Teen pilot crashes plane near flooded area in Liberty County, officials say

An investigation is underway after an aircraft flown by an 18-year-old crashed near a flooded area in Cleveland Sunday, Liberty County Sheriff’s Office said.

CLEVELAND, Texas – An investigation is underway after an aircraft flown by an 18-year-old crashed near a flooded area in Cleveland Sunday, the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office said.

According to deputies, the teen called around 10 p.m. saying that a Cessna 172 single-engine plane he was flying crashed. Authorities said he couldn’t give his exact location but told dispatchers he was hurting, cold, and wet.

Dispatchers were able to ping his phone and discovered he was about 3,800 feet south of the Cleveland Airport runway and close to Tarkington Bayou, which had been flooding, deputies said.


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Cleveland Fire Department was dispatched to the airport, but authorities said flood waters made it difficult to locate him. An airboat was called in Firefighters were able to get a side-by-side to the area and the pilot, who still had dispatchers on the phone, reported hearing voices and seeing lights, deputies said. Firefighters said they were finally able to get to the plane just after 11 p.m.

According to investigators, the plane was totaled and was nose-first into the ground.

The teen was reportedly taking the plane to Cleveland for service work and was to meet his father there. Authorities said the aircraft took off from an airport near Telge and SH 99 in west Harris County at 9:08 p.m., but dropped from the tracking around 9:38 p.m.

The teen never flew over 1,700 feet and his altitude was quite sporadic throughout the flight, at times getting down to 1,200 feet with a speed of 100 MPH, investigators said.

Authorities said the runway lights at the airport were not operational and had not been for a long time. A Texas Department of Transportation requested bids for lighting and new asphalt, however, it was stalled due to bidder qualifications and COVID-19, investigators said.

Last August, it was reportedly announced that KSA Engineers had been hired by the City of Cleveland to make the improvements. It is unknown if the young pilot realized that there was no lighting on the runways as he approached the airport, authorities said.

The Federal Aviation Administration released the following statement, saying the crash will be investigated:

“A single-engine Cessna 172 crashed into a marsh near Cleveland Municipal Airport in Cleveland, Texas, around 9:30 p.m. local time Sunday, Jan. 29. Only the pilot was on board. The FAA will investigate.

  • Contact local authorities for the name and medical condition of the pilot.
  • The FAA will post a preliminary accident/incident report here usually the next business day.
  • After investigators verify the aircraft registration number (N-number), it can be searched here.”

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