The flight instructor and private pilot-rated student were flying a five-leg, cross-country flight to conclude a mountain flying training course. The final leg of the flight was intended to cross over the mountains near a popular mountain pass, which was frequented by local pilots because of the landmarks and highway below.
When the flight was overdue, a search was conducted. The Piper PA 28R-201’s wreckage was found in a mountain pass near Steamboat Springs, Colo., about two miles south of the mountain pass that the pilots had intended to cross during the final leg. Both pilots died in the crash.
The density altitude around the time of the accident was calculated to be about 11,200 feet, which would have degraded the airplane’s performance. According to the Pilot’s Operating Handbook, at a density altitude of 11,200 feet with the landing gear and flaps retracted, the airplane would have had an expected climb rate of between 175 and 200 feet per minute (fpm).
Documents about mountain flying found onboard the airplane stated that flight in mountains should not be attempted unless a climb rate of at least 200 feet per nautical mile (300 fpm) is available.
Therefore, it is likely that the airplane could not attain a sufficient climb rate to clear mountainous terrain and that the pilot did not enter the pass at an appropriate entrance angle, which reduced the possibility of a successful escape maneuver.
The NTSB determined the probable cause as the pilot’s inability to maintain a climb while attempting to cross over a mountain pass in high-density altitude conditions that degraded the airplane’s climb performance. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s decision to attempt the flight in mountainous terrain and to enter the pass in such a way that an escape maneuver was not possible.
NTSB Identification: CEN14FA414
This August 2014 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.