On May 6, 1999, approximately 1914 Pacific daylight time, the Seattle Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) lost radio contact with N3381J, a Cessna 150G airplane registered to Jack's Aircraft Services Inc. of Lebanon, Oregon. The commercial pilot-in-command and sole occupant of the aircraft (which according to the pilot's report departed Lebanon State Airport approximately 1515 for Estacada, Oregon, but was unable to land at Estacada due to high winds and subsequently attempted to return to Lebanon State) had declared an emergency with the Seattle ARTCC approximately 1830 using another aircraft as a radio relay, and contacted the Seattle ARTCC directly approximately 1902 requesting assistance. The pilot stated to Seattle ARTCC he had been flying in a snowstorm for approximately 30 to 40 minutes, did not know where he was, could not see anything on the ground, was low on fuel, and that he thought the aircraft may be iced up. Seattle ARTCC was attempting to guide the pilot into Davis Airport, Gates, Oregon, at the time contact with the aircraft was lost. Following the loss of contact with the aircraft, an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal was received and localized to an area near the last radar position of the aircraft (at 1910 over the Detroit Lake reservoir near Detroit, Oregon), and a search for the aircraft was initiated. Search and rescue (SAR) forces located the seriously injured pilot with the substantially damaged aircraft wreckage approximately 1230 on May 7, 1999, and rescued the pilot. The accident site was on a mountainside at the 3,500-foot level approximately 5 miles south of Detroit. The pilot reported that instrument meteorological conditions (zero visibility in heavy snow with sky obscured) existed in the accident area. No flight plan had been filed for the 14 CFR 91 flight. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
The pilot, who was not instrument-rated, reported that prior to the accident flight, he obtained his weather information by watching the current and forecast weather on The Weather Channel on television. According to the pilot, the Weather Channel forecast was for "scattered showers turning to snow flurries in higher elevations early on 5/7/99." The pilot reported that he took off with full fuel. He gave the following account of the accident flight:
...I departed Lebanon Airport [at] 15:15...I arrived at Estacada but was unable to land because of severe crosswind conditions at Estacada....
I decided to return to Lebanon, [and] while enroute I encountered a heavy snowstorm, which forced me down into a heavily wooded canyon trying to maintain VFR. I made several circles in the canyon and finally lost VFR. I then tried flying up [through] the storm, but the aircraft would not climb above 4500 [feet]. I tried contacting Salem, Portland, and Seattle. After finally contacting Seattle, the aircraft lost power. I informed Seattle that I felt I was out of fuel, the left fuel gauge read empty [and] the right gauge read half full. I tried carb heat, no help[.]
I then encountered a severe downdraft and crash landed....
According to ATC records of the accident, the Seattle ARTCC sector 6 radar (R-06) controller first observed an emergency squawk at 1802, over one hour prior to the disappearance. He attempted radio contact with the aircraft without success. At 1829, the air traffic control tower (ATCT) at Salem, Oregon, reported receiving a call on an emergency frequency from an aircraft reporting an emergency situation with another aircraft; however, neither Salem ATCT nor Seattle ARTCC were able to establish radio contact with the emergency aircraft. At 1831, Salem ATCT confirmed the call sign of the emergency aircraft as N3381J, and the R-06 controller advised seeing N3381J on radar near the Davis Airport. At 1835, the R-06 controller reported to Salem that N3381J appeared to be heading toward the mountains. Salem ATCT subsequently reported, at 1838, that N3381J was transmitting on frequency 122.8 megahertz (MHz) but was not receiving transmissions. The R-06 controller then solicited the help of a commercial airline flight in the area, Horizon Airlines flight 224, in an attempt to contact N3381J. A controller change occurred at the R-06 position at 1841. At this time, Horizon 224 reported hearing the aircraft but stated that the aircraft would not respond to his calls, and that the communications sounded strange. At 1843, Horizon 224 reported again that they could still hear the aircraft but that they got no response.
At 1845, the pilot of another aircraft, N911DR, contacted Seattle ARTCC and advised of being in contact with N3381J, and that N3381J was trying to call Seattle ARTCC on frequency 125.8 MHz. N911DR subsequently reported, at 1846, that he had lost radio contact with N3381J while trying to have the aircraft contact Seattle ARTCC. A third aircraft, N26533, attempted to contact N3381J at 1847, but reported to Seattle ARTCC that neither aircraft were able to contact him. At 1849, Seattle ARTCC lost radar contact with N3381J.
