Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mooney M20J, N6201N: Fatal accident occurred January 12, 2017 near Lake Hughes Very High Frequency Omnirange navigation beacon (LHS VOR), Los Angeles County, California

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities: 

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Van Nuys, California
Lycoming Engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf


Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board: https://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms


Frederick M. Espiau: http://registry.faa.gov/N6201N 

Analysis 

The instrument-rated private pilot/owner regularly used the airplane to commute for work between his home airport and an airport located about 80 miles to the south. On the day of the accident, the pilot departed his home airport and, about 5 minutes after takeoff, established the airplane on a direct course towards an aeronautical navigation beacon that was located on a mountain peak about 28 nautical miles south of the airport, at an elevation of 5,793 ft mean sea level (msl). After takeoff, the airplane initially climbed to about 7,300 ft msl, then descended to about 6,500 ft msl, before ultimately descending to about 5,750 ft msl, where it remained for the last several minutes of the flight.

The pilot was not in radio communication with any air traffic control (ATC) facility during the flight, and had not filed a flight plan, but the airplane had been tracked by ground-based ATC radar. The ATC radar track data ended near the accident site. Both radar and the data from the pilot's onboard GPS device showed that the airplane remained in about straight and level flight for at least 8 minutes before the impact. The wreckage was located about 70 ft below the mountain peak. Ground scars and airplane damage indicated that the airplane was in level flight, with significant engine power, at the time of impact. Examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal any evidence of pre-impact mechanical deficiencies or failures that would have precluded normal operation. Available medical information revealed no evidence of pilot incapacitation.

Meteorological conditions at an airport near the accident location suggested that an overcast ceiling of about 4,750 ft msl was present near the accident site. That ceiling would have obscured the peak, and would have been about 1,000 ft lower than the impact point elevation. It is likely that the pilot flew into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), which obscured the peak from his view as he attempted to cross the mountain range. The investigation was unable to determine whether the pilot entered IMC intentionally or unintentionally, or how long the airplane was operating in IMC before impact.

The investigation was unable to determine why the pilot was operating on a track at an altitude that did not provide terrain clearance, even if he did intentionally enter IMC without operating under instrument flight rules. Because the ATC radar and GPS altitudes for the flight were congruent, altimetry malfunctions and errors can be eliminated as causal factors. The pilot's GPS unit was capable of providing both visual and aural terrain/obstacle alerts, but the terrain and alert configuration settings of the GPS were not able to be determined. It is possible that the pilot either ignored or deactivated those features, and thereby deprived himself of those protection capabilities. Such a deactivation could have been the result of the pilot's comfort level with flying in that region, or it could have been inadvertent. Although the investigation could not determine what assumptions, tools, or methods the pilot used to ensure adequate terrain clearance for the accident flight, the pilot had sufficient and accurate information available, or potentially available, to enable him to avoid terrain.

All elements of this accident are consistent with a controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) event. Although the specific underlying reasons for the CFIT event could not be determined, it is likely that the pilot's comfort with the route, combined with his determination to complete the flight to reach work, caused him to enter IMC. That entry into IMC, coupled with an improper route and altitude combination, resulted in the collision with the peak. 

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's controlled flight into mountainous terrain while attempting to operate under visual flight rules in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). 

Findings

Personnel issues
Decision making/judgment - Pilot (Cause)

Environmental issues
Clouds - Decision related to condition (Cause)
Below VFR minima - Decision related to condition (Cause)
Mountainous/hilly terrain - Contributed to outcome

Factual Information

History of Flight

Enroute-cruise
VFR encounter with IMC (Defining event)
Loss of visual reference

Controlled flight into terr/obj (CFIT)


The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities: 

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Van Nuys, California
Lycoming Engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf


Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board: https://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms


Frederick M. Espiau: http://registry.faa.gov/N6201N 

Location: Lake Hughes, CA
Accident Number: WPR17FA055
Date & Time: 01/12/2017, 0905 PST
Registration: N6201N
Aircraft: MOONEY M20J
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Controlled flight into terr/obj (CFIT)
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under:  Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On January 12, 2017, about 0905 Pacific standard time (PST), a Mooney M20J, N6201N, was destroyed when it impacted terrain during cruise flight near the Lake Hughes Very High Frequency Omnirange (LHS VOR) navigation beacon. The private pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was owned by the pilot and operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions were likely present at the accident site about the time of the accident; no flight plan was filed. The personal flight departed Tehachapi Municipal Airport (TSP), Tehachapi, California, about 0849, and was destined for Zamperini Field Airport (TOA), Torrance, California.

The airplane was the subject of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Alert Notice (ALNOT), issued on January 17, indicating that the airplane was missing. In response to the ALNOT, members of the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) and the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) began a telephonic search for information about the pilot and his possible whereabouts. That search yielded a conclusion that the pilot's last known flight date was January 12, which then resulted in detailed examination of air traffic control (ATC) radar data for that day and geographic locale. A radar track with a transponder code of 1200, originating southeast of TSP and terminating at the LHS VOR, was identified as likely being that of the missing airplane. On the morning of January 18, an aerial search by the CAP located the wreckage of the airplane a few hundred feet from the LHS VOR.

