Plane & Pilot
Sunday, February 1, 2004

Gone With The Wind

Crosswinds can be deadly, even for the most experienced pilot

The pilot held a commercial certificate, with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multi-engine land and instrument airplane. The pilot’s third-class medical was current with the restriction “must have available glasses for near vision.” Remnants of a pilot log retrieved from the wreckage disclosed that the pilot recorded more than 2,600 hours of flight time, including approximately 250 hours of flight time in the accident airplane.

Witnesses described the wind conditions as generally from the east-southeast, with gusts from five to 15 knots, and one witness stated there was a wind gust of 10 knots from the northwest while the airplane was on final approach.

The private mountaintop airport was at an elevation of 4,436 feet. The paved surface for runway 14/32 was 2,875 feet long and 50 feet wide. Runway 14 began atop a steeply sloping terrace with an abrupt drop-off at the approach end, departure end and left side of the threshold. An Airport Information Summary card stated, “Runway 32 has an uphill incline of 46 feet. Runway 14, thus, downhill 46 feet. Recommended approach unless there is significant tailwind is runway 32.” The card also stated, “High banks on right-hand side of approach ends of both runway 14 and 32, within 20 feet of edge of pavement...Mountainous terrain in area. Caution: Mountain turbulence, approach downdrafts, density altitude.” Other published safety information urged pilots unfamiliar with the airport to go to Asheville in wind conditions greater than 10 knots or if winds are favoring runway 14. The pilot had flown into the airport for several years and was familiar with landing on runway 14.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident was the pilot’s failure to maintain airspeed during final approach, which resulted in an inadvertent stall and uncontrolled descent into trees and terrain. Factors were wind gusts and terrain-induced turbulence.

Peter Katz is editor and publisher of NTSB Reporter, an independent monthly update on aircraft accident investigations and other news concerning the National Transportation Safety Board. To subscribe, write to: NTSB Reporter, Subscription Dept., P.O. Box 831, White Plains, NY 10602-0831.


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