DENVER – A pilot who lost control while taking selfies was likely the cause of a small plane crash that killed two men this past spring, according to federal investigators.
Pilot Amritpal Singh, 29, and his passenger were killed instantly when Singh's Cessna 150K crashed into a wheat field in Adams County shortly after midnight May 31. The wreckage was discovered around 7:30 a.m. that morning.
A GoPro camera mounted to the plane's windshield recorded Singh and several other passengers taking selfies on their cellphones during a series of short flights before the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board found. While the GoPro didn't record the flight where Singh crashed, investigators portrayed a pattern of the pilot taking selfies and possibly texting while giving rides to a series of passengers above Front Range Airport, about 30 miles east of Denver. Singh's plane was about 740 feet above the ground before it descended rapidly and hit the ground.
"It is likely that cellphone use during the accident flight distracted the pilot and contributed to the development of special disorientation and subsequent loss of control," the NTSB said.
Federal rules prohibit commercial pilots and aircraft crew from using cell phones or other personal electronic devices while at their duty stations while taking off, landing or when below 10,000 feet. The rules are different for private pilots on private planes, however. Private pilots are barred from dangerous or careless behavior, but the rules don't specifically ban the use of phones.
And many private pilots use their phones or iPads instead of traditional paper charts or built-in navigation systems. That's because small planes like the Cessna Singh was flying often lack the complex navigation and display systems familiar to anyone who's ever sneaked a peek inside a commercial airliner's cockpit.
Although the FAA doesn't have a specific rule governing the use of cell phones by private pilots, it expects them to pay attention while flying, said spokeswoman Laura Brown.
"We expect pilots to operate safety, and our rules prohibit them from operating carelessly or recklessly," she said. Brown declined to comment on the specifics of Singh's crash.
Flight instructor Tony Moreno said he often takes photos of clouds while flying -- but only when it's appropriate.
"Why take a picture at that critical moment of flight?," said Moreno, who works , an instructor with Rocky Mountain Flight School in Centennial. "Why disrupt your concentration on the really critical tasks at that important moment?"
NTSB investigators said the evidence suggests that Singh got distracted, then disoriented, stalled the plane, and crashed. Singh also lacked certification for flying at night with instruments and for carrying passengers at night.
"During the climb-out portion of flight, the pilot uses his cellphone to take a self photograph. The camera's flash was activated and illuminated the cockpit area," NTSB investigators reported about one of Singh's flights a few minutes before the crash. "During the climb-out phase, the pilot was seen making keyboard entries to his cell phone and additional keyboard entries on a portion of flight consistent with the downwind leg."
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