Sunday, October 20, 2019

Piper PA-24 Comanche, N7742P: Fatal accident occurred October 20, 2019 at Angel Fire Airport (KAXX), Colfax County, New Mexico

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

Additional Participating Entities:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Albuquerque, New Mexico
Piper Aircraft; Wichita, Kansas
Hartzell Propeller; Piqua, Ohio 

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Surveillance Video: 

Location: Angel Fire, NM

Accident Number: WPR20FA008
Date & Time: 10/20/2019, 0845 MDT
Registration: N7742P
Aircraft: Piper PA 24
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On October 20, 2019, about 0845 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA-24 airplane, N7742P, during takeoff, impacted trees and a building before impacting the ground about 1/2 mile south of the Angel Fire Airport (AXX), Angel Fire, New Mexico. The commercial pilot and passenger were fatally injured. The airplane sustained substantial damage, and a postaccident fire ensued. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a cross-country flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight that was destined for Great Bend Municipal Airport (GBD), Great Bend, Kansas.

Friends of the pilot, who helped with the refueling and preflight of the accident airplane that morning, said this was the pilots first time flying into this airport. The pilot stated to his friends that he was going to depart to the south and head back towards the airport because of the winds and to gain altitude. The pilot started the engine and let it warm up for about 10-15 minutes. The pilot then taxied to the departure end of runway 17 where he performed a run-up and magnetos check. The pilot's friends watched as the airplane started its takeoff roll and departed a little past midfield. Soon after the airplane departed the runway, they saw the landing gear retract and then lost sight of the airplane behind the parallel taxiway, which rises in elevation above the runway.

An eyewitness was driving north-bound when she saw the airplane flying from the airport on the east side of the highway. The airplane was very low and it appeared to be struggling to remain in flight. The airplane turned to fly over the road and towards the eyewitness, who subsequently drove her vehicle into the ditch alongside the highway. As the airplane was descending, it appeared to the eyewitness that the airplane was preparing to land on the road. The eyewitness noticed a section of power lines that cross the road in front of her location and hoped that the airplane was going avoid hitting them. As the airplane approached the power lines, the airplane pitched up and turned to the west, impacting trees, a building and terrain.

A security camera captured the airplane flying overhead about 50 ft above ground level and over an adjacent road. The airplane was flying wings level and the landing gear was in the down position. As the airplane approached light poles and power lines in the background, the airplane banked right and traveled behind trees and buildings out of view. Another security camera located near the accident site captured the airplane impacting trees and a building, before cartwheeling to the ground in a nose-down attitude. The airplane came to rest in an inverted position and a post-accident fire ensued.

Examination of the accident site revealed that the first identified point of contact were three trees located on the north side of a building. The right wing was found on the building's roof. The right main gear was found on the north side of the building and roof damage was found near the roof peak. The first ground impact was an area of disturbed ground surrounded by red lens fragments. The propeller separated from the engine and propeller blade strikes were found in the ground. The left outboard wing section separated. The main wreckage was found inverted and was the furthest in the debris field. The debris field was about 250 ft long and on a directional heading of about 190 degrees magnetic. Flight control cable continuity was attained, and all major structural components were found. The wreckage was recovered to a secure facility for further examination.

AXX was situated at an elevation of 8,379 ft above mean sea level. It was equipped with one runway, designated 17/35, which measured 8,900 ft by 100 ft. AXX was not equipped with an air traffic control tower.

The 0845 automated weather observation at AXX, included winds from 270° at 9 knots gusting to 21 knots, visibility 10 miles, clear skies, and a density altitude of about 9,225 ft mean sea level.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper

Registration: N7742P
Model/Series: PA 24 Undesignated
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Schenk Richard J
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions

Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KAXX, 8380 ft msl
Observation Time: 1445 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 2 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 5°C / -13°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Unknown
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 9 knots / 21 knots, 270°
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 7000 ft agl
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.87 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Angel Fire, NM (AXX)  
Destination: Great Bend, KS (GBD)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal

Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 36.393056, -105.286944 (est)


  1. Angel Fire airport is almost 8400 ft above sea level. It is a challenging airport even when the wind is calm...

  2. Just like Mooney N3484X that took off from Angel Fire in 50 knot crosswinds on March 3, 2013. Flipped him over and straight in. He too was warned and questioned by airport personnel. What are these guys thinking? No consideration for anyone's life, including their own. It's basic meteorology and flight planning.

