Aviation Accident Summaries

Aviation Accident Summary CEN21FA305

Aspen, CO, USA

Aircraft #1




While attempting to navigate over mountainous terrain on a cross-country flight, the pilot flew the airplane into a canyon with high mountains. Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast data indicated that the pilot likely attempted to fly out of the canyon. The airplane impacted trees and rising terrain and was destroyed by impact forces and a postimpact fire. Postaccident examination of the airplane and engine revealed no anomalies that would have contributed to the accident. The pilot initially requested an instrument flight rules flight plan, which included an instrument departure that the airplane was not equipped to fly. The pilot then requested a visual flight rules departure and provided his own navigation. The investigation could not determine, from the available evidence for this accident, if the pilot was familiar with or prepared to fly visually through the mountain pass.

Factual Information

HISTORY OF FLIGHTOn July 3, 2021, about 1838 mountain daylight time, a Beech G36 airplane, N36JJ, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Aspen, Colorado. The pilot and pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Air traffic control radar and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) information revealed that the airplane landed about 1353 at Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE), where the pilot and passenger stopped for fuel and lunch. According to air traffic control audio, the pilot requested an instrument flight rules flight plan to Des Moines International Airport (DSM), Des Moines, Iowa. The ground controller issued a clearance that included the LINDZ Nine departure procedure and instructed the pilot to climb and maintain 16,000 ft, which was required for the procedure, and expect to climb to 17,000 ft 10 minutes after departure. The pilot responded that he could not accept 16,000 ft and would instead depart under visual flight rules. The controller asked the pilot if he was going to fly down the valley before proceeding eastbound or northeast through the ridge. The pilot responded that he would make that decision “once we see what’s going on” after departure. The pilot advised that he would make a right turn after takeoff and requested a climb over the airport. About 1823, the airplane departed ASE and entered an orbit near the airport to climb, and the pilot informed the controller that the airplane would depart to the south-southeast. The tower controller acknowledged this transmission and advised that he would let the pilot know when the airplane was at a high enough altitude to proceed. When the airplane passed through 10,100 ft, the pilot informed the tower that the airplane would depart to the east, stating “we’re above it.” When the flight was 5 miles east of the airport, the tower controller informed the pilot that the airplane was leaving ASE airspace and approved a frequency change. The pilot asked the tower controller to recommend a frequency, but the tower controller did not respond. The airplane’s travel east and southeast put the flight’s likely intended route through Independence Pass. Rather than following Highway 82 to Independence Pass, the airplane’s flight to the east approached a ridgeline before reaching Independence Pass. A performance study for this accident revealed that, after takeoff, the airplane circled and climbed near the airport to an altitude over 10,000 ft. During that time, the airplane’s groundspeed varied between 110 and 120 knots with a climb rate of 340 to 360 ft per minute (ft/min). The airplane’s operating manual established a climb rate of 375 ft/min. After circling and gaining altitude, the airplane flew east, and the terrain elevation rose as the airplane’s climb rate decreased. About 1836, the airplane’s altitude was 10,820 ft (about 600 ft above ground level), and its climb rate was between 150 and 250 ft/min. About 1838, the airplane was at an altitude of about 11,300 ft when it turned into a semicircular bowl area where the mountain tops reached about 13,000 ft. The airplane then turned left and subsequently impacted terrain. A postimpact fire ensued. The wreckage was located 1,000 ft past the final ADSB data point, which showed the airplane at 11,245 ft and 285 ft above the terrain elevation. The estimated bank angle of the airplane at the time of its last turn was between 28° and 39°. The airplane’s estimated true airspeed showed that it was above the published stall speed (74 knots with a bank angle of 39°) during the final portion of the flight. PERSONNEL INFORMATIONAirline Transport Pilot The pilot was retained to ferry the airplane to the pilot-rated passenger/owner’s home airfield in New York. The pilot’s singleengine rating was limited to commercial pilot privileges. A review of the pilot’s certification records found that he had type ratings for several multiengine airplanes. The pilot’s logbook was not located after the accident. On his most recent application for a medical certificate, dated June 7, 2021, the pilot reported 150 flight hours during the preceding 6 months. The investigation could not determine the pilot’s flight experience in single-engine piston airplanes and the pilot’s experience, if any, flying through the Rocky Mountains. Pilot-Rated Passenger The pilot-rated passenger held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. His logbook was not located during the investigation. The pilot-rated passenger did not report any flight experience on his most recent application for a medical certificate, dated October 21, 2019. The pilot-rated passenger was the owner of the airplane, which he purchased on April 27, 2021. The pilot-rated passenger’s spouse stated that he was to operate mainly as a passenger on the flight. Cellphone messages indicated that the passenger had forgotten his headset. WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATIONThe airplane impacted the edge of a wooded area near rising terrain at an elevation of 11,050 ft. The main wreckage consisted of the fuselage and right wing. Scattered debris was located on a 345° magnetic heading. The postimpact fire consumed most of the fuselage and empennage and a portion of the right wing. The left wing was impact separated and located in the debris path. Examination of the airplane and engine revealed no preimpact anomalies that would have precluded normal operation of the airplane. Supplemental oxygen was not found in the airplane wreckage. MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATIONA forensic pathologist for Jefferson County, Colorado, conducted autopsies on the pilot and passenger. Their cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries. Toxicology testing by the Federal Aviation Administration Forensic Sciences Laboratory detected no tested substances for the pilot and passenger.

Probable Cause and Findings

The pilot’s failure to navigate through mountainous terrain, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain.


Source: NTSB Aviation Accident Database

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