The National Transportation Safety Board has released the preliminary report into the crash that killed adventurer pilot Steve Fossett.
The report does not conclusively point to a single cause of the crash, but does bring up the issue of strong winds in the vicinity at the time of the accident.
Fossett disappeared Sept. 3, 2007, while flying a Bellanca Super Decathlon near Mammoth Lakes, Calif. He did not file a flight plan and, despite an extensive search by air, ground, and satellite imagery, authorities did not locate the crash site until nearly a year later when a hiker found Fossett’s pilot’s licenses along a trail near Minaret Summit in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A new search was initiated, and the wreckage of the airplane was discovered about a half mile from where the personal effects had been found. The wreckage was located at an elevation of approximately 10,000 feet. Elevation of peaks in the area exceed 13,000 feet.
The NTSB’s information indicates that winds were from the southwest at the time of the crash. The wreckage was located on a northwest/southeast heading 300 feet below a ridge line. Wind accelerates as it crosses a ridge line.
Based on weather reports and statements from pilots who were flying in the vicinity on the day of Fossett’s disappearance, investigators determined that there were downdrafts in excess of 300 feet per minute in the vicinity.
According to the performance charts for the Bellanca, the aircraft’s maximum rate of climb based on the 12,700-foot density altitude at the time of the accident would have limited it to 300 feet per minute.
A man who had been camping in the area at the time of the accident told investigators that he had seen the Bellanca flying shortly before the accident and that it looked like it was standing still because of the strong headwind.
Investigators determined that Fossett’s airplane’s engine was producing power when it hit the ground. The airplane hit so hard that it fragmented. A post-crash fire consumed the wreck. Most of the aircraft components were recovered, although destroyed by the impact. Fossett was killed instantly.
For more information: NTSB.gov/ntsb/brief.asp?ev_id=20081007X17184&key=1