The pilot based the airplane at TSP and lived in the local area. According to several people who knew the pilot, he worked three days a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) in Torrance and used the airplane to commute on each of those days between TSP and TOA. One of the pilot's coworkers typically picked him up at TOA on those workday mornings and dropped him off there after work. According to that coworker, the pilot rarely canceled any of those flights for weather-related reasons. On the morning of the accident, which was a Thursday, the coworker did not hear from the pilot but was not concerned. About January 16, a friend of the pilot realized that the pilot's truck was parked at the airport but that no one had seen the pilot for several days; his and others' actions determined that the pilot and airplane were missing, which led to the issuance of the ALNOT. 

Pilot Information


Certificate: Private
Age: 56, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Multi-engine Land; Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: 3-point
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 3 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 02/01/2016
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time:  (Estimated) 2500 hours (Total, all aircraft) 

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with airplane single- and multi-engine land, and instrument ratings. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued in February 2016. The pilot's personal flight logs were not located. However, in his report to the NTSB regarding a June 16, 2016 landing accident in a different airplane make and model, the pilot reported that he had 2,500 total hours of flight experience, including 2,300 hours in single-engine airplanes, and 100 hours of "actual" instrument flight time.

In addition to the accident airplane, the pilot concurrently owned another airplane, a Grumman AA-1 "Yankee," which he also based at TSP. The pilot held an FAA mechanic certificate with airframe and powerplant ratings. That certificate was issued in March 2012. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information


Aircraft Manufacturer: MOONEY
Registration: N6201N
Model/Series: M20J NO SERIES
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1978
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 24-0590
Landing Gear Type: Retractable - Tricycle
Seats: 4
Date/Type of Last Inspection: Unknown
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2899 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time:
Engine Manufacturer: LYCOMING
ELT: C126 installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: IO360 SER
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 0 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

The four-seat, low-wing, retractable landing gear airplane was manufactured in 1978. It was equipped with a Lycoming IO-360-series engine and a constant speed propeller.
The pilot purchased the airplane in July 2005, and the engine was overhauled in December 2016.

NTSB-requested searches of the pilot's home and hangar for the airplane maintenance records were unsuccessful. Two acquaintances of the pilot reported that the recent engine overhaul was due to the presence of "metal" in the oil and/or oil filter. 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Unknown
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: WJF, 2351 ft msl
Observation Time: 0856 PST
Distance from Accident Site: 23 Nautical Miles
Direction from Accident Site: 65°
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Temperature/Dew Point:  9°C / 7°C
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 2400 ft agl
Visibility:  10 Miles
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 10 knots, 240°
Visibility (RVR):
Altimeter Setting: 29.92 inches Hg
Visibility (RVV):
Precipitation and Obscuration: Light - Rain
Departure Point: Tehachapi, CA (TSP)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Torrance, CA (TOA)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 0848 PST
Type of Airspace: 

The 0835 TSP automated weather observation included calm wind, visibility 10 miles, broken cloud layer at 7,500 ft, overcast layer at 8,000 ft, temperature 5°C, dew point 2°C, and an altimeter setting of 29.90 inches of mercury. The 0855 observation included calm wind, visibility 10 miles, overcast layer at 6,000 ft, temperature 6°C, dew point 2°C, and an altimeter setting of 29.91 inches of mercury.

General William J. Fox Airfield (WJF), Lancaster, California, was located in the Mojave desert, about 15 miles east of the accident flight track at an elevation of 2,351 ft. The 0856 WJF automated weather observation included winds from 240o at 10 knots, visibility 10 miles in light rain, overcast layer at 2,400 ft, temperature 9°C, dew point 7°C, and an altimeter setting of 29.92 inches of mercury. 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude:  34.683889, -118.576389 (est) 

LHS VOR is on a leveled-off peak in the aforementioned southern mountain range at an elevation of 5,793 ft. The wreckage was located on the north slope of that peak, about 70 ft below, and 380 ft from, the VOR antenna. Review of topographic data and the airplane flight track revealed that the impacted mountain was the highest topographical feature along the flight track, and that the underlying terrain rose rapidly as the airplane flew beyond the Mojave Desert to cross the mountain range that forms the desert flatlands' southern boundary.

The airplane first struck low (up to about 10 ft high) scrub vegetation, then grassy earth, before impacting the heavy scrub vegetation where it came to rest. Vegetation and ground scars were consistent with the airplane striking the ground in a wings-level, right-side-up attitude on a horizontal flight path.

