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On February 13, 1994, about 1555 Pacific standard time, a Piper PA28R-180, N3775T, collided with trees and mountainous terrain near Lake Tahoe, California. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal cross-country flight and no flight plan was filed. The aircraft was destroyed in the collision sequence. The student pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. The flight originated at the Lake Tahoe airport on the day of the accident at 1551 hours and was destined for Santa Ana, California.
Prior to the accident flight at 1520 hours, the student pilot and a female friend departed on runway 18 for a brief scenic flight out over the lake and back. The passenger stated that the airplane seemed to operate normally during their brief flight. After that flight, the pilot taxied into the ramp area and the passenger deplaned with the engine running, and then he taxied out and took off.
At 1548 hours, the Lake Tahoe Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Control Tower advised pilots departing on runway 18 that there were "numerous reports of downdrafts and turbulence in the basin today." The pilot departed runway 18 and requested a straight out departure. At 1555:25, an emergency locator beacon signal was received by the tower. Search and rescue personnel located the aircraft on the morning of February 14, 1994.
The student pilot's logbook was recovered. The first log entry was dated March 20, 1986. The last dated log entry was January 30, 1987, for a total of about 45 hours of flight time. Of that total, about 19.5 hours were signed off as dual instruction. Subsequent undated log entries accounted for an additional 78 hours. The bottom of the last page of the log, with an undated entry, had a summed total flight time of 123:50 hours.
The El Dorado County Sheriff's Office recovered a combined medical and student pilot certificate issued on December 20, 1993, during a third-class flight physical. On the back side of the certificate, the student pilot had been endorsed on December 28, 1993, to fly the accident airplane solo and solo cross-country.
The airplane, a Piper PA-28R-180, was certificated on September 21, 1967. At the last documented annual inspection on April 27, 1993, the airplane total time was 4,082.1 hours.
At 1557 hours, the Lake Tahoe Tower was reporting; 30,000 feet broken, 50 miles visibility, temperature 44 degrees fahrenheit, dew point missing, wind 210 degrees at 14 knots, and the altimeter was 30.20 inches of mercury.
At the time of departure, ground control was advising departing aircraft of numerous reports of downdrafts and turbulence in the Tahoe basin.
The South Lake Tahoe Airport (TVL) is at 6,264 feet above sea level surrounded by mountainous terrain up to 10,800 feet msl. The recommended runway 18 departure is to track the river south to the golf course (1.5 miles) and circle in right turns to 7,500 before departing the area.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located in a remote area of the El Dorado National Forest in the Carson Range about 6 miles south of the Tahoe airport. The elevation was estimated by search and rescue personnel to be about 9,400 feet above sea level. The wreckage was not examined due to the inaccessibility of the site and the snow pack. The wreckage status is unknown.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
On February 15, 1994, the El Dorado County Medical Examiner performed an autopsy on the pilot. The medical examiner also performed local toxicological analysis which was positive for Benzoylecgonine (cocaine metabolite) in heart blood at a concentration of 0.223 mcg/ml.
During the course of the autopsy, samples were obtained from the pilot for toxicological analysis by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The results of the analysis was positive for Benzoylecgonine, Ecogonine Methyl ester, and Cocaine. The toxicology report is attached to this report.
During the recovery of the pilot's body, El Dorado County Sheriff's personnel recovered a red-colored straw with a white- colored residue on the inside. According to the Sheriff's Department, the residue tested positive as cocaine.