Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

A Deadly Sense of Euphoria


Understanding the signs of hypoxia may just get you out of trouble



The pilot responded with “Roger that. I appreciate it. I can’t see a darn thing out here.”

The radio communication between the pilot and ARTCC became increasingly difficult and erratic. Many other aircraft assisted in relaying information between the two.

The ARTCC radar data indicates that at about 8:30, the airplane departed at 14,800 feet. The rate of descent increased, and a maximum descent was calculated to be 1,077 fpm.

At 8:35, the pilot transmitted, “Denver radio, mayday, mayday. I’ve got myself in [unintelligible].”

At 8:37:42, the flight crew of a Federal Express airplane flying in the area radioed, “We just picked up a strong emergency locator transmitter [ELT] signal on 121.5. It’s gone now.”

The ELT signal wasn’t received again. Two days later, the airplane’s wreckage was discovered by a rancher.

The pilot had received her private-pilot certificate with a single-engine-land rating about two years before the accident. Her third-class medical certificate was current with no limitations. The pilot’s flight logbook was not recovered. A couple of weeks before the accident, the pilot filled out an information sheet for a flying club, on which she reported having 128 hours of total flight time, 40 hours of which were in a high-performance, complex airplane.

The pilot flew with a flight instructor from the flying club three times, for a total of 3.7 hours. The flight instructor was an FAA Safety Counselor, and he commented that the pilot “always seemed to be in a hurry.” He said that she would “run in the door, ready to go.” All the flight time at the flying club was in a Cessna 172. The pilot had previously used the accident airplane for high-performance and complex airplane training. The instructor who flew with her said that he would not endorse her flight logbook for complex aircraft. He said that “she was a little behind the airplane in the traffic pattern.” He told investigators that he never signed the flight center’s rental agreement card for the pilot, authorizing her to operate the center’s PA-28R-200. Five days after the accident, the flight instructor noted that the rental agreement card still had not been initialized by an instructor to fly the accident airplane. Several days after that, the NTSB’s investigator-in-charge looked at the rental agreement card and observed an “okay” in the PA-28R-200 space. When the staff was queried about the sign-off, no one knew where it came from. The pilot had flown as a passenger with one of her friends on several trips in a Piper Navajo, a high-performance, twin-engine, complex airplane, but no documentation of her ever receiving a complex endorsement in her flight logbook could be found.

The NTSB noted that under Part 61 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs), “no person may act as pilot in command of a complex airplane [an airplane that has a retractable landing gear, flaps and a controllable pitch propeller] unless that person has received a one-time endorsement in the pilot’s logbook from an authorized instructor who certifies that the person is proficient to operate a complex airplane.”




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