NTSB Identification: LAX05FA032.
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Accident occurred Wednesday, November 10, 2004 in Santa Barbara, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/28/2006
Aircraft: Piper PA-32R-301T, registration: N803ZG
Injuries: 3 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 upsloping high mountainous terrain during level controlled cruise flight on a night cross-country. Prior to takeoff, the pilot informed the air traffic controller (ATC) that he had received the airport's weather. A broken sky condition existed with layers about 5,500 and 7,000 feet mean sea level (msl). When the pilot subsequently climbed from 4,900 to 5,200 feet and requested information from ATC about the elevation of the clouds, he acknowledged that he "seems to be in a little bit of clouds...sort of in and out." The pilot continued climbing into clearer conditions. The flight continued and the airplane tracked near the centerline of Victor Airway 183, which had a published course of 195 degrees. The pilot was familiar with the roundtrip route between his Santa Barbara home-base airport and Bakersfield, and he had previously flown over the route. During the last few minutes of the radar-recorded flight, the pilot was generally cruising about 6,500 feet, as indicated by the mode C altitude reporting transponder. The pilot was receiving radar flight following service from a controller at the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center. The controller observed the airplane and was aware that the minimum enroute altitude (MEA) for airplanes on instrument clearances along the airway was 9,000 feet. The controller and the pilot had sectional aeronautical charts available for use that depicted a 6,840-foot msl mountain peak along the flight route. The pilot's course did not vary as he approached and impacted the mountain during the dark nighttime flight. The bearing between the initial point of impact (IPI) and the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport was 197 degrees. Also, the bearing and distance between the IPI and the main wreckage was 198 degrees and 0.25 miles. The controller did not issue a terrain-related safety alert, as required by a Federal Aviation Administration order.

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

The pilot's failure to select and maintain an adequate terrain avoidance cruise altitude. Contributing factors were the dark nighttime conditions, the rising mountainous terrain, and the Federal Aviation Administration controller's failure to issue a terrain-related safety alert.

Full narrative available

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