Pilot and ATP student commits suicide using Cessna 172
On the 24th of January 2024, a brand new Cessna 172 was stolen from ATP Flight School in Addison, Texas, and deliberately crashed, killing the pilot who was the only occupant.
ATP Flight School claims to be the largest commercial pilot flight academy in the US. ATP offers airline-oriented flight training and is said to be a fast track to become a pilot with United Airlines and other top US airlines.
With the ATP Airline Career Pilot Program, which is their focus, students with zero hours/experience pay just over $100,000 to walk out as a commercial multi-engine pilot and a certified flight instructor. The graduates then build up their flight hours as instructors until they meet minimum hours required by the airlines. ATP Flight Schools are described as high-stress and with constant pressure.
A quick search on ATP on the flying subreddit found me the following recent quotes:
Now, your instructors are humans, and they are not malicious. But ATP is like a machine and the instructors seem to feel an enormous amount of pressure to push you through! Be ready to study harder than you have ever done before and to treat every flight like a check ride. This is the only way to prepare yourself for success.
Literally, I would wake up at 3am to fly at 4am, then proceed to study at the training center until 5pm. After that, I would go to the gym for an hour, return to the student housing and study until 10-11pm. This happened almost every day for 4 weeks. The 4am flights didn’t happen everyday, so on most days I would show up at 8am at the training center for ground study. This was tough! These days were spent building your lesson plans and practicing them with your peers. Those who showed up passed the ride, those who did not study were the ones who didn’t make it.
You will be doing the bare minimum to get you checkride ready as fast as possible and push you along to the next rating. It is fast paced and high stress. It is not for everybody and thats ok. I loved it and never busted a checkride. Your might get a 300 hour CFI or a 1000 hour CFI. You dont get to choose. I ended up getting a 300 hour one who would show up hungover so I got myself a mentor (with literally every single rating the FAA issues from A&P/IA to DPE, seaplane to rotary) to teach me the ins and outs of aviation after graduating and I now feel like I have a solid foundation of knowledge along with a dash of confidence. To paint a better picture, I started with 8 people and finished with 3.
I recently moved across the country to start flight training at ATP in Arizona, I have around 18 hours so far, my instructor keeps getting mad at me and stressing me out by telling me I’ll never be a pilot. My approaches are bad, my communication with atc are bad, I’m not really catching on to designated flight zones, i’m terrible at flying in traffic, I just don’t know what to do. I’ve been doing non stop ground work, but I don’t even want to fly anymore.
I want out, because looking at my finances, assuming I pass everything (which is unbelievably uncommon), I will most likely owe $130,000 in student loans. With the pay rate at which instructors get, there is absolutely no way I can repay that loan, as well as my other bills, as a CFI with ATP. Not to mention that I’m not even guaranteed a job, and could potentially wait months for an opening. However, if I discontinue the program, there’s a good chance that I will still owe nearly $70,000. 70k for 12 months worth of living expenses, checkride fees, sim fees, overflight time, actual flight time, ground fees, online course fees, fuel surcharge, post and pre-flight fees, and more. In fact, I’ll be lucky if I just owe 70k. Not many know about this information, but if you’re thinking about ATP, don’t! No dream is worth being taken advantage of like this.
Now, that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of good pilots coming out of the system, but if you don’t fit in? It sounds like it is soul destroying.
The Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP, registered in the US as N23107, is apparently the same as the Cessna 172S (the most recent model, introduced in 1998) with leather seats and dual-axis autopilot. N23107 was manufactured in 2023 with an airworthiness date of 22 December 2023 and then purchased by ATP Aircraft 1 LLC. ATP use “Career Track” as their call sign; the Cessna 172 had a call sign of Career Track 655.
On the Wednesday evening, about 19:00 local time, a pilot attending ATP Flight School took the aircraft for a flight without permission. ATP do not lock their aircraft; the students have codes in order to gain access to the airport.
Local media referred to the pilot as a “student pilot”, which is not quite correct: having received his PPL on Christmas Eve of last year, he was both a pilot and a student.
The pilot told ATC that he was going to perform touch-and-go manoeuvres, which are common during training. For a touch-and-go, the pilot literally touches down on the runway and then quickly reconfigures the aircraft and takes off again without ever slowing down. The point is to practice landings as efficiently as possible by immediately going back into the circuit and setting up for a new landing.
Here is the audio from LiveATC.net archive but it is hard to listen to:
The following is my transcription of the the exchange between Addison Tower and the pilot.
Addison Tower: Career Track 655, runway 34, cleared touch and go.
Career Track 655: 34, cleared touch and go.
The pilot performed one touch-and-go but after the aircraft had pulled away from the runway, the pilot made a chilling call to the Tower.
Career Track 655: Addison Tower, Career Track 655 is actually going to depart to the east. I’m climbing up through the clouds and then just going to head outside of everything and … Uh, about right now, you’ll probably realise that I’m not going to listen to your instructions and I’m just heading to East Texas and I’m Career Track. So, I’m going to pull the Comm 1 circuit breaker and the Comm 2 circuit breaker right here, soon as I unkey the mike.
Pulling the circuit breakers means that the two radios (Comm 1 and Comm 2) will no longer function, so there’s no way to contact the pilot.
Addison Tower: Career Track 655, [this is] Addison Tower. Say again?
And then there was silence. It was instrument conditions, with cloud cover in the area reported as low as 200 feet with low visibility.
The controller tried repeatedly to contact the pilot and received no response.
The pilot departed from the circuit heading east and then flew a figure eight before turning left for a northbound heading and then another left turn towards the north west, travelling a total of 100 nautical miles. The ADSB track is available on Globe ADS-B Exchange.
Then, the Cessna climbed to 11,000 feet before starting a rapid descent at nearly 5,000 feet per minute. A normal descent in a small aircraft like this is around 500 feet per minute.
The audio was posted to social media sites within a couple of hours, before the wreckage had been found.
With the low cloud, it took search and rescue over two hours to find the wreckage, which was eventually spotted at around 23:00 local time using a drone.
The NTSB is examining the wreckage and data from the flight while the FAA investigate regulatory issues involved with the taking of the aircraft.