Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Beechcraft G36 Bonanza, N36JJ: Fatal accident occurred July 03, 2021 in Aspen, Pitkin 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.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Denver, Colorado 
Textron Aviation ; Wichita, Kansas
Hartzell Propeller

LEC Aviation LLC

Location: Aspen, CO 
Accident Number: CEN21FA305
Date & Time: July 3, 2021, 18:38 Local
Registration: N36JJ
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

On July 3, 2021, about 1838 mountain daylight time, a Beech G36 airplane, N36JJ, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Aspen, Colorado. The two pilots were fatally injured. The airplane was operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight.

According to preliminary information, the airplane landed at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) about 1353 to stop for fuel and lunch. The pilots then requested an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan to the Des Moines International Airport (DSM), Des Moines, Iowa. The ground controller issued a clearance that included the LINDZ Nine Departure Procedure, to climb and maintain 16,000 ft, and to expect 17,000 ft, 10 minutes after departure. The pilot responded that they could not accept 16,000 ft, which was required for the departure procedure, and would instead depart using visual flight rules. The controller queried the pilot if they were going to fly down the valley before proceeding eastbound or northeast through the ridge. The pilot responded that they would make that decision after they took off, “once we see what’s going on.” The pilot advised that they would make a right turn takeoff and requested to climb over the airport.

After departure, the flight was cleared to climb over the Aspen airport and the pilot informed the controller that they would depart to the south-southeast. The tower controller acknowledged and advised that they would let them know when the flight was high enough to proceed. When passing through 10,100 ft, the pilots informed the tower that they would depart to the east, stating “we’re above it.” When the flight was 5 miles east of the airport, the tower controller informed them that they were leaving ASE airspace and approved a frequency change. The pilot asked the tower controller to recommend a frequency, however the tower controller did not respond. The flight continued to the east and southeast. 

Radar data showed the airplane as it approached a semi-circular mountain ridgeline with tops over 13,000 ft. Data indicated that the airplane was at 11,500 ft as it approached the ridgeline and then the airplane subsequently dropped off radar.

The airplane was located near a meadow in a wooded area at an elevation of about 11,000 ft. A post impact fire ensued.

A detailed examination will be conducted once the airplane is recovered from the accident site.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N36JJ
Model/Series: G36
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: KASE,7720 ft msl
Observation Time: 17:53 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 11 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 25°C /6°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 6 knots / , 120°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.29 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: VFR/IFR
Departure Point: Aspen, CO 
Destination: Des Moines, IA

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 2 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: Unknown
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal 
Latitude, Longitude: 39.1679,-106.65509 

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation may contact them by email witness@ntsb.gov, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email assistance@ntsb.gov. You can also call the NTSB Response Operations Center at 844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290.


  1. They circled to get to 10,000 feet then headed across the mountains. Looks like yet another CFIT while expecting to climb clear of the terrain ahead.

    They could have circled a bit longer and established the needed altitude.



  2. Recent N36JJ for sale listing:


  3. Pinned map location of last position recorded in Flightaware:


  4. The accident happened near Midway Pass which tops out at 12,140' very close to the spot you pinned on the map.
    The last altitude ping I see on flightaware is 11,950'. Minimum IFR altitude for that general area is about 16,800' and about 14,800' for VFR.

  5. Why, why, why, do some pilots insist on trying to clear high mountain ridges in airplanes with normally aspirated engines when there are much safer alternatives? Even though he decided to fly eastbound, why not gain all the altitude needed in the circling before he headed east? If you can't make the altitude you need in the circling, then either land and wait for cooler temps, or head southwest and take the longer (and safer) departure route. So sad and so preventable.

    1. I wonder if they went through the wrong pass than they intended. I watched a video they seemed very unfamiliar with the terrain

  6. Also of note is the aircraft was equipped with non-turbocharged Cont Motor IO-550-B
    which has much lower climb performance at higher altitudes than a turbocharged engines do.

    1. True, and all the more reason to carefully evaluate the demonstrated climb rate while circling, before committing to go East over rising terrain.

      Track log shows the performance loss as they circled:
      8,000 to 9,000 took three minutes
      9,000 to 10,000 took four minutes

      They had 10 statute miles available when they broke out of the circling and entered Hunter Creek Valley at 10,000' on the way to Midway Pass. Ground speed as they climbed was 120 MPH, which is two miles per minute. That gave them five minutes to complete their climb.

      Even if they planned a no-margin ground-effect run over the pass at the advertised 11,840' elevation, climb performance demonstrated while circling from 9,000 to 10,000 pencils out to eight minutes.

    2. The last ping on flightaware was at 10,950' climbing 242'/min @ 110 MPH and decreasing. Which as you mentioned, would have taken at least 5 min to achieve the altitude needed to clear the terrain. I can assure you at that location, the terrain was rising much faster than their 242'/min climb rate.
      Track Log:

  7. The last altitude ping on Flightaware is 10,950', not 11,950'.

    This looks very similar to the N4444k newlyweds crash. The N4444K pilot flew jets and one of the pilots aboard N36JJ flew jets (the other aboard was recently certificated, a doctor).

