The non-instrument-rated private pilot was making a visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country flight in the Sonata TB20 Trinidad over mountainous terrain near Sierraville, California.
Radar data revealed that the airplane initially flew in a northerly direction after takeoff and then turned west toward the destination. This route was consistent with a route the pilot had followed on previous flights.
The last radar return, which occurred about 18 minutes after takeoff, showed the plane was about 20 nautical miles northwest of the departure airport and about 0.47 nm southeast of the accident site on a southwesterly heading at an altitude of 8,869′ mean sea level (msl).
Shortly after, the plane hit remote, snow-covered, mountainous terrain on a northerly heading at an elevation of 7,697′ msl. Both the pilot and passenger were killed in the crash.
The changes in heading and altitude between the last radar return and the impact suggest the pilot began maneuvering the airplane after radar contact was lost.
A survey of the accident site revealed a linear debris path and damage to the airplane that were consistent with controlled flight into terrain.
Examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal evidence of any mechanical anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.
Review of weather information strongly suggests that clouds, light rain, snow, or mixed precipitation was falling and instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) likely existed in the accident area. It is likely the pilot encountered IMC conditions and was maneuvering in an attempt to return to VFR flight when the airplane collided with terrain.
Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to continue visual flight rules flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in controlled flight into mountainous terrain.
NTSB Identification: WPR17FA105
This April 2017 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.