Sunday, September 25, 2022

Loss of Control in Flight: Cessna 172M Skyhawk, N5185R; accident occurred February 17, 2020 at Grays Creek Airport (2GC), Fayetteville, North Carolina

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board

Investigator In Charge (IIC): Hicks, Ralph

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

Additional Participating Entity
Corey Paczkowski; Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Greensboro, North Carolina

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Fayetteville, North Carolina 
Accident Number: ERA20LA105
Date and Time: February 17, 2020, 13:35 Local
Registration: N5185R
Aircraft: Cessna 172
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Loss of control in flight
Injuries: 4 Serious 
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Instructional


The flight instructor was taking three local community college students on an orientation flight. The passenger in the front left seat was on the controls with the instructor during the takeoff. Witnesses observed the airplane pitch up aggressively during the takeoff, approaching a near vertical attitude before stalling and impacting the ground adjacent to the runway. The engine continued to run normally during the event. A rear seat passenger reported that the flight instructor told the passenger to let go of the controls, but that the passenger continued pulling back. The front seat passenger stated that after the airplane “tilted too far back” during the takeoff, he kept his hands on the yoke for several seconds before he eventually let go. Due to the extent of his injuries, the flight instructor did not recall the event. All four occupants sustained serious injuries and the airplane was substantially damaged. An examination of the wreckage did not reveal evidence of a mechanical malfunction or anomaly.

Given this information, it is likely that the front seat passenger who was manipulating the controls with the pilot applied excessive back pressure on the yoke, resulting in an over rotation, aggressive initial climb, and subsequent aerodynamic stall. The flight instructor’s remedial actions were not sufficient to prevent the stall, and the airplane subsequently impacted the ground.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The passenger’s excessive control application during the takeoff and the flight instructor’s inadequate remedial action, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall and impact with terrain.


Aircraft Pitch control - Not attained/maintained
Personnel issues Use of equip/system - Passenger
Personnel issues Delayed action - Instructor/check pilot

Factual Information

On February 17, 2020, about 1535 eastern standard time, a Cessna 172M, N5185R, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Fayetteville, North Carolina. The flight instructor and three passengers were seriously injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 instructional flight.

According to information provided by the operator and witness statements, the purpose of the flight was to orient local community college students with general aviation. The pilot, who was also a flight instructor, was seated in the right cockpit seat. The passengers occupied the other three seats. During the takeoff, the passenger in the left seat was on the flight controls with the instructor. Witnesses watching the takeoff (some of whom were flight instructors), described that as soon as the main wheels left the runway, the airplane pitched up aggressively. The airplane pitched up to a higher-than-normal pitch attitude, stalled, then collided with terrain adjacent to the runway. They also reported that the engine continued to run normally during the accident sequence.

The evening of the accident, one of the flight instructors employed by the operator visited the hospital and spoke to the passengers. She reported that one of the rear seat passengers described to her that during the takeoff the flight instructor called out for the passenger to let go; however, the passenger did not relinquish the controls. She further described that she started screaming as the airplane descended toward the ground.

In a deposition taken after the accident, the front seat passenger stated that before the takeoff, the flight instructor provided him with instructions on when to initiate the takeoff. He recalled that between a speed of 70 to 80 mph, the flight instructor would tell him to either “push in or pull out” the airplane’s control yoke. The passenger could not recall which direction he moved the yoke during the takeoff but stated that when the airplane reached about 75 mph the instructor told him to rotate the airplane slowly. After lifting off, the airplane “tilted too far back” and the passenger was only able to see the sky out of the airplane’s windscreen. He stated that the airplane, “started going straight up” and “…I was kind of, you know, freaking out…” As the airplane lifted off, his hands were still on the yoke. As the airplane pitched up, he took his hands off the yoke. He estimated that he kept his hands on the yoke after liftoff for a “couple of seconds.” He also stated that no one told him to take his hands off the yoke before he took his hands off the yoke. The flight instructor called out that he was trying to regain control and not to touch anything. The airplane began descending as “alerts” were going off in the cockpit, and the airplane subsequently impacted the ground.