  3. Comanche 180 is a great plane ... operated out of near sea level airports that is.

    Departing from an 8000' msl airport would be a challenge even before you throw in the cross wind ... a cross wind reportedly far exceeding the maximum demonstrated cross wind for the aircraft.


  4. A 180 Comanche needs to be a 250 Comanche. Two people, baggage, enough fuel to make Kansas, 8,000 feet MSL. That's a challenge with no wind.

  5. Great Bend, KS Barton County
    Strongest 13 March, 2019 40.3mph S Average 2010–Present 11.9mph
    Strongest 21 October, 2019 33.3mph NW Average October 13.9mph

  6. Lived in Kansas while working for a manufacturer ... Flew in and out a lot of the airports in Kansas. Can't recall any of the airports that were not aligned with the wind on dang near every day of the year.

    30 or 40 mph wind down the runway in Kansas does not compare to the cross wind on that fateful day at 8000' msl. YMMV.

    Again, RIP


  7. 50kt cross wind? Really what was METAR at time of departure? Cross wind and density altitude are factors, but the comments cross wind "flipped him over and straight in" shows a lack of understanding of how aircraft fly and cross winds. Clearly he was flying, had flying airspeed. If he stalled, that explains the accident, failure to maintain flying airspeed. However cross wind and density altitude alone does not explain a stall. If he had flying airspeed above stall, crabbing into wind, as he would/should have to maintain some ground track, the cross wind would not have "flipped him over". I hate guessing. Let NTSB do their thing. However in past accidents in these scenarios, lack of climb performance and pulling back, along with turbulence from high winds over the ground creates a situation where aircraft performance is not enough, as pointed out, two adults, bags, full fuel. Let's assume that is the case here. If he would have accepted he was not going to climb and made a forced landing under control at min ground speed, it would likely have been very survivable. As Bob Hoover said, fly it all the way into the crash as long as you can. 7900 hr ATP, CFI-Inst-ME...

  8. I looked at weather at time of departure: Winds from West 13 mph gust 21 mph and 46F. 20 mph (17 kts) is the demonstrated cross wind component in Manual... It was a 180 HP not 250 HP Comanche. Runway 17/35 means it was a direct cross wind but well within limits. The runway is 8900 x 100. Was the aircraft over loaded? Was the engine healthy and not worn out. It should have been making 75% power....

  9. I’m convinced some of these accidents are caused from planes that have engines that are underperforming and not noticeable at lower altitude but when they need the performance at higher altitudes it is unavailable.

  10. Find some more "big picture" info about Angel Fire (KAXX) here.

  11. Great briefing in the video at the top. Good job.


  12. Watch this video. Considering the field length is 8900 feet, and the location of Zeb's Restaurant - Google Maps measures the distance from takeoff to crash at around 12,300 feet. The airplane only looks to have about 50 feet of altitude at the time of impact. Look at the excellent briefing that is provided at the top of this article, and I bet there was rotor on the lee side of the mountain involved, plus high density altitude.

  13. Watch this video. Considering the field length is 8900 feet, and the location of Zeb's Restaurant - Google Maps measures the distance from takeoff to crash at around 12,300 feet. The airplane only looks to have about 50 feet of altitude at the time of impact. Look at the excellent briefing that is provided at the top of this article, and I bet there was rotor on the lee side of the mountain involved, plus high density altitude.

    Wednesday, November 13, 2019 at 1:44:00 PM EST

  14. After watching the excellent briefing video, I don't know why anyone would take off to the South given the fact that you are going to have a crosswind no matter what. At least you will have some distance to make some important decisions going North.

  15. It seems odd that aviation regulators did not catch these practices themselves. This also illustrates why eyewitnesses have important roles to play in revealing probable cause and findings.

  16. I'm sure the aircraft maintenance inspections would detect fatigue cracks and overstress. W&B is another whole issue along with the leveling provisions CG.

  17. The problem is not as simple as that. Early problematic flight.

  18. Sounds like a total win for Piper.

    Reminds me of the story of Brer Rabbit.
    "Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch.".

  19. We’ve got to get much more specific about the offsets, let the passengers see what we are doing.

    Extraordinary men in an unbelievable place.

    Semper fidelis.