NTSB Identification: DEN03FA028.
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Accident occurred Sunday, December 29, 2002 in Steamboat Spgs, CO
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/30/2004
Aircraft: Piper PA-32-300, registration: N7989C
Injuries: 1 Fatal,3 Serious.

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 pilot departed with three passengers and three dogs, but only two seats. The airplane had been reconfigured (STC SA00352DE) for parachute jumping operations. The STC included the stipulation that the airplane could be used only for parachutist launching operations. Also, Title 14 CFR Part 91.107, (a)(3), states that each occupant of a civil aircraft must be provided with an approved seat [the fatally injured passenger was not] with seat belt, for movement on the surface, takeoff, and landing operations. The pilot proceeded to fly up a heavily forested mountain valley with a 14 to 18 knot tail wind (increasing ground speed while reducing climb performance). The airplane's center of gravity was calculated to be 2.33 inches aft of allowable limitations. Due to insufficient altitude, the airplane impacted tree covered terrain with approximately 4 feet of snow at 9,527 feet (10,200 feet density altitude). One occupant was trapped under aircraft debris for 4 to 5 hours; she died shortly after reaching the hospital. An examination of the airplane revealed no anomalies.

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

the pilot's inadequate in-flight planning/decision making resulting in insufficient altitude to fly over the mountain, and the subsequent inadvertent stall/mush into tree covered mountainous terrain. Contributing factors were the tail wind and high density altitude weather conditions, the airplane's aft center of gravity condition exceeding limitations, and the improper use of the airplane by the pilot [STC limitation to haul parachutist only; two passengers flying without seats].

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