Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Weather Picture

The NTSB wants you to be able to see what’s happening in places you’re going to

A Piper PA-32-300 crashed into the southeast side of a ridge and caught fire while approaching the Honolulu International Airport. The pilot, who owned the airplane, was operating the flight under Part 91 and didn't hold an instrument rating. Both he and his passenger were killed. The flight originated from Lanai Airport on the island of Lanai. Instrument conditions existed in the area around the accident site. The pilot had been receiving VFR flight following, and he hadn't filed a flight plan.

A group of hikers provided statements to investigators. One hiker reported that it was "very cloudy, [with] poor visibility." He heard the airplane crash into a ridge about 50 yards from where he was. Visibility was so bad that he couldn't see the airplane. Another hiker reported that the ridge was obscured by clouds, and he heard the engine "running the whole time." Another hiker stated that she heard an airplane flying low and briefly saw it pass by before it disappeared in the cloud layer.

The direct route of flight from Lanai to Honolulu is about 63 nm. The pilot was on the Kona arrival to the Honolulu Airport. It's a procedure for VFR arrivals that calls for going to the KoKo Head VORTAC, then to the Waialae Golf Course, and then to a freeway to enter the left base of the traffic pattern for runway 22L.

A review of radar data disclosed that when the pilot radioed the approach controller that he was abeam the KoKo Head VORTAC, the target actually was located about five miles east-southeast of the VORTAC. Several minutes later, when the pilot reported he was at the golf course, the target was about 0.5 miles off the shoreline and about 2.5 miles east of the golf course. As the radar track reached land, the altitude remained at 1,700 feet until nearing the rising terrain, where the last recorded altitude was 1,800 feet.

A safety board investigator interviewed the controller who was handling the airplane at the time of the accident. The controller said that the pilot was well- known to controllers, and that they all recognized the airplane's registration number and the pilot's voice. She recalled one previous incident where she had to correct the pilot's course when he didn't follow a clearance. His reputation was that he'd navigate as he saw fit, rather than complying with procedures.

At the time of the accident, the airplane was the only one under her control. The pilot had already been cleared into Class B airspace. She instructed the pilot to maintain 2,000 feet until passing abeam KoKo Head in order to ensure continued radar coverage. As the pilot approached the area of the golf course, he radioed that he was proceeding directly, but radar showed the airplane was heading in the wrong direction.

The controller said she believed he was possibly trying to avoid clouds, and she wasn't concerned about the heading. The controller said she did become concerned about the airplane's course when the pilot's subsequently reported position didn't match what she saw on radar.


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