Saturday, October 10, 2020

Beechcraft S35 Bonanza, N4444K: Fatal accident occurred October 05, 2020 near Telluride Regional Airport (KTEX), San Miguel County, Colorado

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.

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

Additional Participating Entities: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Salt Lake City, Utah
Textron; Wichita, Kansas


Location: Telluride, CO 
Accident Number: CEN21FA007
Date & Time: October 5, 2020, 13:04 Local 
Registration: N4444K
Aircraft: Beech S35 Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under:

On October 5, 2020, about 1304 mountain daylight time, a Beech S35 airplane, N4444K, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Telluride, Colorado. The airline transport rated pilot and 1 passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

According to information provided by local authorities, the airplane took off on a planned VFR crosscountry flight from runway 27 at the Telluride Regional Airport (TEX). Preliminary calculations showed the airplane was about 300 pounds under maximum gross takeoff weight, which included full fuel tanks, and baggage. Preliminary ADS-B data showed a normal takeoff and climb to the west and subsequent turn to the east. There were no known radio distress calls heard from the pilot after takeoff. The estimated flight path is depicted in Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1. Approximate Flight Path and Proximity of Accident Site to TEX.


Figure 2. End of Flight Track in Relation to Surrounding Terrain.

The accident site was located amidst rugged mountainous terrain, about 8 miles east of TEX. The elevation of TEX was 9,069 feet msl. The elevation of the accident site was 11,823 feet msl. The surrounding terrain to the north, east, and south was higher than the accident site elevation. The airplane wreckage showed evidence of a nearly vertical impact. Most of the forward section of the fuselage was crushed, and both wings showed impact damage across the leading edges of their spans. The wreckage was recovered and transported to a secure facility for detailed examinations of the airframe, engine, and systems.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Beech Registration: N4444K
Model/Series: S35 Aircraft 
Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: TEX,9078 ft msl 
Observation Time: 12:55 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 8 Nautical Miles 
Temperature/Dew Point: 18°C /-13°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 10 knots / 17 knots, 260°
Lowest Ceiling: None 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.49 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed:
Departure Point: Telluride, CO 
Destination: Oklahoma City, OK (PWA)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal 
Latitude, Longitude: 37.914608,-107.75278

34 comments:

  1. Telluride is one of the highest airports in the nation (if not THE highest), when you leave runway 9 (9,078 feet (2767 m) above sea level), there's not much room for error or mechanical problem for an pilot/aircraft. There's no where to put'er down if you have any type of issue. High altitude things such as Mixture, Carb heat, weather all are very critical. This was a pretty old plane as well. 1964 BEECH S35. CONT MOTOR IO 520 SERIES (Reciprocating)
    Horsepower: 285. Flying is expensive and you often times end up with an old plane. Not saying it had ANYTHING to do with that. Most of the time it's pilot error but I think this pilot likely did everything possible to put this plane down in a spot with the highest chance of survival but he might not have had much time at that altitude. RIP and my condolences to the families. They were not with us long enough on God's green earth. Healing takes time, it will come. Hang in there to any family / friends.

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    1. Just some trivia for a little lightness.

      Here's some in the top 10 in U.S.

      10) Mackay, ID - 7,920' Copper Basin is one the highest turf-only airports in the US. The runway is only 4,700' long, it's surrounded by mountains, and summer density altitude often exceeds 10,000'.

      9) Del Norte, CO - 7,949' Mountainous terrain surrounds the airport in all directions, including several 12,000+ foot peaks

      8) Buena Vista, CO - 7,950' Central Colorado Regional airport is in the heart of Colorado's high country . Mt. Princeton (14,197') is less than 7 miles from the runway.

      7) Walden, CO - 8,154' Walden-Jackson County airport is relatively tame compared to the others on the list

      6) Granby, CO - 8,207' A 525' terrain incline 1 mile from the runway. The airport recommends only experienced pilots takeoff to the east because the ground rises so quickly.

      5) Westcliffe, CO - 8,290' Close the US Air Force Academy, which means it has intensive student training in the area.

