Sunday, July 11, 2021

Unknown or Undetermined: Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP, N517LA; fatal accident occurred July 13, 2019 near West Houston Airport (KIWS), Harris County, Texas

Noshir Medhora

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board

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

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

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Katy, Texas 
Accident Number: CEN19FA221
Date & Time: July 13, 2019, 10:30 Local
Registration: N517LA
Aircraft: Cessna 172 
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Defining Event: Unknown or undetermined 
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted
Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal


The pilot departed on a local personal flight in day visual meteorological conditions. According to flight track data, after departure from the airport to the north, the airplane made a left turn to the southwest. The airplane continued to travel southwest over a major highway and then continued to the west. Over the final 1.5 minutes of the approximate 3-minute flight, the airplane's speed increased from about 104 kts to about 151 kts and the altitude descended from 1,050 ft to about 300 ft at the last data point. The airplane impacted a tree, parking lot, and building and the airplane was destroyed from fragmentation upon impact with terrain and the postimpact fire.

A witness near the accident site thought that the airplane was going to land in an open field nearby. He stated that the airplane was "very low" and it "banked to the right" before impact. The witness reported that the engine sounded "totally revved with a high pitch" and the engine did not produce any abnormal sounds.

Postaccident examination revealed no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation. Autopsy and toxicological testing of the pilot revealed no evidence of physiological impairment or incapacitation.

The circumstances of the accident are consistent with an inflight loss of control; however, the reason for the loss of control could not be determined based on the available information.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot’s loss of airplane control and subsequent impact with terrain for reasons that could not be determined based on the available information.


Not determined (general) - Unknown/Not determined
Aircraft (general) - Not attained/maintained
Personnel issues Aircraft control - Pilot

Factual Information

History of Flight

Enroute Unknown or undetermined (Defining event)
Enroute Loss of control in flight
Enroute Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

On July 13, 2019, about 1030 central daylight time, a Cessna 172S airplane, N517LA, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Katy, Texas. The private pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

The pilot had rented the airplane to conduct a personal flight in the local area. A review of automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) data showed that the airplane departed from runway 33 at West Houston Airport (IWS), Houston, Texas, about 1026 and made a left turn to the southwest. The airplane continued to travel southwest over Interstate 10 (I-10). The airplane traveled to the south of the Houston Methodist Continuing Care Hospital and then continued to the west before it disappeared from radar near South Fry Road. The final 1.5 minutes of flight track data showed the airspeed increased from 104 kts to 151 kts and the altitude descended from 1,050 ft to about 300 ft.

The airplane impacted a tree, followed by a parking lot, and then a building that was located at the Mason Creek Community Center in Katy, Texas. There were no ground injuries.

A witness who was playing tennis with seven other people at the community tennis courts observed and heard the accident airplane and thought that the airplane was going to land on the open field next to the community center. The airplane was "very low" and it "banked to the right." The airplane "slipped up" and then impacted the parking lot and building, followed by an explosion and fire. The witness reported that, while in flight, the engine sounded "totally revved with a high pitch" and did not produce any abnormal sounds.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private 
Age: 69, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine land 
Seat Occupied: Unknown
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: Unknown
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 3 With waivers/limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: August 17, 2018
Occupational Pilot: No 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: June 28, 2018
Flight Time: (Estimated) 310 hours (Total, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna
Registration: N517LA
Model/Series: 172 S
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 2009 
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 172S10915
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle 
Seats: 4
Date/Type of Last Inspection: July 2, 2019 Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2299 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 4912 Hrs as of last inspection 
Engine Manufacturer: Lycoming Engines
ELT: Installed 
Engine Model/Series: IO-360-L2A
Registered Owner: 
Rated Power: 180 Horsepower
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

A flight instructor employed at IWS flew an instructional flight in the accident airplane on the morning of the accident for 1.6 hours. The instructor reported that flight operations were conducted in the IWS traffic pattern and there were no mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airframe or engine.

A review of the airplane's maintenance records revealed no evidence of any uncorrected mechanical discrepancies.

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC)
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KTME,168 ft msl 
Distance from Accident Site: 9 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 10:35 Local
Direction from Accident Site: 279°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility 10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 7 knots / 13 knots
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None / None
Wind Direction: 320° 
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 29.8 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 31°C / 24°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No
Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Houston, TX (IWS) 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Houston, TX (IWS)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 10:26 Local
Type of Airspace: Class G

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries:
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: On-ground
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 29.774723,-95.721946(est)

The accident site was located 112 ft above mean sea level and about 4 miles southwest of IWS. The initial impact point was a 60-ft-tall pine tree that displayed damage to several of its branches. Northwest of the damaged pine tree and on the north side of a parking lot, ground scars consistent with rotation of the propeller blades were observed. The airplane fragmented into several sections upon impact with a small wood and concrete block building and was consumed by a postcrash fire.

Flight control continuity was established for the airframe. All structural components of the airplane were located at the accident site. Examination found no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airframe or engine that would have precluded normal operation. Whether the airplane's Garmin GFC 700 digital autopilot system was in use at the time of the accident could not be determined.

Medical and Pathological Information

The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, Houston, Texas, conducted an autopsy of the pilot. The cause of death was attributed to multiple, blunt force injuries.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Forensic Sciences Laboratory performed toxicology tests on specimens from the pilot; testing was negative for ethanol. Losartan was detected in the muscle and liver. Tests for carbon monoxide and cyanide was not performed.

Organizational and Management Information

IWS is a privately owned, public use airport that has a Title 14 CFR Part 61 flight school that utilizes the Cessna 172S airplane and the Cessna R-182RG airplane. 

Security camera footage of the airplane impacting the building

Security camera footage of the postimpact explosion 

 UAS view of the impact path.

 View of the recovered wreckage from the main pool.


  1. Suicide by airplane, big insurance policy.

  2. There is no reason to think this would be suicide or medical problem. There are many other more likely possibilities.

  3. After the accident the wife of the victim was questioned about the pilots health. She stated he had some heart issues. This was not disclosed to the Flight School. The aircraft was a like new Cessna 172S with no known unresolved mechanical issues. The plane was very well maintained by a FAA Approved Repair Station. There were numerous open fields directly under and around the site that could have been used for an emergency landing. Power on and no flaps directly into a storage building. Time in flight was approximately 10 minutes.
    Woody Lesikar
    Airport Manager
    West Houston Airport

  4. Pilot departed on a successful Kamikaze mission. Unknown if he intended to destroy something on the ground or just himself!

  5. When I saw that overhead photo of the scene from a distance similar to the flight path, my eyes immediately went to the field to the left of the tennis courts as a put down spot. Put the nose through those trees halfway down it if still rolling. The wife said he had heart problems so it could be medical related. I'm sure authorities will also look into his personal life around relationships and finances. Plenty of suicides out there from financial problems hidden from loved ones as well as relationship issues. Thankfully nobody was apparently at the pool. That kind of wreckage that blew through the building on the other side looks lethal.

  6. Unlikely place for a suicide and he would have flown more than 3 minutes if he was trying to do the last thing he would ever do. Would have crashed into some place not populated. Probably had a heart attack right after takeoff. Guess his body was too badly burned to tell.