Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Piper PA-28-235 Cherokee, N8814W: Fatal accident occurred June 30, 2014 in Georgetown, Colorado

NTSB Identification: CEN14FA328
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, June 30, 2014 in Georgetown, CO
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/12/2015
Aircraft: PIPER PA 28-235, registration: N8814W
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

A customer service manager at the fixed-base operator (FBO) reported that the pilot, who was preparing for the cross-country flight, was looking for information on how to fly over the mountains. At that time, there was no one at the FBO who could provide him information on mountain flying, and no posted information was available. She later heard that the pilot planned to take off under visual flight rules and fly through the mountains along the interstate. 

Radar data showed that the airplane took off to the west, turned south, and then climbed to about 10,400 ft mean sea level (msl). Once the airplane reached the interstate, it turned west toward the mountains and followed the interstate. About 25 minutes after taking off, when the airplane was at 10,200 ft msl, radar contact with the airplane was lost. Witnesses near the accident site were consistent with their accounts, which indicated that the airplane was flying between about 11,000 and 11,500 ft msl (200 to 300 ft above the ground) with the engine producing power. The airplane was in a nose-high attitude when it started turning left away from rising terrain. The airplane then turned about 180 degrees, rolled over to the left, and entered a steep dive before impacting trees and terrain. One of the witnesses indicated that, before the left turn, the airplane’s path seemed pretty flat with little gain in altitude. A postimpact fire ensued, which consumed most of the airplane.

A postaccident examination confirmed flight control continuity and revealed no preimpact anomalies with the engine or airplane systems that would have precluded normal operation. The pilot did not use any weather or flight planning services. No evidence was found that the pilot had obtained training in mountain flying. A weather model determined that, at the time of the accident, the density altitude was about 12,850 ft, which would have reduced the airplane's climb rate by more than 90 percent. It is likely that, as the pilot attempted to cross over the mountainous terrain, he raised the airplane's nose such that the airplane was beyond its critical angle-of-attack, which, combined with the airplane's decreased climb performance, led to an aerodynamic stall and loss of control.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot’s inability to maintain a climb while maneuvering the airplane in high-density altitude conditions that degraded the airplane’s climb performance and his exceedance of the airplane’s critical angle-of-attack, which led to an aerodynamic stall and loss of control. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s inadequate preflight planning and his decision to fly into mountainous terrain.

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On June 30, 2014 about 0849 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA-28-235, N8814W, impacted mountainous terrain at the Loveland Ski Area near Georgetown, Colorado. The pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. The airplane was destroyed, and a postimpact fire occurred. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot as a 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal cross-country flight which operated without a flight plan. The flight originated from the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (BJC), Broomfield, Colorado, at 0810 and was en route to Moab, Utah.

A customer service manager at the fixed base operator (FBO) reported the pilot in preparing for the flight was looking for information on how to get over the mountains. At that time, there was no one at the FBO who could provide him information on mountain flying, and there was no posted information available. She later heard that the pilot planned to takeoff VFR and fly through the mountains along the interstate.

A line technician reported that he met the airplane when it arrived at BJC on June 27. The line technician helped the pilot and his family with their luggage and drove them to an awaiting family car. Before they left, the pilot did a walk-around inspection of the airplane. When the line technician arrived at the airport on June 30, the pilot had already loaded the airplane. The pilot said they were going to Moab, Utah and planned to stay there a couple of days. Then they were going to fly to the Grand Canyon and spend a couple of days there before continuing to Los Angeles. The line technician said the pilot and his family were in good spirits and were not in a rush to take off. The line technician said he did not see the pilot do a preflight of the airplane but did watch him start the airplane and taxi it to the self-serve pumps. A fuel receipt from the fixed-base operator showed that the pilot loaded the airplane with 57.86 gallons of fuel. The line technician said he had indirectly heard that the pilot intended to take off and fly through the mountains along Interstate 70 to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Radar data showed the airplane departed BJC to the west. At 0814:36 the airplane was at 5,500 ft mean sea level (msl) and transmitting a transponder code of 1200. The airplane then turned south and continued to climb to about 10,400 ft. Once the airplane reached Interstate 70 at Golden, Colorado, it turned west into the mountains. At 0837:25, the airplane passed over Idaho Springs, Colorado, at an altitude of 10,400 ft msl. Radar contact was lost at 0839:35 when the airplane was 9 miles west of Idaho Springs at an altitude of 10,200 ft msl.