The forward fuselage exhibited severe crush and fracture damage. The single (right side) cabin door, pilot seat, and some other cabin items were found about 20 ft ahead of the wreckage. Portions of the cabin sidewalls, floor, and roof were found strewn among the vegetation forward of the main wreckage. The instrument panel was severely disrupted, and only about half of the instruments remained attached to the panel. Damage precluded obtaining any relevant information regarding instrument or control positions at impact. The main landing gear condition and position was consistent with the gear being retracted at the time of impact

The engine was partially separated from the airframe and came to rest on its left side. The engine exhibited significant damage to its forward and lower sides, but all cylinders remained attached and intact. Some engine accessories and components were fracture-separated from the engine. No evidence of any pre-impact catastrophic failures was evident. The three-blade propeller and hub assembly was fracture-separated from the engine. Two full-length blades remained in the hub, and these blades exhibited moderate twisting and/or bending deformation. The other blade was fracture-separated at its root. The stub of that blade, about 3 inches long, remained in the hub.

Both wings were found swept aft about 75°, and exhibited extensive, full-span crush damage to their leading edges. The right wing was rotated leading edge down. Both flaps remained attached to their respective wings. The left flap appeared to be retracted, but the right flap was free to travel through its entire range, consistent with a fractured link in the system. Both ailerons remained attached to their respective outboard wing sections, and both retained their balance weights. The ailerons were only moveable through a small range of their normal travel, consistent with postaccident deformation and resultant system binding.

The aft fuselage came to rest upright with the empennage nearly intact. The left and right horizontal stabilizers remained attached to the empennage. The left and right elevators remained attached to their respective stabilizers and to one another. The vertical stabilizer remained attached to the empennage. The rudder remained attached to the vertical stabilizer. The balance weights for the rudder and the two elevators remained attached to their respective control surfaces. Fuselage disruption forward of the aft cabin wall precluded any determination of control continuity.

There was no fire. No evidence of any pre-impact mechanical failures or malfunctions of the propeller, engine, or airframe was observed. 

Communications

No records of any communications between the airplane and air traffic control facilities for the accident flight were located.

Airport Information

TSP is a non-towered airport; TOA has an air traffic control tower. TOA is located about 80 miles south of TSP, but the flight routing between the two is complicated by topography, weather patterns, and multiple airspace restrictions.

TSP is situated north of the Mojave Desert at an elevation of about 4,000 ft, and TOA is situated in the Los Angeles Basin, near the Pacific Ocean, about sea level. A large mountain range, with some peaks near 8,000 ft, extends southeast to northwest and bounds the south edge of the Mojave Desert flatlands. This mountain range also tends to generate or be obscured by clouds, even when the areas to the north and south are clear. Edwards Air Force Base (EDW, but referred to in other investigation documents as EAFB) and Palmdale airport (PMD) are located in the Mojave Desert and result in airspace restrictions. The Burbank Class C and Los Angeles Class B airspaces are situated several miles south of the Mojave Desert, and TOA is under the Class B airspace. 

Medical And Pathological Information

The Los Angeles County (California) Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner autopsy report indicated that the cause of death was "multiple blunt force traumatic injuries." Forensic toxicology examinations on blood from the pilot indicated that no ethanol or any screened drugs were detected.

The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, also conducted forensic toxicology examinations on specimens from the pilot, and reported that no carbon monoxide, ethanol, or any screened drugs were detected. 

Additional Information

Witness Observations


According to a pilot/mechanic based at TSP, the pilot performed his own maintenance on the two airplanes he owned. That person also witnessed the accident flight departure, and reported that the weather at the time was "not good," with mist, light snow, and a low ceiling.

Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) Information

No ELT signals were received from the accident airplane. However, about 3 weeks after the accident, two FAA inspectors returned to the site to retrieve the ELT, and, upon removal from the wreckage, the ELT began to transmit. The inspectors noted that the ELT would transmit when the switch was placed in the "ON" position but would not transmit while in the "ARM" position. They also noted that a sticker on the front of the ELT indicated that the ELT batteries were due for replacement by "3/2015," about 19 months before the accident.

The ELT was an AMERI-KING CORP Model AK-450, which is listed as an FAA Unapproved Part per FAA Document No. 2016-2013NM460018 (dated March 1, 2016).

Onboard GPS Devices

A Garmin GPSMap 496 device was recovered intact, and the remnants of what appeared to be another Garmin portable GPS were also located in the wreckage. Both devices were sent to the NTSB Recorders Laboratory for possible data downloads. The data extracted from the GPSMap 496 included 60 recording sessions from September 2012 through February 2013. The accident flight was not recorded on that device.

The other unit, a Garmin Aera 796, contained the accident flight as well as multiple previous recent flights.

The Aera 796 GPS device incorporated a "Terrain" function that, when active, displays terrain and obstruction altitudes relative to the aircraft position and altitude using an integral terrain and obstacle database. According to the device's Pilot's Guide, it "provides the horizontal position and altitude of the aircraft. Aircraft GPS altitude is derived from satellite position. GPS altitude is then converted to a mean sea level (MSL)-based altitude (GPS-MSL altitude) and is used to determine terrain and obstacle proximity. GPS-MSL altitude accuracy is affected by satellite geometry, but is not subject to variations in pressure and temperature that normally affect pressure altitude sensors. GPS-MSL altitude does not require local altimeter settings to determine MSL altitude."

