Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Cirrus SR20 GTS G3, N89423: Fatal accident occurred June 15, 2021 near Truckee-Tahoe Airport (KTRK), Placer County, California

James Duncan Harrell, 24
Pilot, Rancher, MBA.

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.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Reno, Nevada 
Cirrus Design Corporation; Duluth, Minnesota  

Sierra Skyport Ltd

Location: Truckee, CA 
Accident Number: WPR21FA228
Date & Time: June 15, 2021, 10:45 Local 
Registration: N89423
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Instructional

On June 15, 2021, about 1045 Pacific daylight time, a Cirrus Design Corporation SR20 airplane, N98423, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident at the Truckee-Tahoe Airport (TRK), Truckee, California. The flight instructor was fatally injured, and the student pilot sustained serious injuries. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 instructional flight.

Review of recorded communication from the air traffic control tower revealed that controllers issued taxi instructions to the pilots to taxi to runway 20. The pilots transmitted that they were ready for takeoff from runway 20 and requested closed traffic. The controller subsequently reported the wind conditions and instructed the pilots to make right closed traffic prior to issuing a clearance for takeoff. No further radio communication with the pilots were received.

A pilot rated witness reported that, while standing on the airport ramp of TRK, he observed the accident airplane depart from runway 20. The airplane appeared to make a shallow right turn, consistent with a right crosswind and downwind turns. About the time the witness expected the wings to level, the airplane abruptly banked 90° to the right and pitched down in a nose low attitude. The witness said that simultaneously a parachute was deployed from the airplane and it descended below the tree line out of visual sight. That was followed by the sound of impact with terrain. The witness added that at the time of departure, they observed an airport sign that indicated a density altitude of 7,100 ft.

Recorded Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) showed that the airplane departed from runway 20 at 1742:49 ascended to 6250 ft mean sea level (msl) and start a right southwesterly turn. The data showed that the airplane completed the turn at 1744:05, on a southwesterly heading, at an altitude of 6,325 ft msl. At 1744:14, the data showed a right turn to a northerly heading at an altitude of 6,300 ft msl, followed by a descent. The airplane remained on a northerly heading and continued to descend until ADS-B contact was lost at 17:44:21, at an altitude of 6050 ft, about 116 ft south of the accident site as seen in figure 1.

Examination of the accident site by the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge revealed that the airplane impacted terrain about 1 mile south west of the departure end of runway 20. The airplane came to rest upright in an approximate 15° nose low attitude, on a heading of about 335° magnetic, at an elevation of 5,905 ft mean sea level. No visible ground scars were observed surrounding the wreckage. The parachute rocket motor was located about 450 ft southeast of the wreckage and the parachute cover was located about 250 ft south of the wreckage. The fuselage and wings were mostly intact, however, the forward portion of the fuselage exhibited impact damage. The wreckage was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N89423
Model/Series: SR20 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
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: KTRK,5900 ft msl
Observation Time: 11:45 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 22°C /-2°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Scattered 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 13 knots / 20 knots, 230°
Lowest Ceiling: 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.27 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed:
Departure Point: Truckee, CA
Destination: Truckee, CA

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Latitude, Longitude: 39.305662,-120.15395 

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

James Duncan Harrell

A pilot who died Tuesday in a plane crash in Martis Valley, near Truckee, has been identified by authorities.

James Duncan Harrell, 24, of Sacramento, died Tuesday morning when the plane he was flying crashed several minutes after taking off from the Truckee Tahoe Airport, according to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. Another man, who remains unnamed, survived the crash and was reported as being in stable condition as of Tuesday afternoon, after having been transported to the Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada.

The crashed plane was identified by the Federal Aviation Administration as a Cirrus SR20 GTS G3. The aircraft belonged to Mountain Lion Aviation, an aircraft rental service based in Nevada County, according to the FAA’s Aircraft Registry.

The crash occurred just five to 10 minutes after takeoff, and the aircraft was able to deploy a ballistic parachute before nosediving into the ground, according to a press release issued by authorities.

The Sheriff’s Office said that officials with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the crash, which has still not been determined.

Placer County Sheriff's Office 

June 15, 2021 at 10:45 a.m., Placer County Sheriff’s deputies and CalFire responded to a report of a plane crash in Martis Valley. Deputies were able to locate the downed single-engine plane, with two occupants. One occupant has been declared deceased, and the other is alive but injured. We will be assisting the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board as they conduct their investigation.

James Duncan Harrell


  1. Accident Flight Track, altitude & ground speed in playback:

  2. Departed RW20 and crashed near the end of Parker Lane. Not a lot of time/distance after takeoff to gain altitude for successful CAPS outcome.

  3. I wonder if this might be a case of deploying too low. The nose drops when the chute initially deploys and until the risers catch which could account for the damage seen.

    1. Highest uncorrected altitude the aircraft reached in the Flightradar24 playback is 6,025' MSL after taking off from KTRK departure airfield.

      The ADS-B altitude transmitted by the aircraft during takeoff roll at 40 knots ground speed was 5,550' MSL, which is 350' less than true runway elevation of 5,900'. Adding 350' to 6,025 equals 6,375'.

