On May 31, 2014, a small plane crashed not far from Front Range Airport, killing the pilot, Aurora resident Amritpal Singh, and a passenger who hasn't been publicly identified. Now, the National Traffic Safety Board has issued its report about the tragic accident, and the cause is highly unusual: Investigators believe Singh lost control while taking self-portraits. Photos, video and details below.
See also: Photos: LeeAnn Rimes, Kevin Nealon Twaeet From Scene of Fatal Aspen Plane Crash, published January 2014
According to 9News, Singh was flying a Cessna/150. His flight took off at around 12:30 a.m. on the 31st, and family members reported him missing a few hours later, circa 3:45 a.m.
The wreckage was discovered at 7 a.m. that morning. Neither Singh nor the passenger survived the crash.
Singh's online obituary reads in part:
Our Pilot Amritpal Singh Dhillon has found peace in the celestial skies. His loved ones: Brother Gurdeep Singh; Mother Sandeep Kaur; Father Jaswinder Singh Dhillon celebrate the adventurous life, the unconditional love for all, and the never-ending happiness of their beloved Amritpal. He will continue to be a role model for young and old alike as they follow in his footsteps. He taught us to go above and beyond for each life he touched. With heavy hearts we will remember and miss him as he continues to provide faith in the unseen, undying ambition, and strength to do right.
What led to the untimely deaths of Singh and his passenger? The three-page NTSB report, which can be accessed by clicking here, notes that visibility at the time of the flight was around seven miles, with overcast clouds at approximately 300 feet above ground level -- fairly typical conditions at Front Range Airport, not far from the community of Watkins. But then, the document continues, the Cessna "did not remain in the traffic pattern, and reached an altitude of 740 ft agl. The airplane made a left turn, which tightened as the airplane descended about 1,900 ft per minute. The airplane impacted a field and bounced one time before it came to rest upright."
No mechanical reason was found to explain the plane's fatal descent. However, the report notes that "an on-board recording device (GoPro) was found near the wreckage and the files were recovered. Based on the available information, it is likely that the GoPro files were recorded on May 30 and May 31, 2014, with the final GoPro file recorded during the six-minute flight in the traffic pattern."
The accident itself was not recorded. Instead, the document's author writes that "the GoPro recordings revealed that the pilot and various passengers were taking self-photographs with their cell phones and, during the night flight, using the camera's flash function during the takeoff roll, initial climb, and flight in the traffic pattern.
"A post-accident examination of the airplane did not reveal any pre-impact anomalies that would have precluded normal operation. Based on the wreckage distribution, which was consistent with a high-speed impact, and the degraded visual reference conditions, it is likely that the pilot experienced spatial disorientation and lost control of the airplane."
In other words, the NTSB believes the flashes blinded Singh -- a conclusion technically described in the report like so:
The evidence is consistent with an aerodynamic stall and subsequent spin into terrain. Based on the evidence of cell phone use during low-altitude maneuvering, including the flight immediately before the accident flight, it is likely that cell phone use during the accident flight distracted the pilot and contributed to the development of spatial disorientation and subsequent loss of control.
Our condolences to the friends, family and loved ones of Amritpal Singh and his passenger.
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Below, see a report by 7News via YouTube broadcast shortly after the May 2014 crash.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.