The guide continued with, "Terrain and obstacle databases are referenced to MSL. Using the GPS position and altitude, the Terrain feature portrays a 2-D picture of the surrounding terrain and obstacles relative to the position and altitude of the aircraft. GPS position and GPS-MSL altitude are used to calculate and predict the aircraft's flight path in relation to the surrounding terrain and obstacles. In this way, the pilot can view predicted dangerous terrain and obstacle conditions." Display of terrain information was user-selectable, both in terms of format, and whether the information was presented or not.

The GPS was equipped to provide both visual and aural terrain/obstacle alerts. These alerts were user-selectable in terms of mode and clearance thresholds. In addition, like the terrain display itself, the device could be configured by the user so that no alerts were provided.

The Pilot's Guide contained multiple explicit warnings about the limitations of the altitude information and alerts, including:

Terrain and obstacle information should be used as an aid to situational awareness. They should never be used to navigate or maneuver around terrain.

Navigation and terrain separation must NOT be predicated upon the use of the terrain function. The aera 795/796 Terrain Proximity feature is NOT intended to be used as a primary reference for terrain avoidance and does not relieve the pilot from the responsibility of being aware of surroundings during flight.

The displayed minimum safe altitudes (MSAs) are only advisory in nature and should not be relied upon as the sole source of obstacle and terrain avoidance information. Always refer to current aeronautical charts for appropriate minimum clearance altitudes.

The altitude calculated by aera 795/796 GPS receivers is geometric height above Mean Sea Level and could vary significantly from the altitude displayed by pressure altimeters. Always use pressure altitude displayed by the aircraft altimeter when determining or selecting aircraft altitude.

The GPS "data session" for the accident flight began as the airplane taxied for departure. However, the investigation was unable to determine where the GPS was situated in the cockpit or how the pilot used it during the flight. The investigation did not determine the terrain display or alert setting configurations for the device for the accident flight.

Air Traffic Control Radar Track

The majority of the accident flight was captured by FAA ATC ground-based tracking radar, even though the flight was not being controlled by, or in communication with, ATC.

The first radar return from the airplane was acquired at 0851:36. At that time, the airplane was about 2 miles south of TSP, on an approximate track of 128° true, and in a climb at an indicated altitude of 5,675 ft. About 0854, when it was climbing through 7,200 ft, the airplane began a turn to a track of 210° true, a track it maintained for the remainder of the flight. The climb continued until 0856:00, when the airplane reached a maximum altitude of 7,675 ft. The airplane then began descending, and about 0857:24, it leveled off at an approximate altitude of 6,600 ft. About 0858:36, the airplane began a slight climb, and then descended and leveled off about 5,800 ft. About 90 seconds before the end of the radar data, the airplane began a slight, irregular climb to about 6,000 ft. The final radar return was received at 0904:59, with an indicated altitude of 6,000 ft. The last return was about 0.3 miles north-northeast of LHS VOR.

Aera 796 Flight Tracks

The recovered Aera 796 data contained 17 trips (not including the accident flight) between TSP and TOA from December 20, 2016, to January 11, 2017 (the day before the accident).

Eight of the 17 flights (some with intermediate stops) between TSP and TOA (either direction) depicted track deviations or circling. One trip departed from TSP, flew south to the mountain range, and then returned to TSP.

The recovered data contained 8 non-stop flights from TSP to TOA, and 6 from TOA to TSP. Virtually all of those 14 flights were along different ground tracks, sometimes differing by several miles. None of the flight tracks appeared to be aligned with any charted navigation facilities or waypoints.

Further, the flights all crossed east of the LHS VOR, and cleared the underlying terrain by at least 1,000 ft.

Aera 796 Accident Flight Track

The Aera 796 GPS data session for the accident flight began at 0845:31 PST on January 12, 2017, and the last session data point had a time tag of 0903:26. The airplane began its takeoff roll from runway 29 about 0848:50. About 0849:44, at an altitude about 400 ft above ground level (agl) and about 0.4 nautical miles (nm) beyond the runway 11 threshold, the airplane began an approximate 100° left turn to the southwest. About 50 seconds later, the airplane began a 90° left turn to the southeast (approximating the downwind leg of an airport traffic pattern), while continuing its climb. The airplane maintained that downwind leg track for about 4 nm before beginning a slow arcing turn to the right (south). About 0854:20, when the airplane was climbing through about 7,300 ft msl, it began a 45° (track) normal-rate right turn to its final on-course track of about 210° true, on which it remained until it struck the mountainside about 10 minutes later. As the airplane entered the 45° turn, it ceased climbing, and began a descent to about 6,500 ft msl where it leveled off.

The 6,500 ft altitude was consistent with the FAA 'hemispheric rule' for visual flight rules (VFR) flight altitudes. About 2 minutes later, the airplane began a 600 to 700 ft per minute descent to about 5,750 ft, where it leveled off and remained for the rest of the recovered GPS dataset. The 5,750 ft altitude was not consistent with the hemispheric rule for that segment of the flight.

The GPS flight track ended 3.2 miles before the accident/impact location. This is likely due to the user-defined data capture settings and the non-volatile memory buffering characteristics of the GPS device. Straight-line extrapolation of the ground track led directly to the impact site.

