Monday, February 15, 2021

Piper PA-46R-350T Matrix, N40TS: Fatal accident occurred February 13, 2021 in Tehachapi, Kern County, California

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 did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Van Nuys, California
Lycoming Engines; Phoenix, Arizona
Piper Aircraft; Phoenix, Arizona 

Location: Tehachapi, CA 
Accident Number: WPR21LA111
Date & Time: February 13, 2021, 16:27 Local 
Registration: N40TS
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On February 13, 2021, about 1627 Pacific standard time, a Piper PA46R-350T airplane, N40TS, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Tehachapi, California. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated by the pilot as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

Preliminary flight track data revealed the airplane departed from Camarillo Airport (CMA), Camarillo, California, earlier that afternoon and traveled northeast climbing to about 10,000 ft mean sea level (msl). About 20 minutes into the flight, the airplane’s ground speed decreases followed by the airplane’s altitude decreasing to about 8,000 ft msl. The flight continued for about 12 minutes before dropping off radar. The final portion of the track showed the airplane in a steep descending left spiral.

Weather in the area of the accident site was reported as marginal visual flight rules (mvfr) due to low ceilings and visibility in light rain and mist with winds reported at 40 knots. The National Weather Service had advisories current for turbulence over the region and included G-AIRMET Tango and a Center Weather Advisory (CSA) which bordered the area for severe turbulence below 15,000 ft.

Concerned family members contacted the Federal Aviation Administration the following day and an Alert Notice (ALNOT) was issued for the missing airplane. The airplane was found on the morning of February 15th, in rugged steep terrain.

According to a family member, the pilot had flown this regular flight to Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH), Mammoth Lakes, California, where he had a home in the area. The family member also stated that the pilot had flown his helicopter for about an hour with his flight instructor before departing on the accident flight.

A postaccident examination of the accident site revealed that the airplane impacted a steep north facing slop. The airplane was found in several sections and postcrash fire damage was concentrated to the cabin section and inboard wings. All of the airplane’s flight controls were found at the accident site.

The airplane was relocated for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N40TS
Model/Series: PA46R-350T 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
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: KTSP,4001 ft msl 
Observation Time: 16:15 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 9 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 5°C /4°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: 1200 ft AGL
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 19 knots / 26 knots, 310°
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 1200 ft AGL
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.92 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Camarillo, CA (KCMA) 
Destination: Mammoth Lakes, CA (KMMH)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 
Aircraft Fire: Unknown
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: Unknown
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 35.000407,-118.3874 (est)

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

UPDATE (2/17): The Kern County Sheriff’s Office has identified the man who was killed in the plane crash as 56-year-old Hidden Valley resident Todd Q Smart.

UPDATE (11:39 a.m.): The plane is believed to have left Camarillo on Saturday and was headed to Mammoth Lakes, according to KCSO. The department said at the time of the suspected crash, around 6 p.m. on Sunday, there were high winds and low visibility.

 The department said the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have been notified and will conduct an investigation into the crash.

UPDATE (2/15): The Kern County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that a downed aircraft was located by a Search and Rescue team at around 8:30 a.m. this morning in the area of Tehachapi Willow Springs and Cameron Canyon roads.

At least one person was killed in the crash, according to the department. No identifying information is available at this time.

(BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Weather and high winds have forced Kern County search teams to call off a search Sunday night for a possible downed aircraft last known to be over the Tehachapi mountains.

KCSO said Sunday they and crews from the Kern County Fire Department began searching for a single-engine Piper Malibu in the mountains south of Tehachapi where the aircraft last made contact with air traffic controllers on Saturday evening. The pilot of the aircraft was the only person aboard sheriff’s officials said.

County search teams were sent to an area near Highline and Tehachapi Willow Springs roads at around 6 p.m. Sunday for the search. KCSO Lt. Cesar Ollague said the aircraft was not located by search teams Sunday night. Search teams will resume their search in the area sometime early Monday morning.

Ollague said the plane took off from Camarillo Airport sometime Saturday and was headed to its destination at Mammoth Yosemite Airport in Mammoth Lakes. Initially, it was believed the pilot was headed to Mojave.

The pilot’s identity was not immediately known.

The pilot of a plane that crashed in mountainous terrain near Mojave last weekend has been identified by the Kern County coroner’s office.

Todd Q Smart, a 56-year-old resident of Hidden Valley, was the pilot in the fatal accident, the coroner said.

The Kern County Sheriff’s Office and Kern County Fire Department reportedly first learned of the missing plane at about 6 p.m. Sunday, when it was reportedly lost near Oak Creek and Tehachapi Willow Springs roads. A news release from the KCSO said the agencies looked for the plane that night but had to suspend the search because of difficult weather conditions.