Several witnesses saw the airplane as it approached the Loveland Ski Area near Georgetown, Colorado, which is about 20 miles west of Idaho Springs. One witness said he was coming out of the Eisenhower Tunnel heading east when he saw the airplane banking hard left about 200 ft above Interstate 70. He said the airplane then "just fell out of the air and crashed." The witness said that other than the low altitude, he did not notice anything before the crash that indicated a problem. 

Another witness had been hiking and was taking a break at 0845 on the west ridge of a mountain north of Interstate 70 and a few miles east of the accident site. He was at 11,700 ft msl, and had a good view of the valley looking west toward Interstate 70 and the Loveland Ski Area. He said he saw an airplane coming in low and heading west toward Mount Trelease, which is just north of Interstate 70 before the Eisenhower Tunnel. The witness said the airplane was about 300 ft below his location, was going pretty fast, and was quite loud. He estimated the airplane was flying at an altitude between 11,300 ft and 11,500 ft msl. He said the airplane's path seemed pretty flat with very little gain in altitude. The witness expected the airplane to pull up as it approached Mount Trelease but the airplane did not gain any altitude. He thought the airplane would crash into the mountain, but then the airplane banked left, made a 180-degree turn east and then dropped below the ridge of Mount Sniktau south of Interstate 70. He then saw a big plume of smoke. He estimated that everything he saw took place in about 1 ½ to 2 minutes.

Another witness, who was driving on a switchback road in the Loveland Ski Area saw the airplane flying west along the mountains. The airplane was at an altitude of 11,000 to 11,200 ft msl and in a high nose-up pitch attitude. The witness said he saw the airplane "break" into a left turn and enter a spin. The airplane was in a steep left bank and "deep" nose-down attitude. He watched the airplane descend rapidly and go out of view behind the trees. He rolled down his window to hear if there was a crash. When he didn't hear anything, the witness thought maybe the pilot recovered safely from the rapid descent. However, as he came to a horseshoe bend in the road, he saw the smoke from the post-impact fire. The witness said he did not hear any engine sounds before the accident because he had his car windows rolled up.

PILOT INFORMATION

The pilot, age 42, held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. According to the pilot's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) medical records, on April 30, 2014, he reported having 278 total flying hours and having flown 60 hours in the 6 months before the examination. 

The pilot was issued a limited third-class medical certificate dated April 30, 2014. The certificate showed that the pilot must have glasses available for near vision. 

In spite of repeated efforts, no other pilot records were obtained to substantiate his training and experience beyond what was reported to the FAA. 

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The airplane was a Piper Aircraft Corporation model PA-28-235 Cherokee. The four-place single-engine airplane, serial number 28-10360, was manufactured in 1964 and had an airworthiness certificate classifying its operation in the normal category.

The airplane was powered by one Lycoming IO-540-B4B5 carbureted engine rated at 250 horsepower at 2,800 rpm.

The facility that maintained the airplane provided all records for maintenance performed on it. According to those records, the airplane underwent an annual inspection on July 5, 2013, at airframe total time 5,425.05 hours. The last maintenance was performed on April 9, 2014, at an airframe total time of 5,533.73 hours. The facility's mechanics replaced the exhaust gas temperature probe in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions and performed a satisfactory operations check. The total airframe time at the accident could not be determined because of the extensive thermal damage to the airplane's tachometer and Hobbs meter.

METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS

At 0853, the routine aviation weather report for Centennial Airport, about 47 miles east of the accident site, was wind 120 degrees at 6 knots, 10 miles visibility, scattered clouds at 2,300 ft, temperature 78 degrees F, dew point 39 degrees F, and altimeter 30.03 inches of mercury.

At 0851, the weather station for Keystone and Last Chance, Colorado, 4 miles southwest of the accident site, reported winds from the southwest at 1 mph, gusts to 7 mph, temperature 59 degrees F, dew point 32 degrees F, humidity 36 percent, and altimeter 29.78 inches of mercury.

A weather model that produces estimates of the atmosphere was used for the accident area to determine density altitude, potential turbulence, and updrafts and downdrafts. Based on model temperature and dew point, and surface pressure for the surface location of the accident, 11,645 ft msl, the density altitude would be approximately 12,850 ft msl. Surface observations for wind at the accident site were approximately 15 knots. However, about 2,000 ft above the mountain peaks in the Loveland Pass area, the wind velocity increased to 30 to 40 knots. Aircraft-scale turbulence existed in the area within 2,000 ft of the terrain, and maximum updraft speeds of 300 to 500 ft per minute and maximum downdraft speeds of 300 to 400 ft per minute existed near the accident site. 

