NTSB Identification: DEN03FA038.
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Accident occurred Thursday, January 23, 2003 in La Sal, UT
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/30/2004
Aircraft: Piper PA-28R-200, registration: N106AW
Injuries: 4 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 non-instrument rated private pilot (approximately 140 hours of flight experience) filed a night VFR flight plan [in a complex airplane] for 15,500 feet, a cruising airspeed of 140 knots, a time en route of 4 hours, and 8 hours of fuel onboard. The pilot did not have a complex airplane endorsement. The airplane was non pressurized, and no supplemental oxygen was onboard. The airplane manufacturer’s representative calculated the flight to require 5 hour, 25 minutes (with no wind), which was 25 minutes longer than the maximum estimated capability of the airplane. Radar data indicates that the pilot flew above 12,500 feet for 2 hours, 17 minutes, above 14,000 feet for 1 hours, 49 minutes, and at approximately 16,000 feet for an estimated 45 minutes. At approximately 3 hours and 40 minutes (352 nm) into the flight, the pilot declared a "Mayday." Radar data indicates that the airplane departed 14,800 feet, and descended through 9,800 feet at approximately 1,077 feet per minute. The radar data showed the airplane in a straight flight track until it descended below radar coverage; the airplane's impact ground scar of approximately 280 degrees was aligned with this flight track. The engine fuel burn calculations suggest that 10 to 15 gallons of fuel were in the airplane at the time of the accident. An examination of the wreckage showed the left wing attached to the fuselage and resting up hill. The cockpit area, forward fuselage, and right wing were broken, charred, and consumed by fire. The extent of thermal damage to the fuselage suggested that fuel assisted in the conflagration. An examination of the engine and other airplane systems revealed no anomalies.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: the loss of engine power (total) due to fuel starvation, the pilot not following procedures/directives (fuel management procedures), and the pilot's inadequate preflight planning/preparation for the flight. Contributing factors were the pilot's inadequately equipping the airplane (lack of supplemental oxygen), the pilot's hypoxic physical impairment, and the pilot's total lack of experience in type of operation.
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