The plane’s wreckage was found Monday at about 8:40 a.m., according to the KCSO.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

BAKERSFIELD, California — UPDATE (FEB. 15 @ 10:54 AM): One person was killed in a plane crash after an aircraft went down in the Tehachapi mountains, according to the Kern County Sheriff's Offices. According to KCSO, the aircraft was located by a Search and Rescue team at around 8:40 a.m. Monday morning in the area of Tehachapi Willow Springs Road.

The plane disappeared while flying from Camarillo Airport to Mammoth Lakes on Saturday afternoon. A the time of the crash, there were high winds and low visibility in the area but it is not known if this was a factor in the crash.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the plane, a Piper Malibu, was found approximately eight miles from the Tehachapi Municipal Airport and that the pilot was the sole person on board the aircraft.

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate and determine the cause of the crash.

UPDATE: Crews have suspended their search due to poor weather conditions in the area, according to the Kern County Sheriff's Office. The search will resume tomorrow morning.

Crews are searching for a possibly downed single-engine airplane in the Tehachapi area Sunday evening.

According to the Kern County Sheriff's Office, deputies started assisting Kern County Fire Department crews search for the six seat Piper Malibu plane at about 6 p.m.

Authorities haven't confirmed where or when the plane took off or where it was heading to. KCSO believes there is only one person on the plane.

The Fort Worth Texas Air Station told KCSO that the plane was last seen on radar in the Tehachapi area at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, according to KCSO.

At last report, crews are searching the mountains just south of Tehachapi near Highline Road and Tehachapi Willow Springs.

TEHACHAPI, California (KBAK/KBFX) — On February 14, 2021, at approximately 6:00 p.m., the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and Kern County Fire Department received a report of an aircraft that had gone missing on February 13, 2021, in the area around Oak Creek Road and Tehachapi Willow Springs Road.

The departments responded and searched the area, but had to suspend their search due to weather conditions.

Kern County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue resumed the search on February 15, 2021, and at approximately 8:40 a.m., an airplane was located in mountainous terrain west of Tehachapi Willow Springs Road, south of Oak Creek Road.

A deceased subject was located with the wreckage.

According to KCSO, it appears the plane left Camarillo, Ca, and was headed to Mammoth Lakes, Ca.

On February 13, 2021, at the time of the suspected crash, there were high winds and low visibility in the area.

The FAA and NTSB has been notified and will conduct an investigation into the crash.

The victim’s identity will be released by the Coroner’s Office at a later time.


  1. Looking at the ADS-B log, you'll see that the altitude was very stable as when flying with the autopilot. But the airspeed dropped severely while still trying to hold altitude / climb back up to altitude until reaching stall speed and dropping out of the sky. This suggests the pilot being unaware of this trap that is inherent with all autopilots that don't have envelope protection.

  2. Isn't the Piper Matrix a newer G1000 plane.. wouldn't it have had envelope protection. I'm not aware of any new Garmin glass equipped plane, especially one with a high trim level as the Matrix, that is missing envelope protection. But I could be wrong

    1. It would depend on the year model. The original few years of the Matrix had Avidyne avionics.

    2. registration shows 2010 date of manufacture

  3. I would think the pilot would notice/feel the aircraft slowing down. Everything sounds different as an airplane slows ... unless he was having a medical issue.

  4. Most likely caught in the strong downdrafts of a mountain wave. The same phenomenon that causes those beautiful lenticular clouds.
    They will produce smooth yet strong vertical velocities that few aircraft can out climb.

    1. "Owner's Corner
      Lloyd Stephens, Aircraft Owner WVFC
      "Mountain Winds. Lenticular clouds indicative of a mountain wave near Bishop, CA. The mountains in the photo are about 10,000 feet, and the cloud bases are about 13,000 feet.

      As most of us know, March and April are usually good months for kite flying because the days are frequently windy. Here in the Bay Area we don’t think too much about wind. Oh, there are those days when the wind isn’t right down the runway, so you might need some crosswind skills, or is strong enough that it can cause some pretty good turbulence, but generally not too many days when the wind makes flying a small plane almost impossible, unless you literally want to risk your life to do so.

      For the last 15 years I have lived part time in the Eastern Sierra, between Mammoth Lakes and Bishop, and have flown extensively out of both airports, and I want to tell you that wind is a considerably different factor when you add in some mountains. Winds in the Eastern Sierra frequently are strong enough to blow over trees, overturn semi trucks and trailers, and blow portions of the roofs off of buildings. These are not winds that you want to fly in, particularly in a small plane."


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