Monday, July 12, 2021

Beechcraft C90 King Air, N3688P: Fatal accident occurred July 10, 2021 in Wikieup, Mohave County, Arizona

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 Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Scottsdale, Arizona

Location: Wikieup, AZ 
Accident Number: WPR21FA266
Date & Time: July 10, 2021, 12:55 Local 
Registration: N3688P
Aircraft: Beech C90 Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Public aircraft

On July 10, 2021, about 1255 mountain standard time, a Beech C-90, turbo prop airplane, N3688P, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Wikieup, Arizona. The pilot and Air Tactical Group supervisor were fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a public-use firefighting aircraft in support of the Bureau of Land Management conducting aerial reconnaissance and supervision.

The airplane was on station for about 45 minutes over the area of the Cedar Basin fire. Preliminary radar data showed that the airplane had accomplished multiple orbits over the area of the fire about 2,500 ft above ground level (agl). The last radar data point showed the airplane’s airspeed about 151 knots, its altitude about 2,300 ft agl, and that it was in a descent, about 805 ft east southeast of the accident site.

According to a witness, the airplane was observed in a steep dive towards the ground. Subsequently, the airplane impacted side of a ridgeline in mountainous desert terrain about 15 miles northeast of Wikieup. The wreckage was consumed by a post-crash fire. Debris was scattered over an area of several acres. The left wing was located about 0.79 miles northeast of the main wreckage and did not sustain thermal damage. No distress call from the airplane was overheard on the radio.

The airplane was recovered to a secure facility for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Beech 
Registration: N3688P
Model/Series: C90 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operating Certificate(s) Held: On-demand air taxi (135)
Operator Designator Code: X0FA

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site:
Condition of Light:
Observation Facility, Elevation: KIGM,3420 ft msl
Observation Time: 12:51 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 37 Nautical Miles 
Temperature/Dew Point: 42°C /12°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 11 knots / 18 knots, 260°
Lowest Ceiling: None 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed:
Departure Point: Marana, AZ

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 2 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries:
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal 
Latitude, Longitude: 34.824722,-113.39138 (est)

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email You can also call the NTSB Response Operations Center at 844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290.
Pilot Matthew Miller, 48, was flying a Beechcraft C90 King Air that was conducting visual reconnaissance and aviation command and control over the Cedar Fire when it crashed near Wikieup.

Former Stockton Fire Chief Jeff Piechura, 62

WIKIEUP, Arizona (3TV/CBS 5) -- A retired Northwest Fire District Fire Chief was one of two people who died Saturday afternoon after an air attack aircraft crashed while helping fight a wildfire in Mohave County.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, an aircraft helping perform aerial reconnaissance and command and control over the Cedar Basin Fire burning near Wikieup crashed around noon. The aircraft performs aerial supervision and coordination for a fire's aviation resources. Officials say two crew members, pilot 48-year-old Matthew Miller and passenger Jeff Piechura, a former Arizona fire chief from Tucson. Miller was a fire pilot with Falcon Executive Aviation, Inc, contracted by the U.S. Forest Service.

"He was a hero. He really was. A good father. A great great father. A great husband, and a great brother," said Christine Piechura, Jeff's sister.

Christine told Arizona's Family that he started volunteering when he was 17-years-old. Piechura was recruited to help build the Northwest Fire District in Tucson before retiring. Piechura's career took him to Stockton, California, where he served as the city's fire chief for a year. It wasn't long before he returned to Arizona, serving as assistant fire chief in Sedona, and helping the City of Tucson.

"We will provide additional information pending next of kin notification. Our hearts go out to the families of our brave wildland firefighters,” a BLM spokesperson said in a statement released Saturday.

The lightning-caused Cedar Basin Fire has burned 714 acres and has zero containment as of Sunday afternoon. The fire is located 14 miles northeast of Wikieup. The NTSB is investigating the crash.

A statement from the Northwest Fire District reads, in part:

Jeff Piechura became the District’s first Fire Chief in November of 1988 and served in that position for 24 years. During his time as Fire Chief, Piechura led the expansion of the District to serve our growing community. Piechura retired from the Northwest Fire District in 2012, yet continued his career in service with the Stockton, CA Fire Department and Sedona, AZ Fire District before returning to Pima County.

During the decades of professional achievement and service, Jeff was never far from his passion of wildland firefighting. He tragically died doing a job he loved and excelled at. Jeff has flown air tactical group supervisor “Air Attack” missions over Arizona and several other states for decades and his actions helped saved countless homes, unknown acres of natural habitat, and protected the lives of thousands of wildland firefighters working on the front lines. In this role he had command and control of all aircraft working within the vicinity of a fire.

Piechura’s passing leaves a tremendous void in the lives of his beloved family, friends, and the thousands of firefighters across the country he worked with. His professional accomplishments are far too many to be captured in a single document and his personal impact on those who knew him is too immense to comprehend. For those of us fortunate enough to work with Jeff, or ‘Chief Pie,’ we will forever miss his warm smile, firm handshake, and endearing embrace he gave those around him.

Governor Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset Tuesday, July 13, 2021, to honor the two men.