Inspectors with the Federal Aviation Administration responded to the accident site and examined the wreckage. The fuselage and both wings were structurally damaged. The propeller separated from the engine. They reported that their examination of the airplane did not reveal any evidence of a mechanical malfunction or anomaly. They also calculated the airplane’s estimated weight and balance at the time of the accident, finding that the airplane was below its maximum gross weight and within center of gravity limits. The operator also reported that there were no mechanical issues with the airplane prior to the accident.

The flight instructor, due to the severity of his injuries, did not recall the event.

History of Flight

Initial climb Loss of control in flight (Defining event)
Uncontrolled descent Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

Pilot Information

Certificate: Commercial; Flight instructor
Age: 19, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine land 
Seat Occupied: Right
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None 
Restraint Used: 3-point
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane 
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): Airplane single-engine
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 3 Without waivers/limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: March 3, 2016
Occupational Pilot: Yes
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: August 7, 2019
Flight Time: 533 hours (Total, all aircraft), 187 hours (Total, this make and model), 393 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 46 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 43 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna 
Registration: N5185R
Model/Series: 172 M
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1974
Amateur Built:
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal; Utility 
Serial Number: 17263402
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle 
Seats: 4
Date/Type of Last Inspection: January 6, 2020 100 hour 
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2299 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: 98 Hrs 
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 6863 Hrs at time of accident 
Engine Manufacturer: Lycoming
ELT: C91 installed, activated, did not aid in locating accident
Engine Model/Series: O-320-E2D
Registered Owner: 
Rated Power: 150 Horsepower
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC) 
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KFAY, 186 ft msl 
Distance from Accident Site: 6 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 14:21 Local
Direction from Accident Site: 343°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Visibility: 10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 6 knots / 
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None / None
Wind Direction: 90° 
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 30.15 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 16°C / 7°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Fayetteville, NC (2GC) 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Fayetteville, NC (2GC)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 13:35 Local 
Type of Airspace: Class G

Airport Information

Airport: Grays Creek 2GC
Runway Surface Type: Asphalt
Airport Elevation: 160 ft msl 
Runway Surface Condition: Dry
Runway Used: 35 
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width: 3500 ft / 30 ft
VFR Approach/Landing: None

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 3 Serious 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 4 Serious 
Latitude, Longitude: 34.893611,-78.843612(est)

Jake Parsons, 19
Flight instructor and commercial pilot 
October 24, 2019: "I began flight instructing at Cape Fear Aviation"


  1. Wow. My first flight as an instructor was similar, but no crash. Gave a father and son an intro in a 172. Son (maybe 25) in left search, me right, father in back. Let son fly, would not let go after moderate left aileron application. I was telling him to let go, and applying some pressure in the opposite direction. I'm an AP/IA, and aware of the not real heavily built controls of a 172. Or any other light plane. So, 2 adults fighting each other through the controls isn't the best idea. The father and I were both saying "let go!", and he did, but when he first ignored me, I wondered if I'd have to punch my first paying customers. No such drama happened.
    I don't think letting a stranger perform the takeoff was the brightest incident was probably at 3-5000 AGL.

  2. This is certainly to be attributed to poor pre-flight briefing and a lackluster walkthrough of each step during takeoff. I'm shocked by the amount of instructors who just hop into airplanes with inexperienced aviators and just "go from there". Not the best way, or the safest way. Brief each minute and step of the flight from pre-flight to post flight. Terrible these three people will now be scared of small aircraft going forward. Bad career move for the instructor too. His age, 19, is obviously young, and perhaps he had yet to develop a paranoiac's sense towards risk management and safety. Glad they're all alive.

