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On October 29, 1998, at 0745 hours Pacific standard time, a Cessna 182Q, N95726, was destroyed when the aircraft impacted mountainous terrain 5 miles southwest of Nixon, Nevada. The private pilot and two passengers sustained fatal injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight that was operated by the pilot under 14 CFR Part 91. The flight departed from Grass Valley, California, at 0700 en route to Winnemucca, Nevada. A VFR flight plan was filed but was not activated after takeoff. The aircraft was reported missing when it failed to arrive at the destination and the wreckage was located on November 1, 1998.
Recorded radar data obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center shows an aircraft maneuvering at approximately 14,500 feet in the proximity of Pyramid Lake between 0738 and 0745 hours, and which disappears from radar near the accident site. The data, which is shown on attachment 1 to the meteorologist's factual report (attached), shows the aircraft approximately 2 miles northeast of Nixon at 0738, southwest-bound. Near the accident site, the aircraft had descended to near 13,000 feet when it entered a left turn and descended until radar contact was lost near the accident site at 0745.
According to the pilot's son, the purpose of the trip was to attend a funeral service in Montana for the pilot's father. The flight was to land in Winnemucca, Nevada to pickup the pilot's second son and continue on to Montana. The airport caretaker at Grass Valley told the pilot's son that an airplane departed about 06:15 on Thursday (October 29, 1998) which sounded to him like a Cessna 182.
The son had spoken with his father the evening before the accident about plans for the next day. He said that his father did not seem under any self-induced pressure to get to Montana. They had alternate plans to drive, if necessary, and his mother and brother had airline reservations to use, if needed because of weather, to return on Sunday because both had Monday obligations. He said his father was a conservative pilot who never flew in the clouds although he sometimes flew VFR on top of clouds in order to be above the weather. He also said that his father was in good physical condition, exercised regularly, ate carefully, and did not smoke. The two passengers in the aircraft were not pilots.
The owner of the aircraft had flown with the pilot and told the Safety Board investigator that he thought the pilot would have been able to control the aircraft if he inadvertently entered clouds. He also commented that the pilot had a propensity to fly VFR on top of clouds as opposed to flying beneath a ceiling.
The owner of the aircraft said that he had last flown the airplane about a month before the accident and he recalled no discrepancies on it at that time. The pilot was in the process of buying an interest in the airplane and had directly overseen the maintenance of it for some time. Maintenance had been performed on the alternator and voltage regulator in the time between when the owner last flew the aircraft and the time of the accident. The owner believed that the autopilot was operational.
A law enforcement officer stationed about 20 miles northeast of the accident location reported that on the morning of the accident the cloud bases in the area were about 5,500 feet above sea level and there were strong gusty surface winds and rain falling mixed with snow. As viewed from the valley floor, the mountain range where the accident occurred was obscured in clouds.
According to the FAA Quality Assurance Office, the pilot received an outlook weather briefing and filed a VFR flight plan the evening of October 28, 1998. The flight plan was not activated, there was no record of a preflight briefing on the morning of the flight, and there was no record of communications between the aircraft and any air traffic control facility during the flight.
The Safety Board investigator listened to a certified re-recording of the above briefing provided by the FAA. The pilot contacted the Rancho Murieta Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) by telephone at 1910 on October 28, 1998, and informed the briefer that he wanted to file a VFR flight plan. The caller filed a VFR flight plan departing Grass Valley at 0600 to Winnemucca. The altitude filed was 9,500 feet, the flight duration 2 hours, and fuel aboard 6 hours. The pilot was identified as Bill Goss and no route of flight was given. The caller then asked, "I just wonder if you have any weather along that route." The phrase "outlook briefing" was not used by the caller or the briefer.
