Inexperienced pilot’s flight over mountains ends tragically

Accident Reports are provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, they are intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.

Aircraft: Mooney M20K.

Location: Pinedale, Wyo.

Injuries: Three fatal.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot had a private pilot certificate but did not have an instrument rating and there was no record of him having any experience or training in mountain flying. According to family members he was trying to fly from Sunriver, Ore., to Scottsbluff, Neb. No flight plan had been filed. The aircraft took off in VFR conditions. The pilot contacted air traffic control several times during the flight to get updated weather briefings.

The plane had been airborne for approximately three hours when it approached the Wind River Range in central Wyoming. Radar data indicated that the pilot descended from 15,500 feet to 14,300 feet to avoid clouds as he crossed the continental divide at Gannett Peak, elevation 13,804 feet. It was snowing lightly at the time of the flight. Approximately 20 seconds after the radar recorded the pilot’s altitude of 13,804 the aircraft began to descend at 4,200 feet per minute. The wreckage was found three days later.

Probable cause: The pilot’s inadvertent flight into adverse weather conditions, and his failure to maintain terrain clearance while maneuvering.

Aircraft: Piper Pacer.

Location: Shelton, Wash.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was practicing wheel landings in gusty winds. Upon touchdown the airplane swerved to the left. The pilot attempted to regain control of the aircraft through a combination of power and rudder inputs, but was unsuccessful. The airplane left the runway and rolled onto the ramp. The airplane suddenly jerked to the right before coming to a stop. Examination of the right main landing gear revealed that part of the lower fitting assembly used to support the shock cord had fractured and separated from the main strut. In addition, the main strut was improperly welded into position.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to adequately compensate for wind conditions during landing. Factors include a crosswind, fracture/collapse of the landing gear and an improper weld on the landing gear assembly.

Aircraft: Cessna 180.

Location: Kingman, Ariz.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was undergoing instruction in a tailwheel airplane. During a practice landing on a dry lake bed, the pilot overcompensated, resulting in a loss of control. The CFI announced that he had the controls, but the pilot did not remove his hands from the control yoke or his feet from the rudder pedals. The CFI was unable to regain control of the airplane before it ground looped and nosed over onto its back.

Probable cause: The pilot’s excessive and improper use of the rudder control during the landing roll and the flight instructor’s inadequate supervision, which resulted in an inadvertent ground loop and nose over.

Aircraft: Cessna 172.

Location: Chamblee, Ga.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: A pilot and CFI launched for an instructional flight. Shortly after takeoff the CFI noted that full nose-down elevator deflection could not be achieved in cruise flight. They returned to the airport and landed without further incident. Examination revealed the threaded shaft of the nose gear steering bungee assembly was fractured, and the damaged component restricted the movement of the elevator. It was determined that the part was not a component approved for use on Cessna aircraft.

Probable cause: The fatigue fracture of the nosewheel bungee assembly, which restricted the movement of the elevator control and inadequate replacement parts.

Aircraft: Taylorcraft BC.

Location: Cumberland, Md.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot reported that while flying near a mountain slope the airplane “experienced a downdraft and dropped 600 feet.” The airplane “fell” into transmission lines and became entangled, upside down, about 25 feet above the ground. The pilot, who told investigators he had flown the route many times but had never encountered a downdraft, had not possessed a medical certificate since 1986. When asked by the FAA inspector to provide records of his flight reviews, the pilot could not provide any. He admitted that the aircraft had not undergone an annual inspection since 1998. The pilot gave a newspaper account of the accident to the investigators in lieu of providing a statement.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain adequate airspeed, which resulted in an inadvertent stall into transmission lines.

Aircraft: Beech Musketeer.

Location: Crystal River, Fla.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot stated the landing flare/touchdown at Crystal River Airport was normal, but about 50 feet after the initial touchdown the airplane suddenly veered to the left. The aircraft went off the runway, crossed a grass median and taxiway, coming to rest in a ditch. Investigators found tire skid marks extending from the touch down point to 3,000 feet down the runway. There were no mechanical problems with the aircraft.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain directional control during the landing rollout, which resulted in the airplane departing the runway and incurring damage.

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