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On July 31, 1998, about 1200 Pacific daylight time, a Cessna 172, N835T, registered to a private owner and operated by the pilot as a 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight, collided with trees in mountainous terrain located 18 miles northwest of Baker City, Oregon. Visual and instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and no flight plan was filed. The aircraft was substantially damaged and the private pilot was fatally injured. The two passengers were not injured. The flight had departed from Troutdale, Oregon, about two hours prior to the accident and was en route to Mountain Home, Idaho.
One of the passengers, the pilot's wife, reported that she and her two-year-old daughter were sitting in the rear seats. The daughter was strapped into a child restraint seat. The wife stated that they had departed from Troutdale at 1000. The wife reported that at the beginning of the flight, she could see the Columbia River. The flight was smooth and there was some scattered clouds. The wife stated that as the flight continued, the clouds and fog increased around them. The pilot increased his altitude, and the clouds were then above and below the aircraft.
The wife stated that she felt airsick and the pilot told her to put her head down and close her eyes. She did that for a while, but continued to feel sick. The wife stated that the clouds continued to get closer and told the pilot that she did not like it. The pilot agreed with her, and then initiated some turns. The wife stated that at about this time, she put her head down again and had her head down when the accident occurred. The wife stated that the engine sound remained the same up to the time of the crash.
The wife stated that after the accident she and the child were uninjured and unable to get out of the wreckage. The pilot was unconscious and pinned in the wreckage. The wife stated that right after the crash, the wind blew very hard and heavy rain was falling. The rain stopped after a short time. The wife was able to find the cell phone that they had in the aircraft, and called the pilot's brother in the Portland, Oregon area, who in turn called 911 and reported the accident. The 911 operator called the wife, and after some discussion to try and locate the accident site, the operator was able to narrow the search area down to the Baker City, Oregon, area. A pilot, located at the Baker City Airport, took off and flew around the local area. After a short time, the pilot picked-up a weak emergency locator signal. The pilot located the accident site and rescue personnel were notified.
Rescue personnel arrived at the accident site about 1600. The pilot was still alive and medical aid was administered. The wife and child were removed from the wreckage and transported to the hospital. The pilot succumbed to his injuries while en route to the hospital.
At the time of the accident, the pilot held a private pilot certificate for single-engine land aircraft. The pilot's flight logbook indicated that a total flight time of 344 hours had been accumulated, with 156 hours in the Cessna 172.
At 0741, the pilot contacted McMinnville, Oregon, Automated Flight Service Station and requested a weather briefing. The pilot indicated a 0900 departure from Troutdale to Mountain Home, with a stop in either Baker City, Oregon, or Burns, Oregon. The pilot confirmed that this was a VFR flight.
The specialist began the briefing with an airmet that was effective for the entire route of flight. The airmet was for occasional mountain obscurement due to clouds west of the Cascades, and precipitation east of the Cascades, with a potential for isolated thunderstorm activity. The thunderstorm activity was expected to become widely scattered in the afternoon in Oregon and Idaho. The specialist explained that this type of scattered coverage becomes a flight precaution and is not easily circumnavigated.
The specialist reported the current conditions at Troutdale, which was marginal VFR. The specialist also reported the current pilot reports that indicated marginal VFR through the Columbia River Gorge.
The specialist reported the current conditions at The Dalles, Oregon, as 3,000 feet scattered, 7,000 feet scattered, and the ceiling up to 15,000 feet broken, with cumulonimbus clouds northeast of The Dalles and toward Pendleton, Oregon. Pendleton was reporting rain showers, with a visibility of ten miles. The sky was 4,800 feet scattered, and the ceiling was 7,000 feet broken, and overcast at 11,000 feet. LaGrande, Oregon, was reporting a ceiling at 10,000 feet. Baker City, Oregon, was reporting a 20 mile visibility with scattered clouds at 11,000 feet and 14,000 feet. Ontario, Oregon, was clear below 12,000 feet. Boise, Idaho, and Mountain Home were reporting 7,000 feet scattered and 12,000 feet broken.
The forecast indicated local mountain obscuration with isolated thunderstorm activity and visibility of five miles in and around the thunderstorms with moderate rain showers. The mountains of northern Oregon to Mountain Home forecasted thunderstorms and moderate rain showers in the morning, with ceilings of 8,000 feet broken and visibility of five miles in the rain showers. The specialist reported that after noon, the forecast indicated flight precaution criteria and thunderstorm activity that probably would not be easily circumnavigated. The Baker City terminal forecast before noon indicated a ten-mile visibility, with 6,000 feet scattered and a 12,000 foot broken ceiling with occasional light rain showers.
The specialist asked the pilot if he wanted to file a flight plan. The pilot indicated that he did not and was going to wait to see if the gorge cleared.
The conversation concluded at 0755.
At 1151, Baker City Airport was reporting a visibility of 15 miles with a broken ceiling at 5,000 feet. Thunderstorm activity was reported beginning southwest to northwest, 10 minutes after the hour.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The personnel from Specialty Aircraft, Redmond, Oregon, who were on-site and recovered the wreckage, reported that the wreckage was located in mountainous terrain on the west side of a mountain range located 18 miles northwest of Baker City, Oregon. The accident site was about 175 feet below a ridge line. The elevation at the accident site is approximately 8,000 feet. The steep terrain was covered with trees. The wreckage distribution path was in a southeasterly direction. The length of the distribution path was estimated at 150 feet. Evidence of impact with the trees tops, along the length of the path, indicated that the aircraft was in a level attitude at the time of the collision. The outboard section of the right wing was the first item noted along the path. The outboard section of the left wing followed about 50 feet further. Scattered pieces of plexiglass and small pieces of debris were found between the two wing sections. The fuselage was located about 70 feet further. The fuselage was positioned on its left side and nearly inverted. The inboard sections of the wings remained in this area. The horizontal and vertical stabilizers with the elevators and rudder attached at their respective hinges remained attached to the empennage. Evidence of tree impact was noted along the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer. The nose and forward cabin section were crushed and deformed around a tree stump and downed logs.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
Search and rescue personnel reported that the pilot was alive when they arrived at the accident site. Medical aid was administered prior to and during transport to the hospital.
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by Mark A. Aldape, M.D., Pendleton, Oregon. The autopsy report indicates that evidence of medical intervention was noted. An endotracheal tube was in place, there was a subclavian line on the right, and EKG leads were present over the right and left upper chest.
The autopsy report indicated traumatic injuries of a large scalp laceration with associated hemorrhage, rib fractures to the left first and second rib, and right first rib, and multiple abrasions.
Toxicological samples were taken and sent to the Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aeromedical Institute for analysis. The analysis reported that Nizatidine was detected in the blood and urine. Elevated levels of Glucose were detected in vitreous.
The wreckage was recovered by Specialty Aircraft, Redmond, Oregon, and secured at their facility. The wreckage was released to the owner's representative on August 21, 1998.