The briefer said there was high pressure at the surface and gave terminal forecasts for Winnemucca, Reno, and Lovelock, Nevada. The Winnemucca forecast until 12 noon was for wind 350 degrees at 12 knots, visibility unrestricted, a few clouds at 4,000 feet, broken clouds at 6,000 feet and broken clouds at 25,000 feet. Conditions at Winnemucca were lowering after 12 noon. At Reno, until 0800, conditions were forecast to be scattered clouds at 6,000 feet, scattered clouds at 10,000 feet, and broken clouds at 25,000 feet. The briefer said "so that shouldn't be a problem, it is expected to get worse after 8 AM but you should be through there." The Lovelock forecast through 1000 was broken clouds at 7,000 feet, overcast clouds at 9,000 feet. After 1000, Lovelock was forecast to have broken clouds at 7,000 feet, broken clouds at 12,000 feet with occasional scattered clouds at 8,000 feet. Regarding the forecast for occasional clouds at 8,000 feet, the briefer said "go figure" and then said "but at any rate, the portion of the route you're flying will be VFR." The caller replied "great."
The caller then said "We're thinking about leaving Winnemucca and heading through the Bitter Root Valley to Hamilton, Montana. Do you have anything up that direction on the prog charts for tomorrow like midday?" The briefer replied "Well tomorrow might be the day to do it with that high pressure building in." After a discussion of the route, the briefer gave the Missoula, Montana terminal forecast between 1200 and 1600 as wind 320 degrees at 6 knots, visibility unrestricted, and scattered clouds at 12,000 feet. The caller replied "Great, sounds good." The briefer then gave the Boise, Idaho terminal forecast until 1000 as visibility unrestricted with broken clouds at 12,000 feet, and after 1000, scattered clouds at 15,000 feet. The remainder of the briefing concerned an inadvertent change to the caller's flight plan that the briefer had made and corrected, and a discussion of frequencies to use to open and close the flight plan. The briefing ended about 1915.
On October 29, 1998, the surface weather observation taken at Reno (22 miles southwest of the accident site) at 0556 was wind from 030 degrees at 6 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, broken clouds at 2,600 feet, and overcast clouds at 3,300 feet. At 0656, Reno reported wind from 060 degrees at 7 knots, visibility 5 statute miles in rain and fog, broken clouds at 2,000 feet and overcast clouds at 2,600 feet. At 0756, Reno reported wind from 020 degrees at 9 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, with overcast ceiling at 2,700 feet. The temperature at the surface was 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
At the Fallon, Nevada Naval Air Station, located 23 miles east of the accident site, the surface weather observation taken at 0556 was wind from 350 degrees at 5 knots, visibility 10 statute miles with overcast clouds at 5,000 feet. At 0656, the wind was reported from 010 degrees at 9 knots with visibility of 10 statute miles, broken ceiling at 2,600 feet and overcast ceiling at 4,400 feet. At 0756, the wind was from 010 degrees at 8 knots, visibility was 10 statute miles, and there was a broken ceiling at 2,400 feet and overcast ceiling at 4,400 feet.
The Safety Board staff meteorologist prepared a factual report which is attached. The radar summary chart attached to the report shows an area of light to moderated precipitation near (slightly north of) the accident site with cloud tops at 23,400 feet. The meteorologist noted that in the upper air sounding taken at 0400 at Reno, the layer of saturated air extended from just above 7,000 feet (msl) to approximately 12,700 feet. The freezing layer was approximately 8,000 feet (msl). Satellite image data showed a layer of stratiform cloud cover near the accident site with higher clouds to the east over Nevada. Infrared imagery showed radiative temperatures over the accident site of minus 28.4 degrees Centigrade which, based upon sounding data, indicate that cloud tops were approximately 21,000 feet.
