Selfies Caused Fatal Plane Crash?

News: A May 2014 small plane crash was blamed on the pilot's taking selfies.

On 3 February 2015, a news story about a May 2014 fatal plane crash was widely covered by various media outlets. According to several reports, the fatal accident in question occurred in part because the pilot was taking “selfies” just prior to the crash:



“Selfies” likely contributed to a single-engine plane crash east of Denver last May that killed two people, federal investigators said in a report released last week.

The National Transportation Safety Board said a GoPro video camera was found near the plane’s wreckage in Watkins, about 25 miles east of Denver. Recordings on the device showed several flights where the pilot and his passengers were taking “self-photographs” with their cellphones.


Media reports linked back to a National Transportation Safety Board determination of probable cause issued on 27 January 2015. The NTSB’s findings and subsequent reports mentioned the use of a GoPro video camera,
a compact and lightweight but rugged type of video camera often used in extreme-action video photography. GoPros are typically worn by their users or mounted on a moving object and are thusly favored by individuals seeking to film action that would otherwise require their undivided attention.

The NTSB report noted files on a GoPro camera found near the plane’s wreckage recorded passengers on the crashed plane had been taking self-photographs, commonly known as “selfies,” on flights in the plane over the preceding two days (including the use of flashes during nighttime flights), but the GoPro’s files did not include video of the final, fatal flight:



An onboard 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 6-minute flight in the traffic pattern. The accident flight was not recorded. 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.

The NTSB report on the accident was somewhat ambiguous: it stated as likely “the pilot experienced spatial disorientation and lost control of the airplane” and cited pilot distraction due to cell phone usage (but not “selfies” specifically) as a probable factor, leaving it unclear what caused the spatial disorientation and whether the pilot was supposedly distracted because he was using his cell phone to take selfies, was accessing his phone for some other purpose (such as texting), or was disoriented by flashes from the phones of other passengers who were taking selfies (the flight in question carried only one passenger):



A postaccident examination of the airplane did not reveal any preimpact 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. 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. A review of the pilot’s logbooks did not show that he met the currency requirements for flight in instrument meteorological conditions or night flight with passengers.

Ultimately, the NTSB concluded the probable cause of the crash was “The pilot’s loss of control and subsequent aerodynamic stall due to spatial disorientation in night instrument meteorological conditions. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s distraction due to his cell phone use while maneuvering at low-altitude.”

The Denver Post identified the deceased pilot as 29-year-old Amritpal Singh. The passenger killed in the crash was not named in reports.

Last updated:   3 February 2015