  1. ADS-B data for the accident flight track only shows initial arrival East of Wikieup. Other flights to different locations where ADS-B data reception captures complete flight track provide examples of orbiting on scene.

    Accident day:

    Previous day:

    July 7:

    1. You don't see the circling track because the aircraft crashed just as it was arriving on scene from Marana, AZ (AVQ).

    2. Presumed that ground station reception of ADS-B dropped out as they descended to scene. Last data points are well above terrain, trend looks normal:

    3. The location of the last available data point recorded in the incoming flight track (34.729, -113.321) is 10.5 statute miles south of the public record property location where the witness observed the aircraft crash by looking out the kitchen window.

      Would expect the aircraft to need to be closer than 10 miles away to catch your eye out a kitchen window. The turkey buzzard comparison suggests circling. Looks like ADS-B data reception just didn't capture the rest of the approach and maneuvering at scene.

    4. No they weren't "well above terrain". You have to remember that the info you see on ADS-B is MSL data Not AGL data. The last data point is 7400'MSL
      The general "low" elevation in that area is about 4400' MSL, with higher peaks and Mesa's around 5000-7000' So, if you take the last data point of
      7400-4400 terrain elevation = about 3000' AGL. The trend is not "normal" either. They were at 3000' AGL descending at over -2400'/min at that time. Not a normal decent for observation. (fire info with topo map)

  2. A Wikieup resident saw the plane coming down at a steep angle and impacting the ground.

    Bureau of Land Management personnel reportedly witnessed a wing fall off the plane in the air before it crashed.

    1. If the wing did actually fall off, Airworthiness Directives applicable to this S/N LJ-915 Beech C90 related to periodic wing attachment inspection are of interest.

      AD 85-22-05 Lower forward wing bolts:

      AD 89-25-10 Lower forward spar attach fittings/center/caps:

    2. Another applicable AD was issued January 11, 2021 to inspect LH and RH lower forward wing bolt washer:

  3. The pilot was a long time friend of mine and a great instructor, he was the chief flight instructor at a company that I have a long association with. You will be missed, Matt, tailwinds and fair skies my friend.

    1. Matt was a walking encyclopedia of aeronautical knowledge. Prog-checks with him during my IFR training were packed with insight and entertaining.

    2. Matt was my CFI too. Just a nice guy and the last person I’d expect this to happen to. It sounds like structural failure that they couldn’t have done anything about. Sleep well, Matt.

  4. Matt was a long time friend (almost 30 years). He was one of my best friends. It so hard to wrap my head around this as he truly was one of the best pilots I knew. Over the years we both lost so many friends in the aviation field from accidents. He was one I never worried about coming home. If it wasn’t foe him, I wouldn’t have moved down here and I wouldn’t have a career in aviation myself .

  5. Sorry to say, but the wing came off. Bigtime cyclic fatigue signatures at wing spar separation surface........the investigation continues.

  6. Left wing came off after a couple orbits over the fire.

    1. "At times, a wildfire (or multiple wildfires in the same area) causes a firestorm. That means the heat from the fire creates its own wind system, and this can lead to very strange weather effects.
      Firestorms form for two main reasons:

      Hot air rises.
      Nature hates a vacuum (not the loud cleaning appliance, but an empty space). That means empty spaces don’t stay empty for long.
      It all starts because heat is constantly and quickly rising from the fire. As all this heat and air moves upwards, it leaves behind some empty space. Air from all around the fire rushes in to fill that gap. That movement of air creates powerful wind called an updraft.
      In some cases, the rising air can be so fast it creates a fire whirl, also known as a fire tornado. Seriously. A tornado of fire. As if a wildfire weren't bad enough by itself!

  7. gbear - educational material, yet I doubt it has little, if anything to do with the crash of the C90. As a 20-year FS wildland firefighter and pilot - and being familiar with the sparse desert ground fuels in the Wikieup area - it's doubtful a fire tornado would have even occured with this type of fuel loading.

    So, what's the point?

    1. you know the area and I accept your assessment, yet it appears the C90 was stressed byeond tolerance spec limits. "Airplanes and helicopters are integral to the management and suppression of wildfires, often operating in high-risk, low-altitude environments. .... Among 298 wildland firefighter fatalities identified during 2000–2013, 78 (26.2%) were aviation-related occupational fatalities that occurred during 41 separate events involving 42 aircraft."
      personal side note, flying above range fires are very unpredictable.

    2. The C90 did not have to be "stressed beyond tolerance spec limits" to lose a wing. The numerous AD's and ongoing periodic inspection requirements were intended to monitor wing attachment integrity based on typical usage of the aircraft.

      This aircraft may have experienced a significantly greater number of cyclic stress repetitons on the wings than the inspection interval was intended to accommodate by the nature of its usage, or been almost due for the next inspection.

      Examination of the wreckage for the known concern ares of wing attachment will provide the needed answers.

    3. Correct same reason the US Forest Service grounded and scrapped 22 Barons. Raytheon said the cycles over a fire were equal to 5 "or more" of the normal cycles. I would expect all contracted aircraft used in wildland firefighting to come under new stricter inspections and cycle limits after this accident. Which will be a huge impact on the fleet IMHO.

  8. Here is the preliminary report

  9. NTSB Final report is now out. WPR21FA266