At 1850, Seattle ARTCC asked a fourth aircraft, N311LA, to attempt contact with N3381J. At 1851, N26533 advised that N3381J was going to come up on Seattle ARTCC frequency 125.8. A second commercial airline flight, Skywest 6966, also reported at this time that they were hearing repeated calls on 122.8 MHz but were unable to establish two-way communications with the aircraft. At 1853, N311LA reported that he had been unable to contact N3381J, but N26533 advised that two-way communication had been established with N3381J, and that the aircraft had been advised to climb for better radio reception. At 1854, Skywest 6966 advised that a Southwest Airlines flight was in contact with N3381J, but that he did not have the Southwest flight's flight number.
At 1855, the R-06 controller reported to Salem ATCT that the aircraft appeared to be heading toward the mountains. Skywest 6966 then advised that he had not obtained a flight number from the Southwest flight, but that N3381J was near Mount Jefferson at 6,000 feet, in a snowstorm, heading 290 degrees and trying to climb. Two minutes later, at 1857, Skywest 6966 advised that N3381J was going to squawk code 7700, and at 1858, the R-06 controller observed a 7700 squawk.
At 0159, N26533 advised that N3381J was in a slow climb, low on fuel, and asked if N3381J was high enough to attempt a frequency change to ARTCC frequency. N26533 also confirmed that N911DR was the aircraft in direct communication with N3381J. Three minutes later, at 1902, N26533 advised Seattle ARTCC that a frequency change would be attempted, and relayed that N3381J had one person on board and that there was about 30 minutes of fuel remaining. N911DR then contacted Seattle ARTCC and reported that N3381J was on Seattle ARTCC frequency and that he was acting as a relay for the emergency aircraft. Seattle ARTCC then established radio and radar contact with N3381J and advised its pilot of the two closest airports, Davis (15 miles ahead of the aircraft) and Salem ("about another twenty miles out"). The pilot of N3381J reported he was lost at an altitude of 6,700 feet. The Seattle ARTCC controller instructed him to maintain VFR and fly a heading of 295 degrees for a vector towards Salem.
At 1905, the pilot of N3381J reported he was losing altitude, was barely able to make 70 MPH airspeed, that he was in a snowstorm and that he was icing up. The controller asked the pilot whether he could see the ground, and the pilot replied that he could not. The controller then assigned the pilot a heading of 250 degrees for the Davis Airport. At 1908, the pilot asked the R-06 controller if he was in an area where he could get a lower altitude. The controller replied that he was not (the minimum IFR altitude in the area was 8,000 feet), but subsequently told him (at 1909) that in three or four minutes he would be in an area where a lower altitude could be assigned. At 1911, the pilot advised he was in an ice storm at 6,000 feet heading 250 degrees, and was told by the R-06 controller to take whatever turns necessary to stay clear of the ice. (A National Track Analysis Program (NTAP) plot of recorded air traffic control (ATC) radar data depicted the aircraft turning left from a 250-degree track to a generally southerly track at this time, immediately prior to loss of radar contact. The last recorded radar position of the aircraft was at 1910:35, at 44 degrees 42 minutes 54 seconds North and 122 degrees 9 minutes 7 seconds West, at an altitude of 6,000 feet.) The pilot then asked if it was safe for lower or if he should stay at 6,000 feet. ATC records did not indicate that the controller replied to this query. However, at that time, the Seattle ARTCC supervisor assigned a tracker controller, T-06, with flight experience to assist with the emergency.
According to the Seattle ARTCC communications transcript, at 1911:32, the ARTCC controller asked the pilot if he had carburetor heat on. The pilot replied that he did not, although he had been "pulling it every once in awhile." The T-06 controller then instructed the pilot to put the carburetor heat on, and asked if the pilot had pitot heat on. The pilot replied that he did, although he stated "it's already froze up on me." The T-06 controller then asked if the pilot had gotten a drop in RPM when he put the carburetor heat on. The pilot replied, "yes sir it's working fine." At 1912:08, the T-06 controller instructed the pilot to turn carburetor heat back off, and the pilot replied, at 1912:12, "yes sir it's off."
