohen said he extends his condolences to Cates' wife Bena Cates, along with his children, grandchildren and “many friends.”

Cates called the 'ultimate connector'

Cates was a ubiquitous non-profit administrator, known for fostering deep connections among Memphians determined to raise the quality of life for others. 

Barlow called Cates, "the ultimate connector," in Memphis.

"You couldn't go a week without him telling you about someone that you needed to talk to," said Barlow. "And sometimes, you know, the people he would connect you to ... you would have no idea why. But eventually, you'd figure it out."

Cates cared about myriad issues that impacted fellow Memphians, Barlow said, but housing in particular was something he remained fixated on. 

"He was really interested in what he called 'slum housing,' because he had made his whole career on providing high-quality rental apartments all over the southeast. But, it always bothered him that there were these people who were making money on poor people while providing substandard housing."

It's why, Barlow said, that in his last years working with Mid-America Apartment Communities before retiring — Cates fixated on raising awareness in his professional circles about the negative consequences of substandard housing, and how it could further exacerbate poverty.

Barlow and Cates were introduced by his son Andy Cates, but from there on, it was the elder Cates that helped introduce Barlow to multiple civic leaders who had a vested interest in improving neighborhoods.

And beyond quality housing, Barlow said, Cates was also passionate at leveling the playing field for minority-owned businesses in Memphis.

"He passionately wanted to remove the barriers that kept minorities from succeeding in places where non-minorities were thriving, for no reason other than race," Barlow said.

Robert Fockler, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, said Cates was a visionary leader with a heart for his community.

“Anybody who knew him in the business world knew him as an entrepreneur with an incredible business vision," Fockler said. "He brought that to the table, but with the heart of a social servant.”

Cates was on the foundation’s board for ten years and served as board chairman in 1999 and 2000.

“Mr. Cates was always willing to have an ear to listen and to answer questions, and he was always so helpful to me as I grew up in the business community,” said Duncan Williams, president of Memphis-based Duncan-Williams, Inc. and board president of the Society of Entrepreneurs in Memphis. “All of us in the business community, and really all of us in Memphis, know what he’s done for this city. It is obviously a huge loss for our city.”

Plane found Monday morning in Mercer

The Madison County Sheriff’s office received a call around 9:30 a.m. from the county fire department that said a plane was missing, Mapes said. Authorities found the plane around 11 a.m. in Mercer, which was flying out of Memphis toward Asheville, North Carolina, he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the pilot's death. The plane was a Cirrus SR22T GTSx, and only the pilot was on board.

"The Federal Aviation Administration will release the tail number of the aircraft after investigators verify it at the accident site," the FAA said in a statement. "The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate. Neither agency identifies people involved in aircraft accidents or incidents."

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator should arrive at the scene Tuesday morning, said Keith Holloway, NTSB spokesperson, in an email.

"It is very early in the investigation and one of the investigator’s priorities will be to begin the process of documenting the scene and examining the aircraft," Holloway said.

Memphis International Airport spokesman Glen Thomas referred questions to the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.


  1. Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
    I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air….
    R.I.P fellow Angel Flight pilot.

  2. https://dailymemphian.com/section/business/article/22612/memphis-civic-leader-george-cates-dies-plane-crash

    1. That article says he was diverting to KMKL after communicating trouble, crashed in freshly planted soybean field 15 miles short but did not pull the chute.

      Looks like he flew on while losing altitude for about another 10 minutes after the divert, plenty of time to hit the chute. Tough to see a life lost under those apparent conditions/options.


    2. he was trying to make that field and save the plane.....clipped the trees at the edge------had he only pulled the chute....he had enough money to buy that plane ten times over.......poor decisions all around...including being in a highly complex plane at 83 years old with no copilot.

    3. I agree, Sultan. I can see it in my mind: "No one is telling me I'm too old to fly!", "ATC can't tell me where to land, even if it's closer!" and finally, "I'm not going to use that newfangled parachute gizmo to save my life!". As another poster once said, you can't fix stupid.

  3. Wow, thanks for the tracing on adsbexchange. That is absolutely tragic, looking at the rate of descent at end he may have been trying to stretch the glide.

    Fellow Cirrus pilots, if not assured a safe landing, pull the chute! It is a high performance airfoil and low wing with wheels with fairings, you are likely to catch the gear and spin the plane putting it down in a field at 65 kts which will near-total it anyway. It's not a great plane to deadstick.

    Glide to a safe-ish place, and if no airport / clear and really smooth field in site or in IMC, pull the chute.

    Pull the chute.

  4. Pulling the chute is so important to preserve the value of the plane minus the airframe insurance companies now will void the deductible if done, as an incentive.

    1. Interesting. I had always thought that by pulling the chute, the airframe was damaged beyond repair. The hard landing would add to the damage.
      Of course I’m an advocate of using the chute no matter the financial outcome. Can’t put a value on human life.
      Seems lately Cirrus fatals are a monthly event. Sad but true.

    2. I don't understand why an 83 year old would be flying a plane as complex as the Cirrus22......seriously--why fly a plane beyond your capabilities at such an advanced age? and to not have the cognition to pull the chute. wow

      Flying planes and taking quick decisive action is a perishable skill.....some people seem to think they are immune to that.

    3. Sultan, as a retired airline captain with over 34,000 hrs, 9,000 in GA aircraft, I've sold my 210.....For the reasons you list here. Hate to give it up, but as famous movie actor once said in a movie:
      "A man's got to know his limitations"
      RIP, condolences to family.