  3. The non pilot passenger is lying through his teeth in his deposition. There is no way a sane CFI would allow a complete novice to take off and manipulate the controls of a plane on his first flight and to take off. This would go against every single safety standard. And he also claim he released the controls as soon as the CFI told him to which is BS since witnesses say the plane pitched almost straight up but this takes a while too, at least 3-5 seconds of stubborn yoke held with one's full arm strength on the belly.
    Some types are pathological/sociopathic... like this one dude who couldn't help himself and pushed his wife on a train track when a metro was arriving. Same here. Some people have urges and manic obsessions which range from the mundane to the one where unprovoked a passenger on a bus decapitated with a steak knife someone next to him. Also remember that dude that stole a plane in Seattle and spoke of being twisted in the radio? The world has a lot of crazies.
    Being a CFI is one if not the most dangerous job out there. Especially on a discovery flight. And every such flight can expose the truth about a stranger that may be murderous or simply insane. This and what happened in Santa Monica recently may call for psychiatric screening for anyone interested in any discovery flight. Or at least a long interview.

    1. I let dozens of people lift an airplane off for the first time with no problems. Perhaps people were on less "meds" back then.

    2. I've known more than one pilot who routinely would let non-pilots work the controls for take off...with only a few words of instruction."

      Totally moronic.

    3. It's the same as handing a machine gun to a child and expecting it to go well. No pax has any business manipulating the controls, especially since in the deposition the lawyers had to refer to the yoke as a "steering wheel" to make the pax understand. Of course if he yanked the "steering wheel" like he would do for a car it's a different ballgame. But any CFI is supposedly trained to expect a newbie to think controls are the same as in a car hence why a very bad idea to let them manipulate them.

  4. I am a low time new PPL (41 yrs old approx: 90hrs total time) but grew up with Chuck Yeager Flight Sim, Red Baron, etc. old and simple video games/simulators. Sure it unknowingly gave me some basic fundamentals on flight and the limitations of a planes abilities but when I started flight training, during my first discovery flight, my CFI gave me controls at altitude to do a few easy turns. Guess I did ok, nice and easy inputs, never exceeding 20 degrees of bank. CFI asked "you ever spend any time on simulators?" I joking explained my time on late 80's and early 90's era games -- he laughed and said that counts!

    To help supplement my training I went and bought Microsoft Flight Sim 2020 and a decently nice flight yoke. My wife wanted to test it out after watching me for a while. Was just using the Cessna 172. So I gave her a very brief overview and she was "ready" -- OMG it was very alarming watching her, she thought she could fly it no problem but was immediately hit with the realities of her misconception of how to fly a plane. Seeing that was good for me -- it helped me be more aware and not assume people have a basic "grasp" of flying like I had. Now that I have my PPL she loves flying with me but has no interest in taking controls -- I think she scared herself in the SIM which is much better than doing such in real life.

    Glad the 4 people survived but I do understand how this may happen IRL.

  5. This happens way more often than it should. And it's not just intro flights. Several reports are here on KR where an idiot in the right front seat grabs the yoke and won't let go. The last one I remember is from some young teen snot who spazzed out and damn near killed them all. You want a Cessna or Piper intro flight? Sit in the back and don't sit up front until you sign up for lessons.

  6. Still flying high performance tandem biplane, but solo except for some trusted passengers. I used to be more generous taking people for rides, until I had a couple of instances similar to this, but not out of fear. One, a pilot himself, insisted on taking over and wanting to buzz some of his friends. The second, not a pilot but a top gun gamer, insisted on aerobatic moves and actually grabbed the stick for a few moments, I took both of these idiots for rides at the request of friends that had no idea this would happen. Both resulted in an immediate return and landing. Very unfortunate for this to happen but no need to take these risks as far as I’m concerned.

  7. CFI here was a 19-year-old!!! A kid. Inexperienced. No business being a CFI. FAA needs to set strick standards on quals for being a CFI. That idiot in the 'Hot Seat' had no business being at the controls. The CFI is totally at fault here.

    1. Age has nothing to do with it. Alexander the Great was 19 when he conquered half of the known world.
      Ageism is a thing obviously. As far as vocational training 19 year old mechanics work on your car and also are in the military everyday defending your derriere for freedom.
      One of the most irresponsible comment I saw...