The T-06 controller then asked the pilot if he was in the clouds. The pilot did not respond to this query, but at 1912:22, he reported, "three eight one juliet i've got an icing problem um it won't run without carburetor heat on." The T-06 controller replied, "o k eight one juliet turn the carb back on leave it on." At 1912:43, the T-06 controller asked the pilot his heading. The pilot's reply, at 1912:46, was, "i think maybe i'm out of fuel sir." The T-06 controller again asked the pilot his heading, and said, "is your carb heat on turn the carb heat on." The pilot did not respond to this call, or to subsequent calls from the controller or from N911DR, until 1913:30. The controller then asked the pilot, "how do you read." The last direct radio transmission from the pilot to ATC, at 1913:39, was, "i i read you fine sir i'm i'm just barely oh [expletive] i'm seventy miles an hour forty five hundred feet i am loosing [sic] about a thousand feet a minute right." The T-06 controller instructed the pilot to "turn [sic] up the airplane for your best glide speed best glide speed." The controller then again asked the pilot his heading, and if he had tried switching tanks. There was no reply from the pilot. N911DR subsequently reestablished contact briefly with the pilot, and at 1914:51, said to the pilot, "o k i understand heading two five zero uh just keep doing what you're doing and stay calm." There was no further radio contact with the accident aircraft.
At 1921, multiple reports of emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signals were received from aircraft departing from the Portland airport. After proceeding to the area of the last contact with N3381J, both N911DR and N26533 also reported a strong ELT signal, with N26533 reporting that the signal was strongest in the area of the last contact, on the Eugene 030 degree radial at 55 nautical miles. At 1928, N26533 reported a cell with tops over 20,000 feet over where N3381J was last seen, adding at 1930 that the cell looked about 25 miles wide.
A weather study on the accident (see attached Meteorology Factual Report) was prepared by a meteorologist in the NTSB Office of Aviation Safety's Operational Factors Division, Washington, D.C. According to the study, the National Weather Service (NWS) Surface Analysis chart issued at 1700 showed a cold front over Oregon, east of the accident site. The NWS Weather Depiction chart issued at 1800 depicted VFR conditions over most of Oregon, with marginal VFR conditions in extreme northwestern and southwestern Oregon. Weather conditions at Troutdale, Oregon, the closest weather reporting facility to Estacada (Portland-Troutdale Airport is 15 miles northwest of Valley View Airport, and is at an elevation of 39 feet), were reported (in part) as follows: at 1553, wind from 240 degrees at 10 knots, visibility 10 miles, few clouds at 7,000 feet, scattered clouds at 12,000 feet, temperature 16 degrees C, and dewpoint 7 degrees C. At 1653, wind from 230 degrees at 14 knots gusting to 22 knots, visibility 8 miles in light rain, scattered clouds at 3,200 feet, ceiling 4,400 feet broken, overcast at 6,000 feet, temperature 13 degrees C, dewpoint 10 degrees C, with remarks that rain began at 1619 with trace of precipitation since last hour. Special observation at 1721: wind from 250 degrees at 17 knots gusting to 26 knots, visibility 5 miles in light rain and mist, scattered clouds at 1,900 feet, ceiling 2,900 feet broken, overcast at 6,000 feet, temperature 12 degrees C, dewpoint 10 degrees C, with remarks indicating peak wind 230 degrees at 26 knots at 1718, pressure rising rapidly, and trace of precipitation since last hourly observation.
According to the NTSB weather study, weather conditions at McNary Field (elevation 214 feet), Salem, Oregon, approximately 39 miles west-northwest of the accident site, were reported (in part) as follows: At 1556, wind from 220 degrees at 13 knots gusting to 21 knots, visibility 5 miles in mist, few clouds at 1,800 feet, ceiling 3,200 feet overcast, temperature 12 degrees C, dewpoint 10 degrees C, with remarks that rain ended at 1542 and 0.06 inches precipitation since last hour. At 1656, wind from 230 degrees at 11 knots, visibility 10 miles in light rain, few clouds at 2,000 feet, ceiling 4,100 feet broken, overcast at 4,900 feet, temperature 9 degrees C, dewpoint 7 degrees C, with remarks indicating rain began at 1651 with 0.08 inches precipitation since last hour and pressure rising rapidly. At 1756, wind from 200 degrees at 8 knots, visibility 10 miles in light rain, scattered clouds at 1,200 feet, ceiling 3,400 feet overcast, temperature 8 degrees C, dewpoint 6 degrees C, with remarks indicating pressure rising rapidly and 0.06 inches precipitation since last hour. At 1856, wind from 200 degrees at 8 knots, visibility 10 miles in light rain, ceiling 3,900 feet broken, broken clouds at 4,600 feet, overcast at 9,500 feet, temperature 8 degrees C, dewpoint 5 degrees C, with remarks that rain ended at 1757 and began at 1854 with trace of precipitation since last hour. At 1956, wind from 180 degrees at 9 knots, visibility 6 miles in light rain and mist, ceiling 3,900 feet broken, broken clouds at 4,600 feet, overcast at 5,000 feet, temperature 7 degrees C, dewpoint 4 degrees C, with remarks indicating cumulonimbus distant east through southeast and 0.05 inches precipitation since last hour.
