NTSB Identification: DEN05FA003.
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Accident occurred Sunday, October 03, 2004 in Luna, NM
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/13/2005
Aircraft: Cessna A185E, registration: N5964
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 came in from the west and landed on the airstrip. A witness, the owner of the airstrip, said the pilot taxied the airplane to the west end of the airstrip and then took off to the east. The witness said the pilot made a "perfect" takeoff. The witness said that after he could no longer see the airplane he heard what sounded like two shots. He said he thought that "two guys were shooting muzzle loaders" and assumed that the airplane had "scared up some elk for them to shoot at." The witness said he expected the pilot to land at the airstrip when he came back around, but he never returned. The witness said about 30 minutes later he was met by a friend who told him the airplane had gone down. The witness said his wife reported seeing the airplane begin a left banking turn, then seeing "two puffs of smoke" come from the airplane, and hearing "two bangs" before losing sight of the airplane. The airstrip owner, who knew the pilot, said that this was the first time the pilot had landed at that airstrip. He said that when the airplane took off the engine sounded normal. The airstrip owner said that he flew in and out of the airstrip in his Maule. He said that taking off to the east put him in a canyon. He said that it was better to take off to the west through the larger part of the valley. An examination of the airplane revealed no anomalies; however, all of the engine spark plugs were noted to be light brown in color, indicative of the engine being operated at a lean fuel-air mixture setting. According to a manufacturer's representative, with the turbocharger installed, the operator must run the engine at the rich mixture setting to get the same performance at higher elevations that the engine would get at sea level. Any leaning at all would produce backfires and loss of performance. The density altitude calculated for the area was 11,246 feet msl. Turbocharger information showed at an altitude of 13,000 feet msl and 76 percent horsepower, the airplane's climb rate was 500 feet per minute.

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

the pilot's improper use of the mixture control, his failure to maintain clearance from the trees, and his improper preflight planning resulting in his taking off into a canyon and subsequently impacting the trees and terrain. Factors contributing to the accident were the trees, and the high density altitude.

Full narrative available

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