Aircraft: Cessna 180. Injuries: None. Location: Huntington, Utah. Aircraft damage: Substantial.
What reportedly happened: The commercial pilot was using his high-wing, tailwheel-equipped airplane to participate in an Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles event at a non-towered airport.
The airport was situated in high desert terrain at an elevation of about 6,000 feet.
About 1 p.m., when the pilot had already completed eight flights, and the other airplanes and pilots had also been actively flying, the pilot boarded three young passengers.
According to the pilot, there were no clouds in the immediate vicinity, the wind was calm, and an automated weather broadcast for an airport about 17 miles to the northeast reported similar conditions. He started the airplane and taxied out for departure on runway 8. The airport windsock was “motionless” as he began the takeoff roll.
A few hundred feet down the runway, while the airplane was still below liftoff speed, the left wing rose up, and the airplane weathervaned nose left about 60°. The airplane exited the left side of the runway, and swerved about 120° nose right before it came to rest. The right wing and fuselage sustained substantial damage, and the pilot and passengers were uninjured.
About the same time, a flight instructor in an airplane on the downwind leg for runway 8 encountered “turbulence,” which resulted in a 500-foot altitude loss before she could stop the descent by “climbing” at her best angle-of-climb speed.
Numerous people at the airport for the event reported that a sudden, strong, and unexpected “wind gust” swept across the airport, and disturbed many objects on the ground, including some airplanes. They reported that it traveled approximately northwest to southeast, which meant that it approached the Cessna 180 from its left rear quarter.
One pilot on the ground reported there was a “storm brewing” near the mountains, about six miles northwest of the airport, at the time of the accident.
According to Advisory Circular 00-24, which addresses thunderstorms, “Gust fronts often move far ahead (up to 15 miles) of associated precipitation. The gust front causes a rapid and sometimes drastic change in surface wind ahead of an approaching storm.”
Probable cause: The pilot’s inadvertent encounter with a gust front during the takeoff roll, which resulted in loss of control of the airplane.
NTSB Identification: WPR12CA440
This August 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.