Search mission ends tragically

This August 2007 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.

Aircraft: Cessna 182.

Location: Dayton, Wyo.

Injuries: 3 Fatal.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The airplane was on a mission to find a missing hiker. The pilot, who joined the search and rescue organization in April 2001, had logged 1,803 hours total time, including 1,541 in single engine airplanes. He also had been trained in mountain flying. Winds were recorded 20 gusting to 25 knots. Winds normal to the ridgeline of 20 knots or greater is conducive to leeside turbulence. Mission procedures state that a pilot should adjust the search altitude based upon the winds aloft. For each 10 knots of wind the pilot should add an additional 1,000 feet to the search altitude. The pilot reported on his mission planning statement that his search altitude would be at 1,000 feet.

A witness observed the airplane flying approximately 400 to 600 feet above the ground. Another airplane located the missing hiker. A short time later the burning wreckage of the accident airplane was located on the east down sloping face of a canyon wall. The airplane was destroyed by fire. An examination of the airplane’s systems revealed no anomalies.

Probable cause: The pilot’s inability to maintain aircraft control while maneuvering in mountainous terrain due to gusty wind conditions and leeside turbulence.

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