Controlled Flight into Terrain

FAA Advisory Circular 61-134 states that controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) occurs when an airworthy aircraft is flown, under the control of a qualified pilot, into terrain with inadequate awareness on the part of the pilot of the impending collision. The advisory circular also states:

Some pilots, including some with instrument ratings, continue to fly VFR in conditions less than that specified for VFR. The result is often a CFIT accident when the pilot tries to continue flying or maneuvering beneath a lowering ceiling and hits an obstacle or terrain or impacts water.

NTSB Identification: WPR17FA055
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, January 12, 2017 in Lake Hughes, CA
Aircraft: MOONEY M20J, registration: N6201N
Injuries: 1 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 January 12, 2017, about 0905 Pacific Standard time, a Mooney M20J, N6201N, was destroyed when it impacted terrain near the Lake Hughes Very High Frequency Omnirange navigation beacon (LHS VOR) during a flight from Tehachapi Municipal Airport (TSP), Tehachapi, California to Zamperini Field Airport (TOA), Torrance, California. The airplane was the subject of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Alert Notice (ALNOT), indicating that the airplane was missing. The ALNOT was issued on January 17, and the wreckage was discovered the following day during an aerial search. The private pilot/owner was fatally injured. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Weather conditions at the accident site at the time of the accident have not been determined, and no flight plan was filed for the flight.

The pilot based the airplane at TSP, and lived in the local area. According to several persons who knew the pilot, he worked three days a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) in Torrance, and used the airplane to commute on each of those days between TSP and TOA. One of the pilot's co-workers typically picked him up at TOA on those workday mornings, and dropped him off there again after work. According to that co-worker, the pilot rarely canceled any of those flights for weather-related reasons. On the morning of the accident, which was a Thursday, the co-worker did not hear from the pilot but was not concerned. About January 16, a friend of the pilot realized that the pilot's Jeep was parked at the airport, but that no-one had seen the pilot for several days; his and others' actions determined that the pilot and airplane were missing, which led to the issuance of the ALNOT.

In response to the ALNOT, members of the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) and the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) began a telephonic search for the information about the pilot and his possible whereabouts. That search yielded a determination that the pilot's last known flight date was January 12, which then resulted in detailed examination of Air Traffic Control (ATC) radar data for that day and geographic locale. A radar track with a transponder code of 1200, originating southeast of TSP, and terminating at the LHS VOR, was identified as likely being that of the missing airplane. On the morning January 18, an aerial search by the CAP located the wreckage of the airplane.

LHS VOR is situated on a leveled-off mountaintop; its elevation is 5,793 feet. The wreckage was situated on the north slope of that peak, about 70 feet below, and 380 feet from, the LHS VOR antenna. The aft fuselage came to rest upright, with the empennage nearly intact. Both wings were rotated aft about 75 degrees, and exhibited extensive, full-span crush damage to their leading edges. The forward fuselage exhibited severe crush and fracture damage. The engine was partially separated from the airframe, and the three-blade propeller and its hub was fracture-separated from the engine. One blade was fracture-separated at its root. There was no fire. A Garmin GPSMap 496 device was recovered intact, and the remnants of what appeared to be another Garmin portable GPS was also located in the wreckage. Both devices were sent to the NTSB Recorders Laboratory for possible data downloads.

The preliminary ATC radar track that was associated with the airplane was provided to the investigation. The first radar return from the airplane was acquired at 0851:13. At that time, the airplane was 1.77 miles south of the departure end of TSP runway 29, on an approximate track of 126 degrees True, and in a climb at an indicated altitude of 5,259 feet. At 0853:13, when it was at an altitude of 7,259 feet, the airplane began a turn to a track of 209 degrees True. The climb continued until 0855:37, when the airplane reached a maximum altitude of 7,559 feet. The airplane then began descending, and at 0900:25, it leveled off at an altitude of 5,791 feet, all the while maintaining the 209 degree track. About 0903:52, the radar data indicated that the airplane was still on a track of 209 degrees, when it began a slight climb. The last radar return was received at 0904:52, with an indicated altitude of 5,991 feet. That last return was about 0.3 miles north-northeast of LHS VOR.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with airplane land single-engine, multi-engine, and instrument ratings. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued in February 2016. The pilot's personal flight logs have not been located. However, in his report to the NTSB about his June 5, 2016 accident, the pilot reported that he had 2,500 total hours of flight experience, including 2,300 hours in single-engine airplanes, and 100 hours of "actual" instrument flight time.

FAA information indicated that the airplane was manufactured in 1978, and was equipped with a Lycoming IO-360 series engine. The pilot purchased the airplane in July 2005, and the engine was overhauled in December 2016.

The 0835 TSP automated weather observation included calm winds, visibility 10 miles, broken cloud layer at 7,500 feet, overcast layer at 8,000 feet, temperature 5 degrees C, dew point 2 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.90 inches of mercury. The 0855 observation included calm winds, visibility 10 miles, overcast layer at 6,000 feet, temperature 6 degrees C, dew point 2 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.91 inches of mercury.

