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On January 1, 1996, about 1815 mountain standard time, N8870W, a Piper PA-28-235, collided with mountainous terrain and was destroyed near Lehi, Utah, while maneuvering. The commercial pilot, the sole occupant, was fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) prevailed and no flight plan had been filed. The personal flight departed from St. George, Utah, about 1630 and was destined for West Jordan, Utah. The flight was conducted under 14 CFR 91.
According to the FAA, the pilot received a weather briefing from the Cedar City FAA Flight Service Station (FSS) via telephone at 1424 (transcript attached). The briefing ended six minutes later at 1430. The pilot was told by the FSS briefer that an AIRMET existed for "possible mountain obscuration" along the pilot's intended route of flight. The briefer also stated:
... forecast for Salt Lake for your arrival time [is for sky conditions of] two thousand [feet agl] scattered, [cloud] ceiling four thousand [feet agl] overcast, light snow showers in the vicinity with an occasional ceiling of two thousand [feet agl] broken that's valid [until 1900 hours] and then some lowering ceilings and show showers after that...
After receiving the briefing, the pilot told the briefer: "Well, it looks like I could probably go up there at least give her a look. It doesn't sound too bad." The pilot then departed from Colorado City, Arizona, en route to Salt Lake City International Airport to meet an acquaintance. He intended on flying back to Colorado City that evening.
According to a line service person, the pilot arrived at the St. George Municipal Airport, Utah, about 1600. The pilot had the accident airplane "topped off" with 60.7 gallons of automotive gasoline. The line service person reported that the pilot did not indicate any problems with himself or the airplane. The airplane was then observed to depart the St. George Municipal Airport about 1630.
According to recorded radar data (attached) from the FAA Air Traffic Control (ATC) facility at the Salt Lake City International Airport, four radar returns were recorded about 1.5 nautical miles south of the accident site about the time of the accident. The radar returns were recorded at 1811 hours and were marked by a "1200" beacon code. The returns indicated a climb from 4,800 feet above mean sea level (msl) to 5,000 feet msl, and a right turn from a magnetic heading of 313 degrees to 001 degrees.
No radio distress calls or communications of any kind from the accident airplane were reported or recorded by ATC.
Later that evening, an emergency locator transmitter beacon was received by local authorities. The wreckage was located about 20 nautical miles south of the destination airport at an elevation of 5,000 feet msl along a mountain ridge.
The accident occurred during the hours of darkness at the following coordinates: 40 degrees, 27.39 minutes North; 111 degrees, 54.55 minutes West.
The pilot, age 63, held an FAA certified flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land airplanes, multiengine land airplanes, and instrument airplanes. According to FAA records, the pilot was issued an FAA Second Class Medical Certificate on December 29, 1994, with the limitation that he "must wear corrective lenses."
An examination of a copy of the pilot's flight logbook revealed that the pilot had logged a total of 4,904 hours of total flight time, including 3,012 hours of instruction given, 240 hours at night, 273 in simulated or actual instrument conditions, and 227 in type. During the 90 days previous to the accident, the pilot had logged a total of 5.2 hours of flight in simulated or actual instrument conditions, and 22 hours of night flight
According to a Salt Lake City International Airport automatic terminal information service (ATIS) report issued 25 minutes prior to the accident, "snow showers of unknown intensity southwest through west" were reported. The report also stated that scattered cloud layers were located at 1,500 feet and 3,600 feet above ground level (agl), with a measured overcast cloud ceiling of 5,000 feet agl. (The field elevation at Salt Lake City International Airport is 4,227 feet msl. The elevation of the accident site was 5,000 feet msl.)
According to a report filed by the Utah County Sheriff's Office (attached):
Witnesses in Lehi, and Highland indicated that there was a "white out" type snow squall that came south from a point beginning [about] 1715 [hours].... The squall was accompanied by high winds and horizontal snow creating a blizzard like condition. Upon my arrival in the area the roads were ice covered, and snow was on the north side of poles and trees. There had obviously been a brief but intense snow storm.... there was a small amount [of snow] on the wreckage strewn about. Dark night conditions existed at the time of the accident.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane wreckage was examined at the accident site one day after the accident on January 2, 1996.
The airplane came to rest near the top of a ridge, and the wreckage was distributed along a magnetic bearing of 052 degrees. The wreckage path was measured to be about 250 feet in length. The initial ground scar contained pieces of right wing tip fragments. A piece of nose landing gear fairing, left stabilator tip, left aileron balance weight, outboard portion of the right wing, left aileron, and baggage door were found, in that order along the wreckage path. The separated pieces were distributed along rising, flat terrain and led up to the aft fuselage and empennage, which was lying adjacent to the cockpit area, engine, propeller, and left wing.
No evidence of fire, explosion, or in-flight breakup was found. All primary and secondary flight control surfaces were accounted for at the accident site. No evidence was found to indicate a flight control deficiency. The mechanically-driven flap drive mechanism was examined; the mechanism was in the fully retracted position.
The cockpit throttle, fuel mixture, and propeller controls were found in the full forward position. The engine tachometer read 2,350 revolutions per minute. The electric clock was stopped at 6:15.
The engine, a Lycoming model O-540-B4B, and its accessories were partially disassembled and examined. The crankshaft could be easily rotated in each direction through 360 degrees of rotation. Crankshaft drive and valve train continuity was verified for all six cylinders during propeller rotation. No evidence of fuel or oil contamination/blockage was evident. No preimpact mechanical malfunctions were noted with the engine or any of its associated accessories.
The two-bladed Hartzell metal propeller remained attached to the engine after the accident. It was then removed and examined. Both blades exhibited evidence of "S" bending and chordwise scratching.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by Dr. Edward A. Leis, M.D., of the State of Utah Office of the Medical Examiner, Salt Lake City, on January 2, 1996. A toxicological analysis (attached) was performed on specimens taken from the pilot by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The aircraft wreckage was released to Mr. Merril Stubbs, Hildale, Utah, on January 2, 1996. Mr. Stubbs is representing the registered owner of the airplane.