      4) Angel Fire, NM - 8,380' Angel Fire is named after the "fiery afternoon light on the alpine peaks. Wheeler Peak (13,167') is less than 10 miles from the runway

      3) Creede, CO - 8,680' Mineral County Memorial airport has a pattern altitude of 9,500'

      2) Telluride, CO - 9,070' Not only is Telluride the second highest airport in the US, it's also in a canyon, on a mesa, and a cliff with a 1000' drop-off at the end of the runway . On an average summer day (72F, 29.92Hg), the density altitude is 13,000'.and has strong vertical turbulence in the area of mesa's edge.

      1) Leadville, CO - 9,934' Lake County airport holds high altitude honors at nearly 10,000 feet elevation (the city is over 10,000', and it's the highest city in the US). Bring your turbocharger with you, On an average summer day (72F, 29.92Hg), the density altitude is 13,000'.

      What a sad ending to the start of a new journey for this young couple.

      RIP


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    2. KTEX Airport Operational Statistics Aircraft based on the field: 27 Single engine airplanes: 18
      Multi engine airplanes: 3
      Jet airplanes: 4
      Helicopters: 1
      Gliders airplanes: 1     
      Aircraft operations: avg 26/day *
      100% transient general aviation
      <1% commercial*
      for 12-month period ending 02 January 2017

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  2. I found the ADS-B playbacks strange and what looked like a short test flight.

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  3. RIP
    Sad to hear and the fact this was a young couple at the height of their romance might make it more high profile.
    But for a CFI no less to choose such a challenging airport is mind boggling.
    We all as pilots had brushes with near misses of some sorts, as human nature is imperfect and ill suited for what birds did for eons to begin with... but ignoring DA and the fact it is so deadly is inexcusable.
    They came from Florida where all is flat and close to sea level. So no need to look any further.
    And the thing about density altitude is how easy it is to land in the typically long runways of high altitude airports... but how deadly is the low climb rate or no climb rate at all once airborne once away from ground effect on takeoff.
    Did he even bother checking the POH and the performance tables? I betcha it would indicate something of a 100-150 ft/min climb rate at best given the conditions.
    Doable but with a razor thin margin for error as mentioned in previous comments... the mixture, W&B, fuel all would need to be perfect.
    In fact if given the situation I would have elected to fly the aircraft solo, with maybe VFR min + a few gallons more, while the love of my life takes a ride to a place lower where I would join her. Just a thought in ADM.

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  4. Indeed something is fishy. When airlines had it good up to March of this year getting to fly for the majors was an arduous affair for most wannabes after a stint as reluctant flight instructors then a decade or 2 doing regionals for minimum wage (i.e https://www.rapp.org/archives/2015/11/reluctant-instructor/). Maybe family connections? This is also why that 1500 hrs rule after Buffalo is really BS and made to shield airlines from liabilities more than seek out talent with a side effect of a whole generation of crappy CFIs swindling people off the streets who want to fly and know not any better with poor instruction and an expensive 100+ hrs before they get their solo (true stories I see over and over again!!!) while the reluctant CFIs racks his hours.
    That might explain why this specimen, although a CFI, was really too young and too inexperienced to handle manual flying in a GA aircraft that will kill you at the slightest slip.
    One issue or too much density altitude around this most highly situated airport and things get very complicated very very quickly. And unlike big iron no plenty of power in turbine or all that automation to help you out. When you see that big hill coming at you and only 150 horses or less (assuming only 1/2 of the 285 hp of a sea level bonanza would be available with no turbo that high up) to pull out... good luck!

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  5. Had he survived the crash he would have been charged with negligent manslaughter! And, her family would have sued him for every cent he had. These kind of pilots have no business flying in situations that exceed their abilities and killing innocent people. These are facts and the truth. I learned to fly in those mountains. That pilot did not have the experience required to fly in those mountains, which are some of the highest and most treacherous in the western United States. This pilot was in way over his head. Facts are facts ... like it or not.

