Pilot's selfies could have caused deadly air crash

A GoPro camera captured the pilot and passengers taking pictures with flash during nighttime flight

The scene of the May 31 plane crash that killed a passenger and pilot.

The scene of the May 31 plane crash that killed a passenger and pilot.

A deadly air crash that killed a pilot and passenger in Colorado last year was likely due to a loss of spatial awareness brought on in part by taking of selfies while in flight, the National Transportation Safety Board has concluded.

The accident happened on May 31, 2014, at Watkins, Colorado, during a short nighttime flight. The Cessna 150, a single-engine light aircraft, took off on a 6-minute flight on a pre-determined path and landed. It then took off again but did not stick to the same path. At 740 feet above ground it made a sharp left turn and lost altitude before crashing into a field.

The NTSB recovered a GoPro camera from the wreckage that included video from previous flights. The recordings showed the pilot and passengers were taking selfies at various stages of flight including takeoff, initial climb and flight around the air field, it said. During night flights, the flash on the cellphone camera was also being used.

No footage of the crash was recorded by the GoPro.

An examination of the aircraft revealed no apparent problems that would have caused the accident so, based on the previous patterns of behavior, the NTSB concluded that "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."

"The evidence is consistent with an aerodynamic stall and subsequent spin into terrain," the NTSB said.

It added the pilot didn't have sufficient certification for night flight with passengers or flying on instruments alone.

A month before the fatal air crash, a woman was killed on a North Carolina highway after apparently posting a selfie. According to reports, 32-year-old Courtney Sanford posted a selfie on Facebook a minute before police received the first reports of a crash. Sanford was driving alone when her car crossed the median strip and hit a truck.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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