Plane crash map Locate crash sites, wreckage and more

N55479 accident description

Vermont map... Vermont list
Crash location 42.893055°N, 73.263889°W
Nearest city Bennington, VT
42.886190°N, 73.212886°W
2.6 miles away
Tail number N55479
Accident date 25 Oct 2009
Aircraft type Cessna 172P
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On October 25, 2009, about 1910 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172P, N55479, was substantially damaged following an impact with trees and terrain near the William H. Morse State Airport (DDH), Bennington, Vermont. The airplane was owned and operated by Sky Training, LLC, West Milford, New Jersey. The private pilot was killed. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted in accordance with 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The flight originated at Greenwood Lake Airport (4N1), West Milford, New Jersey, at 1730.

Two witnesses at the airport, a husband and wife, reported that the airplane was in the traffic pattern at DDH, and the pilot was performing right-hand patterns for runway 13. According to the Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD), right-hand traffic was directed for runway 31, while no traffic direction was specified for runway 13. The witnesses observed the airplane attempt two approaches, each followed by a go-around about 20 feet above ground level (AGL). On the final pattern, the airplane was observed on downwind leg, at low altitude, and in level flight. The witnesses stated that the engine was running normally, followed by the sound of an impact, then silence. The witnesses called 911 and a search for the airplane ensued. The wreckage was located approximately 0909 on October 26.

Another witness, who lived adjacent to the airport, reported that he was outside and heard the airplane. He saw the airplane approach from the west, which he thought was unusual. He stated that most traffic to the airport approaches from the east. The engine sounded normal. He observed the airplane attempt to land, but it was too high and flew down the runway without touching down. He then observed the airplane fly westbound, and thought it was going to fly past the mountain. He then heard the airplane “crashing through the trees.”

A certificated flight instructor was flying with a student in the vicinity about 1920 to 1930. He and his student were about 0.5 miles off the approach end of runway 13 at DDH and at 3,200 feet mean sea level (MSL). He heard the following transmission on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF), “Morse State Airport, Cessna (did not get his call sign) maneuvering to enter a right downwind for runway 31.” He and his student did not see the airplane making the transmission and they did not witness the accident. The flight instructor reported that most people familiar with Morse State Airport just call “Bennington traffic” and he commented to his student that the pilot “must have been a stranger to the area.”


The pilot held a private pilot certificate with single engine land privileges issued on January 14, 2005. According to his logbook, he had recorded about 174 hours of total flight time. He had logged 11.2 hours in the previous 12 months, including 2.4 hours of night time. His total logged night time was 15.8 hours and his last recorded night time was on September 21, 2009, when 4 night landings were logged. A review of his logbook did not reveal any evidence that he had previously flown patterns or landings at DDH.


According to maintenance logbook records, the airplane and engine received an annual inspection on July 30, 2009. At the time of the accident, the airplane had been operated about 66.5 hours since the last annual inspection.

According to dispatch records, the airplane began the flight with a Hobbs meter indication of 3,927.1 hours. The Hobbs meter indication at the accident site was 3,929.0 hours. According to the Cessna 172P Pilot’s Operating Handbook, the engine would burn about 6.9 gallons per hour at 2,000 feet pressure altitude, 2,300 rpm, standard temperature, and 103 knots true airspeed.


Runway 13 was 3,704 feet long and 75 feet wide. The touchdown zone elevation was 818 feet. Published airport remarks in the A/FD included the following: “Mountains all quadrants…Preferred use rwy is 13…” The following information was published for runway 13: “RWY 13: REIL. PAPI (P4L)-GA 4.0° TCH 45’. Hill.”

No pattern altitude was published.

Topographic maps revealed that there was rising terrain to the west and southwest of the runway 13 threshold, including Whipstock Hill, which rose to about 1,260 feet.

Topographic maps also revealed that for a left-hand traffic pattern, base leg terrain elevations would have varied between 700 and 750 feet.


The wreckage came to rest on wooded terrain on Whipstock Hill, at an elevation of about 1,082 feet. The main wreckage was about 0.5 nautical miles (nm) west of the approach end of runway 13.

The wreckage path was about 143 feet in length and oriented on a heading of about 020 degrees. The fuselage was inverted and the left wing was severed and found lodged in a tree, approximately 35 feet above the ground. The right wing remained attached to the fuselage. Flight control cable continuity was confirmed from the cockpit controls to the aerodynamic surfaces. The flap actuator indicated that the flaps were in the retracted position. Both fuel tanks were ruptured and no measurable fuel was found in the tanks. Approximately 1.5 ounces of residual fuel was recovered from the fuel lines. Several pieces of angular-cut wood were found along the wreckage path.

The engine was removed from the fuselage and transported to a nearby workshop for examination. Both propeller blades were bent aft, and there was leading edge gouging and abrasion of the paint. Internal engine continuity was confirmed; all pistons moved freely when the crankshaft was manually rotated and valve action was correct. Compression was observed on the numbers 2, 3, and 4 cylinders when the crankshaft was turned by hand. Slight suction and compression was observed on the number 1 cylinder. The number 1 cylinder valve rockers were struck with a rubber mallet to remove any ingested debris and compression improved slightly. The bottom spark plugs were removed and were normal in color and wear when compared to a Champion Aviation Check-a-Plug chart. There was a small amount of lead deposits noted on the plug electrodes. The magnetos were removed and produced spark at the lead ends when the magnetos were rotated by hand. The vacuum pump was removed and inspected. The coupling was intact and the pump produced suction when rotated by hand. The lower half of the carburetor was broken off from impact forces.

After recovery of the wreckage, two inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) traveled to the storage facility to examine the number one cylinder. The exhaust valve push rod was bent, but operational. Their examination with a borescope revealed no abnormalities with the cylinder.


The 1854 weather observation for DDH included the following: sky clear, surface winds from 250 degrees at 4 knots, 10 statute miles visibility, temperature 9 degrees Celsius, dew point 1 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 30.12 inches of mercury. On the day of the accident, sunset for Bennington, Vermont was at 1754, with the end of civil twilight at 1824.


A postmortem examination of the pilot was performed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Vermont State Department of Health. The cause of death was listed as, “Blunt impacts head and torso.” Toxicology testing, which was performed locally, was positive for caffeine.


As a result of the accident, the following airport remark was added to the A/FD for DDH: “Air traffic pattern ops prohibited south of Rwy 13 and Rwy 31.”

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from terrain during a night approach. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s non-standard traffic pattern over higher terrain.

© 2009-2020 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.