General William J Fox Airfield (WJF), Lancaster, California, was located about 20 miles to the east of the airplane's radar track, at an elevation of 2,351 feet. The 0856 WJF automated weather observation included winds from 240 degrees at 10 knots, visibility 10 miles in light rain, overcast layer at 2,400 feet, temperature 9 degrees C, dew point 7 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.92 inches of mercury.

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email eyewitnessreport@ntsb.gov, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email assistance@ntsb.gov


TEHACHAPI, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Members of the California wing of the Civil Air Patrol found the wreckage of a single engine plane Wednesday morning that was last seen on Jan. 12.

Friends identified the pilot as Frederick “Matt” Espiau, a former Army helicopter pilot who lived in Bear Valley Springs. He did not survive.

Fellow pilot and friend Ken Hetge said Espiau would commute by plane from the Tehachapi airport to the L.A. area on weekdays.

Hetge said they would talk over the radio most mornings as Espiau was taking off.

“It was more or less just a common good morning courtesy. He’d tell me how the airplane was running and I’d tell him what we had on plan for the day and I would see him on his way,” said Hetge.

They last spoke on Thursday morning as rain swept through the region.

“It was barely good enough to fly,” remembered Hetge.

But he wasn’t worried when he didn’t hear from Espiau the next morning, saying it was not unusual for him to be gone for several days at a time.

“Matt was single and lived up here. When he decided to go somewhere, he loaded up his airplane and went,” said Hetge.

But after 5 days, friends started getting suspicious. Hetge says another pilot had gone looking for Espiau at his home and found his dog locked inside. Espiau’s Jeep remained parked near his hangar.

Hetge called in a missing person report to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday.

That night, a Civil Air Patrol crew initiated a search between Tehachapi and the Whiteman Airport in Pacoima where Espiau would sometimes travel. Using special detection equipment, they searched for the plane’s electronic beacon but heard no pings from the emergency locator transmitter.

The search resumed Wednesday morning over the mountainous area between Castaic and Lake Hughes in the Angeles National Forest. Aiding the search, local pilots Inigo Markle-Allen and Andrew Angellotti flew over the mountain region south of Tehachapi to look for wreckage.

The Mooney M20J was found around 7:45 a.m. Wednesday morning, according to the CAP.

“I’m proud of the professionalism demonstrated by members of Civil Air Patrol’s California Wing, who worked tirelessly through the night to plan and prepare for the visual search phase. Their training and hard work brought swift resolution to an unfortunate situation,” said Civil Air Patrol incident commander Capt. Charles Christian in a statement.

Hetge said the death has shaken the small piloting community in Tehachapi.

“We all know each other. We all call each other friends,” said Hetge. “It’s a surprise to all of us that it was Matt, because of how much he flew and how much experience he had.”

It’s unclear exactly when the plane went down. The cause of the crash is under investigation.


Story and video:   http://bakersfieldnow.com




The missing pilot was a longtime daily commuter between Tehachapi Airprot and his employment in Torrance. His Jeep was parked at the airport.

Tehachapi pilots aid in the search for a missing Mooney M20J. Tehachapi pilots including Inigo Markle-Allen, Andrew Angellotti and Joe Schoolcraft flew search patterns over the southern mountain range between Tehachapi and Antelope Valley. The pilots were aided by Ken Hetge's High Wing Cessna 175.



Matt Espiau flew just about every day from Tehachapi Airport to his job in Torrance, no matter the weather.

Espiau took to the cloudy skies on Jan. 12, but unfortunately did not return to his home base. The wreckage of his Mooney M20J plane was found in Angeles National Forest a few days later on Jan. 18.

His body was identified as the pilot of the plane.

Local pilot Ken Hetge said no one initially missed Espiau because he lived alone in Bear Valley Springs.

“I spoke with Matt earlier that day,” Hetge said. “It was a just a good morning and we talked about how his plane was running. Just a routine conversation.”

Hetge said he was alerted that Espiau was missing by Lee Dodd, who was helping Espiau with some maintenance in his hangar. Dodd said he hadn't heard from Espiau in a few days, but his Jeep was still in the airport parking lot.

“I started calling all of the places I knew Matt flew and came up with no quality information,” Hetge said. “Mr. Dodd visited Matt's house in Bear Valley and verified his dog was locked in and it was heard barking. We then discussed the issue and decided to file the missing person report with the Kern County Sheriff and a search was begun.”

Hetge said Espiau's plane was last listed on radar over the San Fernando Valley on Jan. 12.

After making the notifications, local Tehachapi pilots formed their own search for their comrade. Inigo Markle-Allen, Andrew Angellotti and Joe Schoolcraft proceeded to fly search patterns over the southern mountain range between Tehachapi and Antelope Valley. Hetge loaned one of the pilots his High Wing Cessna 175 for the search.

Members of Civil Air Patrol’s California Wing finally located the wreckage on Jan. 18 near near Pine Canyon, in the Lake Hughes area.

