NTSB Identification: WPR12LA048
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, November 29, 2011 in Hailey, ID
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/14/2013
Aircraft: PIPER PA-32RT-300T, registration: N36824
Injuries: 1 Serious,1 Minor.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

During takeoff from an airport in a narrow valley on a dark night, the pilot lost sight of the lights around the runway environment while he attempted to engage the autopilot to assist in his navigation of the pre-programmed route. When he determined that his first attempt to engage the autopilot had not been successful, the pilot repeated the steps of the autopilot engagement process. As the pilot was completing his second attempt to engage the autopilot, the tower air traffic controller asked him if he was making a turn to the downwind leg. About the same time, the terrain warning signal on one of the airplane’s global positioning system units began to sound. The pilot then realized that while he was trying to engage the autopilot, the airplane’s heading had drifted and the airplane was headed toward rapidly rising terrain. Because it appeared to the pilot that he would not be able to avoid that terrain, he slowed the airplane and performed an emergency landing on “rough and comparatively level” snow-covered ground.

Several of the autopilot components and associated flight instruments were examined and tested; however, there was no evidence of preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation or engagement. It is likely that the pilot's distraction with the autopilot engagement resulted in his failure to maintain his course alignment and clearance from terrain.

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

The pilot's failure to maintain course heading and terrain clearance because he was distracted by efforts to engage the autopilot shortly after takeoff on a dark night in mountainous terrain.

Full narrative available

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