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    1. Hats off to your flying ability. Question: With an old non-turbo engine like that and heading off of runway 9, what would his ideal climb rate need to be if you were to average all the normal factors of that runway into this equation. I know, you can't assume tons of stats....but just guess what it might have been like to fly that particular plane off of that particular mountain as you try to ascend...what would he have seen and likely done. Again, take us through this flight if you don't mind.

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    2. For the sake of easy math to get in the ball park: you are looking at roughly 4,000 feet to climb in about 8nm if you depart on RWY09. somewhere around a 4.5-5 degree climb. At 120 knots ground you are looking at 4 min to climb 4,000 feet, so a 1,000/min climb rate. At 60 knots ground, it goes down to 500/min. Would be interesting to see what the performance charts for a non-turbo bonanza are.

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  6. Commenters seem unaware of the sightseeing flight taken an hour before the crash where they flew a circuit in the area from KTEX (link below). Pilot was made well aware of his limited climb capability as he flew that circuit.

    They got in trouble in the box canyon where Bridal Veil Falls can be photographed by air. Seems unfair to suggest that the pilot expected to cross directly out of the area via overflight of Black Bear Pass given the flight he had completed in the previous hour.

    https://flightaware.com/live/flight/N4444K/history/20201005/1703Z/KTEX/L%2037.95419%20-107.90322

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    1. Flight track shows a right turn to ‘escape’. Mountain flying always suggests a left turn for viz. of course I fly a high wing so we practice left turn. Both the 1984 video (thank you for that) and this accident the pilots choose right return escapes. ??

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    2. RedBaron,
      great observation!

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    3. Curious, on the sightseeing flight he went up the canyon, turned back west and climbed before heading back east. So why did he go back east into the canyon later in the day? Presumably with a heavier plane (for the xc back east)and warmer temps. Lots of questions on decision making, performance, and risk management, but they will most likely not be answered. Sad really, seems avoidable.

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  7. All I can say is there are way too many ATP + CFI + High time killing themselves in small planes. I bet their safety record is lower than a newly minted private pilot. Complacency + being a CFI to just rack the ATP hours is no recipe for safety. I hope we get back our career CFIs someday not just young students recycled to teach by puppy mill flight schools...

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  8. The aircraft looks like the flaps may have been extended as if he was trying to make an off-airport landing. Extending flaps is a technique sometimes used to permit a tighter turn to escape a box canyon.
    (See https://www.mountainflying.com/Pages/mountain-flying/box_canyon_turn.html )
    Based on the flight track indicating a turn and the terrain where the accident occurred, this is likely what the pilot was performing.

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  9. This link above is amazing! Thanks... and the takeaway I had is:

    BASIC PREMISE #1

    Always remain in a position where you can turn toward lowering terrain.
    This axiom also encompasses the idea that you will not enter or fly in a canyon where there is not sufficient room to turn around. Another way of stating this truth is to have an escape route in mind and be in a position to exercise this option.

    BASIC PREMISE #2

    Do not fly beyond the point of no return.
    This is the position when flying upslope terrain where, if you reduce the throttle to idle and begin a normal glide, you will have sufficient altitude to turn around without impacting the terrain. Flying beyond this point drives home the southern sheriff's warning, "You're in a heap of trouble, boy."

    Constantly evaluate where you are and decide if you can lose altitude before having to turn the airplane. If not, you are narrowing your options substantially.

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  10. Here is a "difficult to watch video" from the cockpit (1984) accident attributed to DA and subsequent mistakes. Near a commenter's #6 - Granby, CO observation. I hope anyone seeking to enjoy the mountains out west in their non-turbo aircraft takes the time to view it.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhZy12jVfCw

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    1. Eye opening for sure. Thank you for sharing that! Its videos like these that will linger in the back of our minds, and will help us use the right judgement.

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    2. NTSB report number DEN84FA308 for anyone who wants to look up the report themselves. NTSB estimates the density altitude was about 13,000 feet, and the location of the crash was 10,200' MSL. Tail number was N4584A.

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  11. I’m curious to know what the winds aloft were at the time. Any downdrafts at all, combined with a non-turbocharged aircraft, could spell disaster.