The patrol was activated Tuesday evening, Jan. 17, by the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center to initiate a search for the missing aircraft.

According to reports, the crew flew an electronic route search that Tuesday night between Tehachapi and Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, but heard no pings from the aircraft’s emergency locator transmitter. The CAP National Radar Analysis Team narrowed the search area and a second aircrew was launched from Whiteman on Wednesday morning, Jan. 18.

The downed aircraft was found at about 7:45 a.m. that morning, and reported finding one fatality at the site. Hetge, who also serves on the Tehachapi City Council, said as soon as he saw pictures of the wreckage, he recognized it as Espiau's plane.

Civil Air Patrol incident commander Capt. Charles Christian reported, that while the mission was not what they had hoped for, “we were thankful we were able to provide closure to the pilot’s family members and friends.”

Christian also said a total of 43 CAP professional volunteers, two CAP aircraft and two CAP vehicles were used in the search.

Espiau, also known as “Mooney Matt” by his fellow pilots, was an electrical engineering consultant who began flying out of Tehachapi about two years ago. He also had been a helicopter pilot in the military.

Hetge said many of the folks at the airport are still shocked by the incident.

“Matt was such a regular and it will be very hard not having him around,” he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. The two departments reported they didn't know if bad weather was the cause of the accident.

No memorial service has been scheduled as yet.

Source:  http://www.tehachapinews.com




The detailed probe of a deadly small plane crash in rugged terrain of the Angeles National Forest got under way Thursday as authorities publicly identified the pilot who was killed on his regular commute to the Los Angeles area.

Frederick “Matt” Espiau, 56, of Tehachapi died at the scene of the crash on Wednesday, said Craig Harvey of the coroner’s office. Espiau was the pilot and owner of the airplane, Harvey said.

A Bakersfield television station reported that Espiau’s friends in Tehachapi became worried when he did not return from his normal commute flight from his hometown in the Kern County mountains to the Los Angeles area. It wasn’t clear what Espiau’s profession was.

KBAK-TV reported that fellow pilot and friend Ken Hetge said he would talk over aircraft radio with Espiau. “It was more or less just a common good morning courtesy,” Hetge said. “He’d tell me how the airplane was running and I’d tell him what we had on plan for the day and I would see him on his way.”

The two last spoke the day of Espiau’s last flight during a heavy rainstorm at the time Espiau’s plane took off.

“It was barely good enough to fly,” Hetge said.

There was no word from federal investigators if weather had anything to do with the fatal crash, as the probe was just getting under way.

The airplane had been reported missing last Thursday while en route from Tehachapi to Torrance. The sheriff’s Santa Clarita Station was notified about 10 a.m. Wednesday of the discovery of the wreckage near Pine Canyon, in the Lake Hughes area, about 50 miles north of Los Angeles.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash.

Source:   http://mynewsla.com

Authorities today publicly identified the pilot killed when his small plane crashed in the Angeles National Forest near Lake Hughes.

Frederick Espiau, 56, of Tehachapi died at the scene of the crash on Wednesday, said Craig Harvey of the coroner’s office. Espiau was the pilot and owner of the airplane, Harvey said.

A Bakersfield television station reported that Espiau’s friends in Tehachapi became worried when he did not return from his normal commute flight from his hometown in the Kern County mountains to the Los Angeles area.

The airplane had been reported missing last Thursday while en route from Tehachapi to Torrance. The sheriff’s Santa Clarita Station was notified about 10 a.m. Wednesday of the discovery of the wreckage near Pine Canyon, in the Lake Hughes area, about 50 miles north of Los Angeles.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash.




Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Special Enforcement Bureau officials are reporting plane crash wreckage found in the mountains near Lake Hughes.

The crash was found in a “pretty desolate area,” said Lt. James Duran of the
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

Another plane flying over the area reportedly spotted the crash and contacted Kern County Sheriff’s officials, who then contacted the LASD Aero Bureau, Duran said. An LASD helicopter was sent out to the area and found the crash.

Duran said there appears to be a fatality.

Photos of the crash were posted to the LASD SEB Twitter page Wednesday around 11 a.m.

Press Release from the Civil Air Patrol:

Members of Civil Air Patrol’s California Wing located the wreckage of a missing Mooney aircraft with a single pilot on board Wednesday morning in the mountainous terrain near Lake Hughes in Los Angeles County. There were no survivors.

The aircraft was reported overdue Tuesday after the pilot’s neighbors alerted Kern County Sheriff’s Department to barking dogs at the pilot’s home. Sheriff’s officials determined the pilot, who routinely flew between Tehachapi Municipal Airport (KTSP), where the plane was based, and the Los Angeles area, was last seen at the Tehachapi airport around 9 a.m. Thursday morning, Jan. 12. No flight plan was filed and the plane’s intended destination was unclear.

The California Wing of the Civil Air Patrol was activated Tuesday evening by the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, located at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, to initiate a search for the missing aircraft. A CAP aircrew flew an electronic route search Tuesday night between Tehachapi and Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, but heard no pings from the aircraft’s emergency locator transmitter.