    Maybe being a jet pilot accustomed to having solid climb performance desensitizes judgment somewhat, resulting in these circumstances of not being able to outclimb rising terrain by pilots in piston singles who don't attain suitable altitude before heading toward the passes.

    Or maybe it is a spur of the moment decision to see the terrain from a closer vantage point, expecting to pull clear but getting trapped, not enough room to turn.

    Should not have happened with experienced pilot Dave Zara aboard, particularly when they had an opportunity to become fully aware of climb performance minutes before the crash when they circled to reach 10,000'.

  8. You are right about the last ping @ 10,950 I typo'd 11,950 by mistake. thanks.

    It appears from the registration, it was recently purchased and Registered on 05/21/2021 with a pending N# change of N712LE
    He should have been very experienced with all these ratings and Types. Maybe over qualified to fly a regular ole Bonanza in the mountains.

    Airman opted-out of releasing address
    Medical Information:
    Medical Class: First Medical Date: 6/2021
    BasicMed Course Date: None BasicMed CMEC Date: None

    Certificates Description
    Date of Issue: 5/20/2021


    Type Ratings:
    A/DA-50 A/DA-7X A/G-1159 A/G-IV A/G-V


  9. The elevation of the rising terrain as they flew up Midway Creek can be seen by using the Topo map link below. Select "USGS National Map" by clicking on selector at upper right of the map image to get feet instead of meters, then zoom out a bit and go East to find Midway Creek.

    The location of the final recorded GPS coordinates on Flightaware (showing the uncorrected aircraft altitude = 10,950') is over the point where Midway Lake's drainage branch joins Midway Creek's main channel. The Topo map shows Midway Creek at 10,800' at that location, terrain much higher all around.

    Topo map link:

    Pinned map location of last position recorded in Flightaware:

  10. Not recommended for inexperienced pilots.

  11. KASE ATC communication with N36JJ pilot was captured on Liveatc.net.

    Liveatc asks users to not post direct links to files, so use these steps to access the recordings:

    Go to:
    -click on 4 July
    -select feed "KASE Tower" from the pulldown
    -select time 0000-0030Z
    -click submit and play file KASE2-Twr-Jul-04-2021-0000Z.mp3

    Look for N36JJ conversation after 23:00 minute mark.
    Repeat the archive selection for 0030-0100Z
    Play file KASE2-Twr-Jul-04-2021-0030Z.mp3

  12. LOTS of +TRSA that day. I would bet that had a lot to do with this. It was IFR there

    1. Not IFR. AWOS lookup for 6:30 PM MDT = 0030 minutes, UTC 4 July:

      KASE 040030Z AUTO 12002KT 10SM CLR 25/04 A3028

  13. Nothing in the news yet about removing the wreckage. They need to bring the crew that removed the N4444K wreck near Telluride.

  14. I wonder if they made a wrong turn leaving Aspen after the circle climb and meant to follow CO 82 to Independence Pass (12,100'). The flight path looks indecisive over the Hunter/Midway creek confluence as if they were unsure, go left, go right?. Independence Pass is further away from Aspen and would have given them more time to climb.

    1. It's 16 statute miles on the track to Independence pass, which is eight minutes forward travel at their 120 MPH/two miles per minute speed. They only were able to climb from 10,000' to 10,950' during their five minutes of forward travel on the 10 statute mile track they took to Midway.

      The non-turbo performance was worsening as altitude increased. Having three more minutes of forward travel on the 16 mile path would not have gotten them up from 10,950' to clear 12,100' at Independence pass.

      They would have to climb at 400 feet per minute during the three additional minutes that the Independence pass route offered. The same CFIT ending awaited them on either track.

  15. The flight the day before was 5 hours 21 minutes. I don’t know how they could have had any fuel left upon landing in Aspen of what I have read about the range of the Bonanza.

    1. Tip tanks. 120 gallons of fuel. About 8 hours of fuel. That was the morning flight from California to Aspen the same day as the accident.

  16. Preliminary report says they couldn't accept a departure requiring 16,000 feet and includes:

    "When passing through 10,100 ft, the pilots informed the tower that they would depart to the east, stating “we’re above it.”

    Obviously had not looked at charts or electronic maps of the terrain to know what lay ahead. Why not?


  17. I flew out of Colorado Springs for years and have seen one accident after the other by flat landers. They forget high altitude flying is different and very little experience with it.

  18. Looks like another Dr. Dentist (LEC Aviation) and another write off fictitious company for tax purposes.RIP

  19. Insurance rates keep going higher. :-(

  20. A fuel stop at KASE sounds like a fun time, but aircraft almost never do that, including turbine AC. This is do to the obvious density altitude issues, and also the long IFR procedures to fly with steep descents and climb gradients required, and expensive fuel, etc etc. Grand Junction is always best.

    1. Amen, exactly what I was thinking. Most pilots would not have chosen ASE as a fuel stop. Like you said, it probably sounded fun and exciting, but way too much of a question mark…at best. Terrain, weather, density altitude, unfamiliar airplane, expensive gas, you name it. Grand Junction or even further west in SLC and just fly over Colorado from there. And not to mention he was trying to depart ASE and go all the way to DSM Iowa which meant full fuel probably.

  21. A good case study on the crash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PBUVMCbmFQ