Low-altitude manuever kills three

Aircraft: Cessna 185. Injuries: 3 Fatal. Location: Blanding, Utah. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was accompanied by his father and his flight instructor, who was very experienced in mountain flying and familiar with the local canyon areas.

The intention was to perform multiple stops at backcountry airstrips. The flight instructor was carrying a personal locator device, which transmitted position data at 10-minute-intervals but no altitude information. This data revealed that the airplane landed at three airstrips.

Shortly after it departed the third airstrip about mid-afternoon, the instructor’s personal locator began a series of transmissions all from the same location, about 1.2 miles from an unused airstrip. These transmissions continued from that location for about the next 12 hours, however, no emergency or alert notifications were received from the personal locator or the airplane’s ELT during that period. When the airplane did not return by nightfall, search and rescue efforts were initiated.

The wreckage was found the next morning on the edge of a plateau in remote wilderness, at an elevation of 6,900 feet MSL. The wreckage came to rest on an uphill slope and was mostly consumed by post-impact fire. The terrain north and east of the accident site fell away to steep canyon walls, which descended to a confluence of rivers 1,500 feet below. Area weather conditions included low-level thermal activity, wind gusts, and light turbulence, which would have been further exasperated at the accident site due to the surrounding terrain.

Investigators determined that the flight instructor and the aft seat passenger were fatally injured on impact, but the pilot, although seriously injured, was able to extricate himself from the airplane. He eventually succumbed to his injuries before the airplane was discovered.

Although the airplane was equipped with a 406-MHz ELT and evidence suggests that it activated during the accident, it had become separated from the airplane’s structure and its antenna during the crash, which limited its transmission range. As a result, no ELT transmissions were received by search and rescue satellites.

Had the ELT remained connected to its antenna, it would have effectively transmitted an alert signal, providing Search and Rescue personnel with a rapid indication that an accident had occurred. Under such circumstances, the airplane would most likely have been discovered earlier, possibly during daylight hours.

Furthermore, although a personal locator device survived the accident intact, it was ejected from the airplane during the accident and was not within easy reach of the pilot.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain control during low-level maneuvering flight. Contributing to the pilot’s death was the lack of a timely emergency rescue response due to the lack of effective emergency signal transmissions from both the airplane’s emergency locator transmitter and the personal locator device, which were both ejected from the wreckage.

NTSB Identification: WPR12FA184

This April 2012 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.


  1. Mark Neumann says

    Seems that with the lower costs of these personal locator beacons, this might be a more effective means. Especially since our cell phones now contain accelerometers. This way you have the bead crumbs in case the device fails upon impact.

    • Tom (a different Tom) says

      I like “problematic” better than “exacerbated”; moreover, the sentence needs to be worded differently if any of these: “exacerbated” or “exasperated” or “problematic” is used in order to make any sense here.

      • Tom says

        Don’t mind me. I’m just a nit-picker. But if a person is writing for publication – be it Internet, newspaper, magazine or broadcast – a certain facility with our language is expected.

  2. Bluestar says

    ELT’s are great, as long as nothing happens and you need them, these things should be tested and certified with an internal antenna, something more robust.

    • Tom says

      You are correct. The reserch is there to support the fact that ELT’s do not work over 90% of the time and when they are activated it is usually a false alarm. General aviation pilots shouldn’t be forced to spend money on things that don’t work and give people a false sense of security. These items should be voluntary only and let the pilot decide if he/she wants a portable or aircraft mounted unit.

    • Tom says

      Hey Blustar, thanks for your participation,
      In this forum over the years,
      Whether accidents or procedures we’ve had fun,
      And those that were fatal we’ve shed tears.

      But the most important thing you must agree,
      Is the controversial subjects herein,
      To comment on those is for you and me,
      And the discussion is always a win win.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *