Thursday, December 30, 2021

Loss of Visual Reference: Schweizer SGS 1-35, N2851H; accident occurred June 20, 2021 in Wellington, Larimer County, Colorado

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board 

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Denver, Colorado

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:
Location: Wellington, Colorado
Accident Number: CEN21LA281
Date and Time: June 20, 2021, 16:30 Local 
Registration: N2851H
Aircraft: Schweizer SGS 1-35 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Loss of visual reference 
Injuries: 1 Minor
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal


The glider pilot reported that during base leg to final approach for landing, he lost sight of the runway, forcing him having to maneuver to avoid a house and to perform an off-field landing on rough sloping terrain. The glider impacted the ground hard, ground-looped, and came to rest in a large ditch. The glider sustained substantial damage to the fuselage, vertical stabilizer, rudder, and left wing. The pilot reported there were no preaccident mechanical failures or malfunctions with the glider that would have precluded normal operation. The pilot also reported that this was his first landing at this airport and that he should have flown an orientation flight with another pilot familiar with the airport.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The glider pilot’s loss of visual references during the landing approach resulting in an off-airport landing on rough sloping terrain.


Personnel issues Situational awareness - Pilot
Environmental issues Sloped/uneven terrain - Contributed to outcome

Factual Information

History of Flight

Approach-VFR pattern final Loss of visual reference (Defining event)
Landing Off-field or emergency landing
Landing Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private 
Age: 69, Male
Airplane Rating(s): None
Seat Occupied: Single
Other Aircraft Rating(s): Glider Restraint Used:
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present:
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed:
Medical Certification: None, None 
Last FAA Medical Exam:
Occupational Pilot: No 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: November 10, 2019
Flight Time: 253 hours (Total, all aircraft), 208 hours (Total, this make and model), 253 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 16 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 13 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 2 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Schweizer
Registration: N2851H
Model/Series: SGS 1-35 
Aircraft Category: Glider
Year of Manufacture: 1976
Amateur Built:
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 51
Landing Gear Type: None; Skid 
Seats: 1
Date/Type of Last Inspection: October 17, 2020 Annual 
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 685 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: 
Engines: 0
Airframe Total Time: 1993 Hrs as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer:
ELT: Not installed 
Engine Model/Series:
Registered Owner: 
Rated Power:
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC)
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KFNL,5015 ft msl 
Distance from Accident Site: 15 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 16:56 Local
Direction from Accident Site: 181°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility: 10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: None 
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 11 knots / 
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None / None
Wind Direction: 60° 
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 29.97 inches Hg 
Temperature/Dew Point: 26°C / 9°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Wellington, CO
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Wellington, CO 
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 
Type of Airspace: Class E

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Minor
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries:
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Minor 
Latitude, Longitude: 40.7039,-105.0086 (est)

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