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The accident site was located on the side of a mountain slope at an elevation of 11,645 ft msl. The airplane wreckage was spread along a 186 ft-long down-sloping path through a forest of Subalpine fir trees on a 246-degree magnetic heading. The elevation where the main wreckage was at was 10,960 ft.

The first point of impact was a Subalpine fir tree that was broken off about 69 ft above the ground. The airplane's left wing tip, two sections of the left outboard wing, and the left aileron were found about 45 ft west-southwest of the first impact point resting on the ground, and they were crushed and broken aft at mid-span. Pieces of cut wood, broken branches, Fiberglas, and paint chips were scattered across the ground beginning at the first point of impact and running along the accident site heading for about 147 ft. Several pieces of cut wood showed a cut angle of 45 degrees with black paint transfer in the wood fibers along the cut edge. 

The terrain from the first point of impact to where the airplane's main wreckage came to rest was down-sloping at an angle of about 18 degrees. The main wreckage, which consisted of the airplane's engine, propeller, cabin, right wing, left inboard wing, both main landing gear, baggage compartment, aft fuselage, and empennage rested inverted at the base of four Subalpine fir trees. These components were charred, melted, and consumed by fire. A burned area about 75 ft long and 54 ft wide surrounded the main wreckage. Several trees knocked down by the airplane were also located in the burned area.

Continuity from the control yokes and rudder pedals to the aileron bellcranks, stabilator crosstube, and rudder horns was confirmed at the accident site. The right aileron control surface was charred and melted. The rudder and stabilator surfaces were consumed by fire.

The airplane wreckage was retained for further examination.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

The results of an autopsy performed on the pilot on July 3, 2014 by the Jefferson County Coroner's Office, Golden, Colorado, showed cause of death due to loss of blood secondary to laceration-transection of the aorta related to blunt force trauma sustained in the accident.

The FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute performed forensic toxicology on specimens from the pilot. Test results were negative for all tests conducted.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

The airplane wreckage, engine, and propeller were examined at Greeley, Colorado, on July 14, 2014. An examination of the airframe wreckage confirmed continuity from the flap handle to the flaps; however, the position of the flaps could not be determined. An examination of the elevator trim cable determined the trim was at the neutral position. The fuel selector handle and valve were examined; however, the tank position selection could not be determined due to the extensive thermal damage.

The engine crankshaft and camshaft rotated freely. All valves and pistons moved freely. All cylinders showed good compression. A borescope examination of the cylinders showed no anomalies. Both magnetos were removed and examined. The magnetos' couplers could not be tested due to the extensive thermal damage. The oil screen was removed and examined and was clean. The fuel pump, air filter, and vacuum pump showed extensive thermal damage. The carburetor body showed extensive thermal damage, and the floats were bent and broken. 

The propeller was removed from the engine's flange and disassembled. Blade A showed torsional bending, chordwise scratches, and leading edge gouges. The outer 4 inches of the blade tip was broken in overload. The blade pitch knob was sheared off. Blade B was straight and showed nicks along the leading edge. The outer 9 inches of the blade was bent aft 90 degrees. 

On July 2, 2014, Lockheed Martin flight service (LMFS) was contacted to determine if the pilot received any services or filed a flight plan. LMFS responded that neither it nor the Data Transformation Corporation Direct User Access Terminal Service (DUATS) provided any services to the accident pilot. Further, the Computer Science Corporation DUATS did not provide weather information to the pilot.

Fuel Testing

A fuel sample from the BJC fixed-base operator self-serve pump from which the pilot fueled his airplane just before the flight was secured and tested. The test results indicated the fuel was good and showed no presence of water or contaminants.

Density Altitude

FAA Pamphlet FAA-P-8740-2 (2008) "Density Altitude" defines density altitude as "pressure altitude corrected for non-standard temperature variations." Density altitude can affect aircraft performance. As density altitude increases, air density decreases, which results in decreased aircraft performance. According to the Koch chart on page 3 of the pamphlet, based on the conditions at the time of the accident, 59 degrees F and pressure altitude of about 11,645 ft, the airplane's climb rate would have been reduced by more than 90 percent.