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  12. YouTube has a video of N4444K when it was for sale last February. At that time it didn't have shoulder harnesses. If the plane had shoulder harnesses maybe the accident would have been survivable.

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  13. Enjoy the experience of mountain flying... but get the proper flight training first.

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  14. Tragic accident. That is a tricky airport that demands precision in NA airplanes. I noticed the prior sightseeing flight and its track. I am assuming that was done with partial fuel and may have influenced his confidence for the departure flight. I am also assuming he topped the tanks for the expected 514 nm flight to KPWA which was a fuel stop on the way to KTEX. There is no flight track for the KPWA to KTEX on the way out but if it was non stop the tanks would have been very light for the sightseeing flight. Depending upon how much fuel was added in KTEX, it could have made a big difference in the climb rate. It is a shame he did not turn west after departure and gain some altitude for the east bound flight.

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  15. Links below have exact pinned location in Google maps where the aircraft came to a stop, plus a 2017 Ingram Basin photo view from North side that can be zoomed to see the hillside crash location.

    Look for light color of the nearby berm in the photo view and zoom in/out & rotate 360 to appreciate the area in which the turn was being made. Third link is KR photo used for location matchup verification to grey rock, round bush by grey rock, single track trails and the light colored berm. Aircraft points south in KR photo.

    Pinned map location:
    http://maps.google.com/maps?t=k&q=loc:37.914544+-107.752881

    Photo from North side of Ingram Basin, with light colored berm at center:
    https://goo.gl/maps/J5ASpni1hpHzBhbT7

    KR photo used to match features to pin location:
    https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-WsRFk_9tvUI/X4IO2emWP7I/AAAAAAAC0dY/tfD8wN8SXRc34Z1OuGaNdi-UuohOgmU9ACLcBGAsYHQ/s1200/KathrynsReport.jpg

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    1. The light colored berm is a mining spoil pile. A set of rails can be seen going out onto the spoil pile. The white board-shaped material seen up on the spoil pile in crash site photos is also visible in the Google maps imaging recorded prior to the crash, which makes that material mine-related debris, not aircraft debris.

      The airplane did not impact the spoil pile.

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  16. An airplane engine loses 3% of its power every 1,000 feet higher in elevation.
    One ATP and one commercial pilot manage to kill themselves each year in a Cessna 150/152.

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  17. Replies
    1. Photos suggest wing damage/fuel bladder breaching was underway in the impact sequence before reaching the spot where the wreckage came to rest. Aluminum wing skins and ribs don't spark. Fuel vapor will travel down slope since it is more dense than air. No fire does not always mean no fuel.

      Fueling records lookup at KTEX FBO will provide useful insight into fuel on board and estimated weight at takeoff.

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  18. Could not make much of this report. Seems the responders were more interested in documenting themselves and their gear. Love the flashing lights as they stand around gabbing. The Beech had the performance, seems poor flight planning.

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  19. I call a probable cause of "The pilot's exceedance of the aircraft's critical angle of attack during a flight in high density altitude conditions and maneuvering in mountainous terrain which resulted in an aerodynamic stall and subsequent impact with terrain."
    Later in the day = hotter.
    Also loaded full fuel and even if within maximum gross weight might have been with an aft CG reducing the ability to recover from a stall.

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  20. I concur with MarcPilot's view point; I had to 'ground my own father' (87) a couple years ago. In hind sight, in my humble opinion, Age does does not matter. My previous post was a lesson; Just be smart, and remember always***: the LESS readings on this website - the BETTER we are as whole, folks! I am not a pilot, but work in ATC procedures in DC, but glad my father enjoyed taking our family up for rides. And that is why I give substantial monies to the organizations who lobby on your (GA) behalf. Yet, wonder why the FARs and 7110.65 and AIM need updating often in my office...

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  21. Would it be crazy to takeoff to the west to ETL VOR and then swing south to Albuquerque before turning east? I know it would add time to the flight, but this way you avoid any treacherous mountains.

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