NTSB Identification: LAX04FA139.
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Accident occurred Friday, February 27, 2004 in Pine Mtn Club, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/27/2005
Aircraft: Piper PA-28R-180, registration: N7687J
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 airplane collided with mountainous terrain during a night cross-country flight while trying to avoid inclement weather. The pilot had recently received his private pilot's certificate and did not possess an instrument rating. AIRMET's were issued for turbulence, icing, and mountain obscuration in the vicinity of the pilot's route of flight for the period between 1845 and 0100 Pacific time. There is no record that the pilot requested or received a weather briefing. Radar data and ATC communications tapes shows the airplane left the departure airport at 1939, and eventually took a northerly heading toward the mountains that separate the coastal plain from an inland valley. It paralleled an interstate highway, and leveled off at 9,500 feet. Over the last mountain pass before entering the inland valley (elevation: 4,239 feet), the airplane diverted to the west, and climbed to 10,000 feet. The pilot checked in with ATC at 10,000 feet and requested visual flight rules (VFR) flight following and an altitude of 10,500 feet. The elevation of the mountainous terrain to the west of the pass ranges from 5,000 feet in the valley to mountain peaks and ridges between 7,000 feet and 8,840 feet to the north and south. The pilot confirmed with ATC that he was diverting to the west for cloud avoidance. The pilot then requested a descent to 8,500 feet. ATC approved the descent at the pilot discretion and advised him to maintain VFR. As the airplane proceeded west, radar recorded the altitude decreasing through 9,000 feet at a rate of descent of 1,100 feet per minute. The pilot continued his descent and requested 4,500 feet. ATC advised the pilot that he was in the vicinity of high terrain. The pilot said he could see the ground but he didn't have good (forward) visibility and requested a vector (to clearer weather). ATC advised him to adjust his heading northbound towards lower terrain, that he was below the minimum vectoring altitude, and to maintain VFR. The pilot responded by saying he could see pretty well and would take a northbound heading. The last radar beacon target reported an altitude of 7,100 feet. No further communications with the pilot were established. The airplane impacted a mountain slope at an elevation of 6,683 feet and on a heading of about 350 degrees magnetic. There were no preimpact airplane mechanical anomalies identified during the investigation.

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

The pilot's continued visual flight into adverse weather conditions at night, which resulted in an in-flight collision with mountainous terrain. The pilot's failure to obtain preflight weather information for the route of flight was also causal.

Full narrative available

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