The meteorologist's report also references three pilot reports (PIREPS). At 0718, the pilot of a Boeing 737, 15 miles northeast of Reno, reported light rime icing between 13,000 feet and 14,000 feet and cloud tops at 15,000 feet. At 0731, the pilot of another Boeing 737, 5 miles southeast of Reno, reported that the tops of the clouds were at 15,000 feet and there was light rime icing between 13,000 and 14,000 feet. Lastly, the pilot of a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 reported light rime icing at 11,000 feet while 10 miles east of Reno.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident location is in an arid area on the eastern side of the Pyramid Mountain range at latitude 39 degrees 46.97 minutes north and longitude 119 degrees 26.80 minutes west (GPS). The site elevation is approximately 6,600 feet msl. The immediate area consists of rolling terrain which slopes downward to the west, northwest, and north on approximately a 20-degree slope. The area is rocky and sparsely vegetated with shrubs to about 6 feet high and typically 10 feet apart. Approximately 1 mile west of the accident site the Pyramid Mountains rise to a crest of approximately 8,000 feet, and 5 miles to the east lies the valley south of Pyramid Lake where the elevation is about 4,000 feet.
All of the aircraft was present at the accident site and there was fire scarring in proximity of an impact hole. The hole was approximately 10 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. The 10-foot length was oriented in a northwest-southeast direction. In the bottom center of this hole were the two propeller blades, separated from the shattered hub, and pieces of the engine crankcase nose section casting along with the forward end of the crankshaft. Other components associated with the nose of the aircraft were present in the hole. There was a wreckage field of small pieces of the aircraft extending in a fan-shaped pattern over approximately 100 feet northeast of the impact hole.
On the northeast edge of the hole was the fuselage, which exhibited crushing damage aft to the midspan of the vertical and horizontal stabilizers. The fuselage was destroyed forward of the empennage; however, the rudder and elevator control surfaces were present. Sections of the instrument panel were located over approximately 30 feet northeast of the fuselage; however, the instruments and switches were destroyed. The engine tachometer was destroyed; however, the hour recording drum was trapped reading 2709.5 hours. The emergency locator transmitter was located loose in the fire-effected area with fire damage, and separated from its associated antenna cable. No oxygen bottle was observed in the wreckage.
Approximately 5 feet northwest of the hole was the left aileron, aluminum skin resembling the left wing outboard of the strut attachment point, a small amount of red glass, and a strobe light power supply. Approximately 15 feet northeast of the hole was the right aileron, and aluminum skin resembling the right wing outboard of the strut and the lower skin inboard. The left wing flap and left wing inboard aft spar, together with the cabin ceiling skin, were 20 feet north of the hole, and the right flap and aft wing spar inboard section were 20 feet northeast. The left and right upper wing skins containing the refueling port locations and approximately the dimension of the wing fuel tanks were located together 60 feet north. Approximately 3 feet of the left wing inboard forward spar attached to the forward fuselage attachment fitting were found over a crest and down a slope about 200 feet northeast.
The largest piece of the engine was located about 20 feet northeast of the impact hole. The piece contained the crankcase aft of the number 5 cylinder and the accessory case but no accessories. The number 6 cylinder was absent as was the cylinder head of the number 4 cylinder and the crankshaft was broken at the number 5 connecting rod journal. The crankcase fracture extended though the data plate location and the data plate was located loose beneath the engine. All accessories were absent from the engine including the exhaust system. The engine driven vacuum pump was destroyed.
The two wing struts were located 30 feet southwest and 100 feet southeast of the impact hole. Each strut was in two pieces and had a leading edge dent at the break.
The flight control cables were severed at several locations. All of the severed ends were splayed out and the wire ends displayed a bright shinny appearance. The flight control cables were continuous from the aft cabin bulkhead to the empennage control surfaces.
The engine muffler was examined December 1, 1998 at Plain Parts in Sacramento, California. The muffler was crushed flat, however, when the heat shroud was removed the fractures in the muffler exhibited a gray, shiny appearance and there was no evidence of exhaust stains.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed of the pilot by the Washoe County (Nevada) Coroner's Office, and toxicological tests were performed by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute.
The aircraft wreckage was released to Citrus Investigations, agent for the insurer, on December 9, 1998.