NTSB Identification: LAX06GA287.
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Accident occurred Wednesday, September 06, 2006 in Porterville, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/29/2007
Aircraft: North American OV-10A, registration: N419DF
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 public aircraft accident report.

The airplane impacted rising mountainous terrain in a box-like canyon while performing mission-related low altitude aerial surveillance. The pilot was under contract to fly California Department of Forestry (CDF) personnel over an area where three fires had occurred and to search for newly developing fires. During the 14-minute-long flight, the pilot proceeded to the designated area and commenced providing his observer-crewmember with a viewing opportunity. The pilot flew up and down the canyon's drainage area, which was surrounded by higher elevation terrain. Witnesses initially observed the airplane flying 1,000 to 1,500 feet above ground level (agl). Subsequently, the airplane was observed flying 100 to 150 feet agl. Seconds before the crash, a witness located 3/4-mile downslope from the accident site observed the airplane proceeding over progressively higher elevation terrain while flying between 400 to 600 feet agl, and with its nose pitched upward at a 40-degree angle. Another witness about 1/2-mile downslope from the accident site reported hearing airplane engine noise consistent with high rpm, the sound of a crash, and the sound of a falling tree followed by an explosion. The airplane impacted 125-foot-tall trees on 25- to 40-degree upsloping terrain, fragmented, and was destroyed by the post impact fire. Wreckage from the airframe and all six propeller blades were examined on the 6,240-foot mean sea level mountainside. The turboprop engines were subsequently recovered and torn down. A plethora of evidence was found consistent with rotational operation at high power followed by sudden stoppage. No evidence of any preimpact airframe or engine malfunction was observed. CDF had published a restriction specifying that the accident airplane not be flown lower than 500 feet agl during missions. The restriction document was found in the airplane wreckage. Additionally, CDF had not authorized the pilot to fly missions at any time below 500 feet agl.

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 maneuvering over rising terrain in a box canyon. Also causal was the pilot's failure to adhere to procedures/directives regarding minimum altitude requirements.

Full narrative available

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