NTSB Identification: LAX03FA100.
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Accident occurred Sunday, February 23, 2003 in ELY, NV
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/27/2005
Aircraft: Cessna 172N, registration: N9885J
Injuries: 2 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.

During a cross-country flight in clear weather conditions, the airplane collided with mountainous terrain in a box canyon. The pilot and passenger were flying from Colorado to California. The airplane came to rest on a snowy slope of about 25 degrees on the south side of a canyon, about 300 to 400 feet below the top of the overlying ridgeline. The canyon was contoured in an east/west direction, with rising terrain to the west, north, and south. The energy path depicted in the ground scars and wreckage debris distribution was easterly, opposite the expected direction of flight and toward lower terrain. A study of weather conditions and satellite imagery showed that the skies were clear and visibilities unrestricted. Considering the mountainous terrain and winds aloft, light to moderate turbulence below 15,000 feet was possible. The pilot survived the accident but succumbed to his injuries and environmental exposure sometime later. A plastic bag of marijuana was on the pilot and two bags of marijuana were on the passenger. Toxicology reports of both the pilot and passenger were positive for tetrahdrocannabinol (the active substance in marijuana) and tetrahdrocannabinol carboxylic acid (an inactive metabolite of marijuana). It was not possible to determine exactly how long the pilot survived after the accident, and therefore, it was not possible to determine whether the pilot last used marijuana before or after the accident. A post accident examination revealed no evidence of premishap mechanical malfunction or failure of the engine and airframe. The density altitude at the accident site was calculated to be just over 6,000 feet.

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

the pilot's failure to maintain adequate terrain clearance while flying in a box canyon.

Full narrative available

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