NTSB Identification: CEN14FA328
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, June 30, 2014 in Georgetown, CO
Aircraft: PIPER PA 28-235, registration: N8814W
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On June 30, 2014 about 0849 mountain daylight time (MDT), a Piper PA-28-235, N8814W, owned and operated by a private individual, was destroyed when it impacted mountainous terrain at the Loveland Ski Area near Georgetown, Colorado. A post-impact fire ensued. The pilot and the two passengers on board were fatally injured in the accident. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal cross-country flight which was being conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 without a flight plan. The flight originated at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (KBJC), Broomfield, Colorado, at 0730 MDT, and was en route to Moab, Utah.

A witness who was driving on a switchback road on the Loveland Ski Area saw the airplane flying westbound along the mountains. The airplane was at an altitude of 11,000 to 11,200 feet MSL and in a high nose up pitch attitude. The witness said he saw the airplane "break" into a left turn and enter a spin. The airplane was in a steep left bank and "deep" nose down attitude. He watched the airplane descend rapidly and go out of view behind trees. He rolled down his window to hear if there was a crash. When he didn't hear anything, the witness thought maybe the pilot recovered safely from the rapid descent. However, as he came to a horseshoe bend in the road, he saw the smoke from the post-impact fire. The witness said he did not hear any engine sounds prior to the accident because he had his car windows rolled up.

The accident site was located on the side of a mountain slope at an elevation of 10,960 feet MSL. The airplane wreckage was spread along a 186 foot long path through Subalpine fir trees along a 246-degree magnetic heading. The first point of impact was a Subalpine fir that was broken off approximately 69 feet up from the ground. About 45 feet west-southwest of the first impact point were the airplane's left wing tip, two sections of the left outboard wing, and left aileron. They rested on the ground and were crushed and broken aft. The terrain from the first point of impact to where the airplane's main wreckage came to rest was down-sloping at an angle of approximately 18 degrees. The main wreckage, which consisted of the airplane's engine, propeller, cabin, right wing, left inboard wing, both main landing gear, baggage compartment, aft fuselage, and empennage rested inverted at the base of four Subalpine fir trees. These components were charred, melted, and consumed by fire. A burned area approximately 75 feet long and 54 feet wide surrounded the main wreckage. Several trees knocked down by the airplane were also in the burned area.

Continuity from the control yokes and rudder pedals to the aileron bellcranks, stabilator crosstube, and rudder horns was confirmed at the accident site. The right aileron control surface was charred and melted. The rudder and stabilator surfaces were consumed by fire.

The airplane wreckage was retained for further examination.


James E. Kerker:    http://registry.faa.gov/N8814W

UNKNOWN REGISTRATION UNKNOWN MAKE AND MODEL AIRCRAFT CRASHED INTO THE MOUNTAINOUS TERRAIN AND CAUGHT FIRE AT LOVELAND VALLEY SKI AREA, 3 CONFIRMED PERSONS ON BOARD WERE FATALLY INJURED, LOVELAND, CO

Flight Standards District Office: FAA Denver FSDO-03 



BROOMFIELD - The family killed in the single engine plane crash on Monday was from Raymond, Ohio. Experts say the pilot, 43-year-old James Kerker, may not have had the mountain flying experience necessary to navigate the pass he was attempting to fly over.

Howard McClure, flight instructor for Western Air Flight Academy at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport says people come to Colorado from all over the world to get mountain flying lessons.

"People come here because our mountains are some of the most treacherous in the world," McClure said.

If you can fly in these mountains, you can fly anywhere. McClure spends eight hours with students in the classroom before jumping in the cockpit. They cover the effects weather and air density can have on a trip this high up.

"We always say you've got to have at least 1,000 feet above in calm conditions and 2,000 feet above a pass in windy conditions," McClure said.

Part of his lesson includes making sure students are high enough in elevation to maneuver a full turn back to where they were coming from in case of an emergency. This was clearly not the case in Monday's accident.

"It sounds like the pilot may have been flying very low over Interstate 70, realized that he wasn't going to be able to fly through the tunnel, as well as over the tunnel or around the tunnel and tried to make a retreating turn," said aviation expert Greg Feith.

It's apparently common for out-of-state pilots to arrive in Colorado not knowing the danger of the mountains.

They're used to flying point to point, at 3,000 to 4,000 feet, and they come up here and all of a sudden they've got a big mountain. They have a tendency to fly into them," McClure said.

Experts agree warm weather may have contributed to the crash. High temperatures at high altitudes reduce the density of the air, making it difficult for planes to climb efficiently. That accident raised aircraft fatalities to 25 in the last 12 months in Colorado.

Story, photo gallery and video: http://www.9news.com

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