The preliminary report for the TNFlygirl crash says:

About 1019, the airplane entered the first of a series of climbs and descents with corresponding fluctuations in its observed groundspeed. During these oscillations, which varied in magnitude, the airplane’s altitude varied between about 6,400 ft and about 5,300 ft. About 1057, the airplane entered a descent that arrested about 4,300 ft at a groundspeed of 143 kts, after which it climbed to 6,050 ft and slowed to 85 kts. The airplane then began to descend rapidly before ADS-B contact was lost in the vicinity of the accident site. During the last several seconds of the flight, the airplane was on a ground track of 262° descending at a groundspeed that reached a maximum of 228 kts, and the estimated maximum descent rate was about 11,900 ft per minute.

Now I'm not asking what the cause of this crash was as that would be speculative and off-topic, but I am interested in what sort of things could cause a pilot to essentially nosedive into the ground on a clear VFR day with low winds.

This incident was not a stall or spin one, so I don't even have an idea of what kind of things could cause this to happen and would like to know for future reference, and to honour the pilot in question by at least taking away some valuable lessons from the incident.

Further viewing / preliminary analysis here and here.

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    $\begingroup$ Note to answerers: Any speculation on the cause of the linked accident will be removed. We do not speculate on ongoing investigations here. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented Jan 16 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ Your second link gives one possibility that could certainly apply to other accidents. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 16 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ Note to commenters: If you comment on the cause of the linked accident that will also get removed. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented Jan 17 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because it's inviting speculation $\endgroup$
    – ROIMaison
    Commented Jan 18 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ Usual immediate cause is failure of one or more components (including crew as "components" here). However, the purpose of an investigation is to find the underlying root cause. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 19 at 9:37

3 Answers 3


A few things come to mind:

  • Partial or full pilot incapacitation. Anything from a heart attack, or stroke, through to hypoxia could make a pilot lose control and crash. Illness does not care whether the pilot is in VMC or IMC.

  • Spatial disorientation. Sounds unlikely on a clear day, but it's fairly easy to fixate on one thing (possibly a problem in the cockpit) at the detriment of almost everything else. There's a reason we're drilled Aviate, Navigate, Communicate!

  • In-flight fire. Even a minor egress of smoke or fumes could either distract or disorient a pilot to the point of crashing. A full-blown fire could disable crucial controls or the pilot.

  • Mechanical failure. The failure of a crucial component such as the elevator could lead the pilot to lose control and crash

Basically, you're asking "What are all the reasons one might crash in fair weather" and that's a pretty vague and broad question, bordering on off topic.

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    $\begingroup$ Let's not forget the all too common collection of pilot actions that can be summarized as "Stupid Pilot Tricks." $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Commented Jan 18 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ Also add to the list, the rare, but possible: suicide by pilot. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn’t bird strikes be another possible cause of fair weather crashes? Also pilot and/or ATC error(s)? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 19 at 3:29
  • $\begingroup$ Plastic particles in the fuel truck. (Real story, but they managed to save the plane despite stuck throttles.) $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Commented Jan 19 at 4:48
  • $\begingroup$ @ToddWilcox, bird strikes are rare at altitude. Yes, there was that vulture that got hit at 37,000 feet, but the majority take place within a hundred feet of ground level. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 19 at 22:03

For now, let it be a cautionary tale about trying to fly too close to the sun by buying a complex aircraft with only 100 hrs of flying time. Only the military can get away with that sort of stuff because of its tightly controlled and concentrated environment.

It's good that you've had the experience of mental saturation, and understand the need to absorb and internalize aviation's unforgiving nature in baby steps.

Lots of us have this poster on our walls. "An even greater degree than the sea" is mainly because of the added 3rd vertical dimension to the Ways To Get Yourself In Trouble.

I used to teach float ratings. Seaplane ops add a lot of off-airport, exposure-to-the-public, and boating hazards to the aviation stuff. I always started off my initial briefing with:

"Floats is easy to master. It's a big, stable catamaran, wants to point straight, easier than taildraggers really. The hard part is staying out of trouble."

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Are you referring to the FAA definition of "complex" or a more generic definition? (i.e. autopilot, electric trim, etc.) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 16 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ Airplane with retractable gear and constant speed prop mainly. That's the FAA definition no? And she had to get an endorsement for it in the US? Not required in Canada so I'm not totally familiar with the requirements. The vids of her's from a year before confirmed she was hopelessly in over her head, and her instructors were useless wimps who just pushed buttons for her. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Jan 17 at 6:10
  • $\begingroup$ I mean no disrespect to Captain Lamplugh, but to be "in danger" means nothing more or less than to be in a situation that affords you few options for escape without harm, and that's precisely where you are if your situation is "unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect." $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 17 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ @SolomonSlow Standing on the beach near the ocean is not inherently dangerous. But if due to carelessness, incapacity, or neglect, you continue to stand there when a tsunami warning is sounding you will soon find a situation that affords you few options for escape without hard. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Jan 18 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael, I agree. Lingering on the beach while a tsunami approaches is dangerous. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18 at 18:45

In my opinion the most probable root cause for any of this type of crashes would be insufficient experience.

This can be broken down to four subcategories:

  • Low overall hours. In this case the pilot simply hasn't accumulated enough experience to fully manage the plane, maybe even the most basic aspects of flight.

  • plane/pilot mismatch. The pilot may be proficcient as such, but not familiar with the specific plane or equipment he/she ends up using.

  • "Shallow capabilities". The pilot may perform excellently in normal conditions, but simply has not (been) trained to manage adverse circumstances such as those listed in Jamiec's answer.

  • Holes in the cheese. The pilot may have been trained poorly,leaving hidden but often critical gaps in knowledge/abilities.

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    $\begingroup$ This is flying (pun intended) very close to speculation on this specific accident. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented Jan 17 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree, it's the other way around: the specific accident just, sadly so, happened to manifest some of the things I listed 😏... I'd rather have the reference to the accident edited from the question, since it to certain extent limits the answers. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Jan 17 at 8:46

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