It happened on June 18, 2014: With thunderstorms popping, the pilot of a turbine-powered Piper Malibu PA46-310P JetPROP conversion seemed to be doing a good job of weather avoidance, but then made a turn and flew into a monstrous cell. The airplane crashed at Lehman, Texas, killing the pilot and both passengers. It took two years and four days for the NTSB and its investigators to figure out as much as they could about what happened, and issue their report and probable cause statement. The Safety Board said the accident was due to “the pilot’s improper decision to enter an area of known adverse weather, which resulted in the loss of airplane control. Contributing to the accident was the air traffic controller’s failure to provide critical weather information to the pilot to help him avoid the storm, as required by Federal Aviation Administration regulations.” While it’s difficult to argue with the probable cause, it only reflects part of the story. For example, you won’t find it in the NTSB’s report, but it turns out that the airplane wasn’t equipped with airborne weather radar. A contact at the NTSB was kind enough to dig out that information when I asked about it. And, as you’ll see, there’s more.
The instrument-rated private pilot had logged 2,258 hours with 188 in the Malibu conversion. His third class medical required glasses for distant and near vision. He told the FAA he wasn’t using medications, but toxicological testing after the accident found he was using the erectile dysfunction drug Sildenafil, the sleep aid Zolpidem, the pain reliever Ibuprofen and the heartburn medication Ranitidine. He also was found to have used marijuana. The NTSB said that it’s not likely the drugs contributed to the accident, but can anyone be sure there wasn’t even a minor cumulative effect? Investigators couldn’t determine from his flight records whether the pilot had a current flight review and was current for instruments.