Overnight efforts by the CAP National Radar Analysis Team narrowed down the initial search area. A second aircrew and a CAP ground team launched from Whiteman Airport (KWHP) in Pacoima just after sunrise Wednesday morning to conduct a visual search in the mountainous area between the communities of Castaic and Lake Hughes, within the Angeles National Forest.

The downed aircraft was located about an hour into the air search, at approximately 7:45 a.m.

A CAP ground team of eight search and rescue volunteers confirmed the wreckage on a steep hillside as that of the missing Mooney at 8:15 a.m., and the team reported what appeared to be one fatality at the site.

A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LACSO) helicopter was dispatched to the site and the coroner’s office notified. CAP ground team members were requested by LACSO to remain at the wreckage until the coroner’s office arrived on scene.

“While the outcome of this mission was not what we hoped for, I’m thankful we were able to provide closure to the pilot’s family members and friends,” said Civil Air Patrol incident commander Capt. Charles Christian.

“I’m proud of the professionalism demonstrated by members of Civil Air Patrol’s California Wing, who worked tirelessly through the night to plan and prepare for the visual search phase. Their training and hard work brought swift resolution to an unfortunate situation,” Christian said.

A total of 43 CAP professional volunteers, two CAP aircraft and two CAP vehicles were used in the search mission.


Source:   http://scvnews.com



The wreckage of a small plane was found Wednesday in the Angeles National Forest near Lake Hughes, and a man — apparently the pilot — was found dead at the crash scene.

It’s believed to be the aircraft that was reported missing last Thursday while en route from Tehachapi to Torrance, the Federal Aviation Administration reported.

The dead man was about 40-50 years old, according to the coroner’s office. His name was withheld pending notification of his relatives.

The sheriff’s Santa Clarita Station was notified about 10 a.m. of the discovery of the wreckage near Pine Canyon Road and Forest Route.

“A Mooney M20J, which was the subject of a search … was traveling from Tehachapi to Torrance,” said Allen Kenitzer of the FAA. “This appears to be the missing aircraft from (Thursday). Local authorities say that only the pilot was onboard.”

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash.

Source:   http://mynewsla.com

LANCASTER, Calif. (AP) - Authorities say the wreckage of a small plane found in foothills of the Angeles National Forest is an aircraft reported missing last week.

Los Angeles County sheriff's officials were notified of the wreckage spotted Wednesday morning near Lake Hughes.

There was no immediate information about the plane's occupants.

Allen Kenitzer of the Federal Aviation Administration says the plane is a Mooney M20J that went missing January 12 during a flight from Tehachapi to Torrance.


The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.

Wreckage from a plane crash has been found in the mountains near Lake Hughes, according to LA County Sheriff’s Department Special Enforcement Bureau officials.

The crash was found in a “pretty desolate area,” said Lt. James Duran of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

Another plane flying over the area reportedly spotted the crash and contacted Kern County Sheriff’s officials, who then contacted the LASD Aero Bureau, Duran said. An LASD helicopter was sent out to the area and found the crash.

Duran said there appears to be a fatality.

9 comments:

  1. Mooney Matt was always a (cowboy of a pilot) in my opinion. Sorry to see this happen but rules are made to keep you safe, Matt made his own set of rules and paid the ultimate price. RIP Matt

    ReplyDelete
  2. He was my brother. We have not been in contact for over 20 years. We were not close due to personal factors. I did love him and I think that it is tragic that he is gone. He died doing what he loved and enjoyed. Sad for all of his friends and family that are hurting and miss him. I have reflected much on his death and on life and as an aviator have tried to take some lessons from this. So long my brother. May you find peace and joy in your last westward flight, one we must all take one day. May we enjoy the journey while being safe and careful in our flying.

    ReplyDelete
  3. He gave me an opportunity of a lifetime to learn aviation from the hangar to flying. He taught me how to land on a small dirt road in case of engine failure and one wheel for crosswinds. How to get out of a spin, to never say AND and on frequency hah. replace windows, rivet, strip and reseal tanks without bladders. We talked for hours about life under the wings in the hot sun looking for leaks. He took me under his wing those years ago and though I have since changed direction I will always appreciate what he did for me and will never forget him. I will one day come back to 12. I know I've never met anyone that could fly stick and rudder like he could. I'll never forget him on the radio during my first solo cracking jokes while the tower yelled at him. He did make his own rules and was a cowboy of the skies but he was always safe. No question about it. Haven't spoke with him since 2012 due to personal differences but he is definitely one person I won't forget and am glad to have had the pleasure to absorb knowledge from. You'll be missed buddy. Rest easy Matt. 🛩

    ReplyDelete
  4. If anyone knows his resting place, it would be greatly appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I would also Like to know.

    ReplyDelete
  6. To find out Matt'sresting place you may try contacting his parents. They live in Texas. Email me for the information if you like. sailorstans@gmail.com.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you very kindly, Stan.

    ReplyDelete
  8. he was cremated and ashes buried on his tehachapi property near his dog Sara

    ReplyDelete