NTSB Identification: LAX05FA099.
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Accident occurred Tuesday, February 15, 2005 in Calistoga, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/28/2006
Aircraft: Beech 95, registration: N8269D
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.
The airplane impacted the southeast side of a mountain while the pilot was in a cruise descent and entering the vicinity of the destination airport. The instrument rated pilot departed on the 81 nautical mile (nm) flight and shortly thereafter began receiving visual flight rules (VFR) flight following services. There was no indication that he had ever flown that route prior to the accident flight. The cross-country flight path consisted of flying over level terrain for the first half, with the remainder of the flight crossing over several mountains (the last of which was the mountain the airplane impacted). The pilot regularly flew over level terrain for his commute to work. A regular passenger on those commuter flights (a coworker) reported that there were numerous times when the pilot would fly through a layer of clouds in an effort to descend down to the destination airport. The radar returns and voice tapes of the pilot's communications revealed that the airplane began a gradual descent about 18 nm prior to impact. The majority of the radar returns were all spaced uniformly and followed an anticipated route for the cross-country flight. The area in which the radar returns were lost is a typical region for air traffic controllers to lose radar contact with aircraft due to the surrounding terrain. The airplane's radar-derived ground speed was close to that expected for cruise flight according to the airplane manufacturer's owner's manual. The last radar target observed was about 1.45 nm from the accident site at the same altitude where the wreckage was located. Instrument meteorological conditions were forecasted over the mountainous areas near the destination airport. A pilot who was flying in the vicinity of the accident site stated that he was on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan around the time of the accident. He recalled that the cloud tops were about 5,000 feet mean sea level (msl) and the bases were about 3,000 feet msl. He noted that the mountains in the area were obscured, but did not observe any unusual or hazardous meteorological conditions. The weather observation stations 14 nm southwest, 50 nm east, and 38 nm northwest, were reporting overcast conditions around the time of the accident at 9,000, 4,800, and 4,000 feet, respectively. An AIRMET for the accident area was issued by the National Weather Service indicating cloud layers at the same altitude as the accident site. It additionally stated that mountains in the area were occasionally obscured in clouds, precipitation, fog and mist. There was no evidence that the pilot ever obtained a weather briefing for the accident flight from any official FAA or NWS aviation source. The wreckage came to rest about 1,100 feet below the eastern summit of a mountain, at the 3,300-foot level. The debris was distributed over 90 feet of rugged terrain, on a slope of about 70 to 80 degrees that was comprised of rock outcroppings and wet dirt. Trees were located about 150 to 200 feet from the main wreckage that appeared to have been severed at the tops. After performing victim recovery, search and rescue personnel declined to return to the accident site stating that the terrain was too dangerous for even the most experienced mountaineers. The airplane was not recovered.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot's inadequate preflight and in-flight planning/decision, which resulted in continued VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions at an altitude insufficient to ensure adequate terrain clearance and impact with rising terrain. Full narrative available
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