NTSB Identification: LAX02FA073.
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Accident occurred Wednesday, January 30, 2002 in Stonyford, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/02/2004
Aircraft: Piper Aerostar 601P, registration: N3636M
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The twin engine airplane impacted mountainous terrain at the 6,700-foot level during moonless night flight operations. The instrument rated pilot radioed the Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) and requested flight following and a vector to the destination airport. The pilot indicated he was flying at 6,700 feet and was descending. The controller radar identified the airplane and issued the recommended heading. The pilot asked for additional distance and airspeed information, which was provided by the controller, and no further radio contact with the pilot was attained. The airplane impacted a mountain approximately 50 feet below its crest in the approximate direction of the radar ground track. A post accident examination of the airplane and engines revealed no anomalies that would have prevented its normal operations. Interviews with the air traffic controllers, who were providing the accident airplane's flight following information, indicated they did not think the airplane was in imminent danger of impacting terrain; therefore, they did not issue a low altitude alert. Controllers are required to immediately issue an alert to an airplane if they are aware the airplane is at an altitude, which in the controllers judgment, places it in unsafe proximity to terrain/obstructions. The controllers reported they have worked numerous airplanes in that area at similar altitudes as the accident airplane and did not think the accident airplane was any different. The controllers added that they did not have terrain information overlaid on their video map for the accident area. The responsibility to maintain terrain clearance during visual meteorological conditions rests with the pilot. The accident area sectional chart depicts a maximum elevation figure (MEF) for the accident site quadrant as 7,400 feet.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

the pilot's failure to maintain terrain clearance during cruise flight, which resulted in the in-flight collision with mountainous terrain. Factors in the accident were the mountainous terrain and the dark night light conditions.

Full narrative available

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