The NTSB weather study reported that an upper air rawinsonde observation taken at Salem at 1700 disclosed the lifted condensation level (cloud base) as being at 930 millibars (mb) (approximately 2,500 feet), and that the atmosphere was saturated through 500 mb or 18,000 feet. The freezing level was located at 811 mb or 6,000 feet. Additionally, pilot reports (PIREPs) received from aircraft in the area generally from Eugene, Oregon, to Corvallis, Oregon, between 1500 and 2000 indicated that the reporting aircraft were experiencing light rime to moderate mixed icing between 9,000 and 16,000 feet. An additional PIREP received from an aircraft 15 miles south of Portland, Oregon, at 1930 indicated cloud tops were at 12,500 feet.
The NTSB weather study reported that Geostationary Operational Environment Satellite 10 (GOES-10) visible spectrum imagery taken at 1800 showed several layers of stratiform clouds over northwest Oregon that covered the departure airport, the planned destination and the accident site, with some vertical buildup or cloud turrets observed indicating stratocumulus or nimbostratus type clouds. At 1900, visible spectrum imagery showed a band of stratocumulus to cumulus type clouds in the Gates/Davis Field area, oriented northwest to southeast and a few miles west of the accident site (between Gates and the accident site.) The weather study stated that the cloud band did not exhibit any signs of any cirrus outflow of a cumulonimbus "anvil" cloud; however, some turrets or vertical development was indicated. GOES-10 infrared imagery taken at 1900 showed radiative temperatures from -9 degrees C to -25 degrees C, indicating cloud tops from 13,000 feet to 22,000 feet. At 1915, infrared imagery showed a radiative temperature of -17.56 degrees C at the accident site, relating to cloud tops at 17,000 feet.
According to the NTSB weather study, the NWS Area Forecast for the area for the time period from 1700 to 1900 was for VFR conditions, becoming broken to scattered at 4,000 feet and broken at 14,000 feet with widely scattered light rain showers, and light snow showers in the Cascades. There were AIRMET meteorological advisories for IFR conditions and mountain obscuration in clouds and in precipitation, for light to occasional moderate icing between 5,000 and 22,000 feet, and for turbulence in effect for the route of flight. Two of these, the IFR/mountain obscuration and icing AIRMETs, were current for the accident site. A Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) for Troutdale, issued at 1035 and valid from 1100 on May 6 to 1100 on May 7, forecast the following conditions for 1700 at Troutdale: winds from 240 degrees at 8 knots, visibility greater than 6 miles with light rain showers, ceiling 4,000 feet broken, broken clouds at 6,000 feet; temporary conditions between 1700 and 2000 of 5 miles visibility in thunderstorms, light rain and snow pellets, ceiling 2,500 feet broken in cumulonimbus, and broken clouds at 4,000 feet. A subsequent TAF for Troutdale, issued at 1635 and valid from 1700 on May 6 to 1700 on May 7, forecast the following for the time period from 1700 to 2100: winds from 250 degrees at 12 knots gusting to 22 knots; visibility greater than 6 miles with light rain, scattered clouds at 2,500 feet, ceiling 4,500 feet overcast; temporary conditions from 1700 to 2100 of visibility 5 miles in moderate rain, and ceiling 2,500 feet broken. The NTSB weather study gave the time of sunset as 2026.
On his NTSB accident report, the pilot reported weather conditions at the accident site as zero visibility with heavy snow, sky obscured, and temperature 34 degrees F.
Following the aircraft's recovery from the accident site, the aircraft wreckage was examined by an FAA inspector from the Hillsboro, Oregon, Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). The FAA inspector conducted this examination at the facilities of Specialty Aircraft Company, Redmond, Oregon, on August 11, 1999. The FAA inspector reported to the NTSB investigator-in-charge that he found no evidence of any mechanical problems with the aircraft during this examination.