Friday, August 22, 2014

Cessna R172E Skyhawk, Reg. Victory Equity Construction Inc DBA, N516MA: Accident occurred August 20, 2013 in Meeteetse, Wyoming

The story of how Billings teenager McKenzie Morgan walked away from a plane crash in the remote mountains of Wyoming will be featured during a segment on Sunday night's episode of "Dateline," NBC's long-running television newsmagazine series.

"It's kind of unreal," said Morgan, 18. "It's such a big thing to be a part of, and I never imagined my life would take that kind of turn. It doesn't happen to people where I'm from. It's crazy."

In the segment, titled "Into the Wild," correspondent Keith Morrison details how on Aug. 20, 2013, Morgan crashed high in the rugged Absaroka Range near Meeteetse, 

Wyo., during her first solo airplane flight and walked away with minor injuries before hunters scouting the area found her several hours later.

"I was tremendously impressed with her," Morrison said in a telephone interview with the Gazette. "She’s an intrepid young woman."

Morgan, a 2014 Billings Senior High graduate who recently moved into the dorms for her freshman year at the University of Montana, was 17 and working to earn her private pilot's license — a goal she's since accomplished — when she became disoriented during her multistop training flight that started out of Laurel earlier in the day.

The plane crashed on Franc's Peak and flipped onto its roof. Morgan managed to scramble out but didn't have any way to call for help.

Two area men — Nathan Coil, of Casper, Wyo., and Joshua Alexander, of Douglas — were scouting the area for the upcoming hunting season and saw the plane crash. They later helped to rescue Morgan.

Morrison said that the unlikely "two needles in a haystack" circumstances that led to the crash and the hunters happening to be in the area combined with Morgan's determination to become a pilot and the rugged wilderness make for a compelling story.

"Everything in it was just way outside the boundaries of normalcy, and it happens to be an absolutely stunning part of the globe," he said.

He also noted "the lingering respect I have for this young woman" after doing the story.

Morgan said that crews from Dateline started working on the story in November, conducting numerous interviews and eventually getting footage of her flying again and eventually earning her pilot's license in March.

"I was up in the air two days later, fighting to get my license, which is what I wanted," she said. "In March, they filmed my solo cross-country flight. I had to do another one, since my first one didn't go so well."

Subjects in the piece also include Gazette photographer Larry Mayer, an experienced pilot who helped to organize the search for Morgan immediately after the crash.

Morgan said she plans to watch the piece on Sunday at her grandparents' house outside of Missoula with friends, family and her flight instructor.

Two days after the one-year anniversary of the crash, she said it changed her for the better, giving her a new outlook on life.

"Looking back, it's brought me closer to my family," she said. "It's taught me to value every day more because anything can happen."

Story, photos and video:   

NTSB Identification: WPR13CA381
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, August 20, 2013 in Meeteetse, WY
Probable Cause Approval Date: 11/19/2013
Aircraft: CESSNA 172E, registration: N516MA
Injuries: 1 Minor.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The student pilot reported that while on a solo cross-country flight she was using dead reckoning  through the mountains. The pilot was unsure of her location and as she proceeded to the west, the mountainous terrain became steeper, which required her to ascend from 7,500 feet mean sea level (msl) to 8,500 feet msl. The student stated that being unable to clear the rising terrain in her flight path and unable to turn the airplane around, she elected to make a landing. During the approach a gust of wind hit the right wing, which resulted in the nose landing gear impacting the rocky terrain. The airplane nosed over and  sustained substantial damage to both wings and the empennage. The pilot reported no mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airframe or the engine that would have precluded normal operation.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The student pilot's inadequate preflight planning and failure to maintain clearance from rising terrain, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's lack of situational awareness.


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