      Height above terrain was 475 feet or less at CAPS deployment.

    2. Cirrus says minimum altitude required for deployment is 400ft agl or 920ft agl if aircraft is in a spin.

  4. Wonder if it would have been better to simply not panic on pulling the chute, and PITCH DOWN to gain forward air speed, even if level flight at 300 AGL? Instead of fighting the lack of climb (which results in low airspeed) and wrestling with it, the plane entered stall and they panicked and pulled the chute way below recommended AGL altitude. These Density Altitude incidents are ALWAYS a result of lack of power on hot high elevation days, but that doesn't excuse the combative nature of forcing the plane to climb, if it doesn't climb, LEVEL OFF at the least or pitch down momentarily and then level off? My future minimums will be 6 cylinder turbocharged engines, these trainer engines on 4 or 6 cyls could be carefully looked at depending on the season, temperature, and elevation.

  5. I took off from this airport and it is a steep learning curve for density altitude... had to circle 13 times the fix on my IFR departure to reach the altitude needed to proceed West.
    I suspect high DA and low climb and ultimately the stall as he saw the rising terrain. And because he wasn't climbing much in a normally aspirated R20 with 200 hp and here 160 or lower given the altitude he wasn't very high above terrain...

  6. So the older pilot was an instructor out of Truckee. Clearly he knew the plane's limitations, the terrain and local weather and DA very well. And he also lived.

    I imagine the winds at 10 gusting 21 may have had a vertical component exceeding climb capability. I wonder if the Cirrus pilot training specifically advises against CAPS deployment under 500ft?

    1. Having gone through it, it does. Below 500 AGL (600 in the higher power models) land straight ahead.

  7. N89423 daily flights logged from 6.6.21 ... with few grounded days during the last several months!

  8. Cirrus Aircraft *reported* accidents/incidents within the last 6 months:
    Cirrus SR22 G2, N123RE
    Cirrus SR22 G5 GTS Carbon, N100ZW
    Cirrus SR22, ​N2275T
    Cirrus SR22T GTSx, N333LZ
    Cirrus SR22, N214TW
    Cirrus SR22, N729SA
    Cirrus SR20 GTS, N62WR
    Cirrus SR20 GTS G3, N89423
    Cirrus SR22, N514DT
    Cirrus SR22, N812CD
    Cirrus SR20, N12ZG
    Cirrus SR22, N4144B
    Cirrus SR22T, N384W
    Cirrus SR22 GTS G5 Carbon, N416DJ
    Cirrus SR22, N321PM
    Cirrus SR22 GTS G5 Platinum, N78EM
    Cirrus SR22 G2, N222SW
    Cirrus SR22, N626SR
    Cirrus SR22 G2, N587CD
    Cirrus SR22 , N365WD
    Cirrus SR22T, N21EU
    Cirrus SR20 G3, N689PG
    Cirrus SF-50 Vision, N16VJ
    Cirrus SR20, N191JG
    Cirrus SR22 GTS, N644SR
    Cirrus SR22T, N241GS
    Cirrus SR22, N8163V
    Cirrus SR22, N754DJ
    Cirrus SR22T, N826DX
    Cirrus SF-50 Vision, N100TL
    Cirrus SR22, N989HK
    Cirrus SR22, N292DR
    Cirrus SR22 GTS Turbo, N577CP
    Cirrus SR22, N572CT

    In addition, there's Cirrus Aircraft *unreported* incidents.

    1. In that list, trouble being smooth and straight "at pavement" accounts for most. Here is that list sorted:

      Various "at pavement" issues (veer, crosswind, animal strike, hard, bounce, collapse: N572CT, N292DR, N989HK, N826DX, N754DJ, N8163V, N241GS, N191JG, N689PG, N21EU, N365WD, N626SR, N78EM, N321PM, N384W, N12ZG, N812CD, N514DT, N729SA?, N214TW, N2275T.

      Just a handful of other circumstances:
      Loss of power after takeoff: N577CP.
      Loss of power in flight: N644SR, N222SW, N333LZ, N100ZW.
      Low AGL maneuvering crashes: N587CD, N89423, N62WR, N123RE.
      Instrument miscompare: N4144B.
      Mid-air collision: N416DJ.

      Not particularly surprising after you sort by circumstances and consider the uncounted total number of Cirrus operations for all active airframes that occurred during those six months.

    2. Over 8,000 Cirrus out there. And they seem to get flown for travel, a lot. And the chute doesn't help if you're (potentially) way out of the envelope. I say "potentially" since it hasn't been released as to at what altitude they were when they pulled the handle -- top altitude achieved? Doubtful.

  9. For all of you questioning the instructors decision to deploy the CAPS. You weren't there. I knew him personally, he was an extremely capable aviator. I can assure you, if he made the decision to do so, it was because he knew that not doing so was going to get one or both of them killed and he felt deploying it would at least give them a fighting chance. He likely saved his students life in doing so. As a former parachuting I know that in those kinds of situations sometimes it is best to present any drag that will slow your decent rate you can and hope for the best. Yes, my friend still tragically lost his life, but I am certain both would have had he not acted quickly.