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On Friday, July 9, 1999, at 0701 mountain daylight time, a Cessna 182D, N8761X, registered to the Solar Flying Company (a Boise, Idaho, flying club consisting of six pilots who shared ownership of the aircraft), was cleared for takeoff from Boise Air Terminal/Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. The pilot of the aircraft told Boise Clearance Delivery prior to departure that the flight was bound for the Smiley Creek airport (a non-towered, unattended airport 65 nautical miles east-northeast of Boise) under visual flight rules (VFR); however, no flight plan was filed for the 14 CFR 91 personal flight. Boise Approach Control terminated radar service to the aircraft and approved a frequency change approximately 0710, following the aircraft's departure from Boise's Class C airspace. Following termination of radar service to the aircraft, ATC radar tracked the airplane heading generally direct toward Smiley Creek until radar contact was lost with the aircraft approximately 6 1/2 nautical miles west-southwest of Smiley Creek at approximately 0734. No further contact between ATC and the aircraft following loss of radar contact was reported. Approximately 1100 on Monday, July 12, 1999, a concerned individual reported the aircraft as missing to the Idaho State Department of Transportation's Aeronautics Division, who in turn notified the FAA. The FAA issued an Alert Notice (ALNOT) on the missing aircraft at 1432 on July 12, and a search for the aircraft was initiated. The wreckage of the aircraft was located the evening of July 12, in a heavily wooded stream bed approximately 100 yards north of the north end of the single north-south runway at the Big Creek, Idaho, airport (a non-towered, unattended airport 102 nautical miles north-northeast of Boise and approximately 77 nautical miles northwest of Smiley Creek.) The aircraft was found to be destroyed by impact forces and fire, and all four aircraft occupants (a private pilot member of the Solar Flying Company flying club, presumed to have been the pilot-in-command, and three passengers) were found fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions were reported at McCall, Idaho (36 nautical miles west-southwest of the Big Creek airport) during the entire time frame from the aircraft's departure from Boise the morning of July 9 until the aircraft wreckage was located at Big Creek on the evening of July 12. There was no report of an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) activation.
Investigation disclosed that the aircraft occupants had reserved accommodations at the Big Creek Lodge (adjacent to the Big Creek airport) for the nights of Friday, July 9 and Saturday, July 10, but that they never checked into the lodge, which is accessible by either road or air. No witnesses to the accident were identified, nor were any persons who observed or had contact with the accident aircraft (or its occupants) between the time radar contact was lost with the aircraft and the time the aircraft wreckage was located. However, one pilot who stated he flew into Big Creek on the morning of July 9 (he could not recall his exact arrival time) reported that he observed no smoke as he flew directly over the crash site and landed, but after taxiing to the tiedowns and shutting down his engine he observed a column of smoke rising just off the north end of the field. This pilot reported that he did not hear anyone else radio an approach to Big Creek in that time frame. He further stated that since the Forest Service periodically hauls trash to that vicinity to burn it, he assumed that they had lit a trash fire right after he flew over.
During a visit to the Valley County, Idaho, Coroner in McCall on July 13, 1999, investigators noted that the pilot's wristwatch was stopped at 8:29:36. However, there was no way of distinguishing AM from PM on the watch.
Based on a presumed accident time of 0829 on July 9, 1999, the accident occurred during the hours of daylight. The accident occurred at approximately 45 degrees 8.3 minutes North latitude and 115 degrees 19.0 minutes West longitude.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. The best available information regarding the pilot's flight experience, an insurance questionnaire on file with Solar Flying Company, indicated that as of June 8, 1999, the pilot had 247 hours total pilot time, including 86 hours in the Cessna 182. His last required flight review took place in a Cessna 182 aircraft in March 1999. Solar Flying Company reported that the pilot possessed an FAA third-class medical certificate dated November 2, 1998, which carried a limitation requiring glasses.
The aircraft, a 1960 Cessna 182D, received its last annual inspection on July 2, 1998, at 2,995.62 hours total airframe time. Total airframe time as of the last entry in the aircraft log, dated January 20, 1999, was 3,069.11 hours. The aircraft's 230-horespower Continental O-470-R reciprocating engine had 2,240.62 hours total time since new and 441.62 hours since major overhaul at the time of the July 2, 1998, annual inspection.
The 0850 METAR observation at McCall, Idaho (37 nautical miles west-southwest of the accident site, elevation 5,020 feet) reported clear skies, 10 statute miles visibility, calm winds, temperature 12 degrees C, dewpoint 4 degrees C, and altimeter setting 30.29 inches Hg. Based on the above reported altimeter setting, temperature, and field elevation values, density altitude at McCall at 0850 was computed to be approximately 5,400 feet.
Sunset at the Big Creek airport on July 9 was at 2130.
AERODROME AND GROUND FACILITIES
The Big Creek airport is located in the Idaho backcountry, adjacent to the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The airport is unattended, although a ranger station and a tourist lodge are located adjacent to the airport. The airport has a single turf runway, 01/19, 3,550 feet long and 110 feet wide. The airport elevation is 5,743 feet above sea level. The U.S. Government Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD) recommends landing to the south and taking off to the north when conditions allow, and identifies runway 19 obstacles as "Trees". The airport is equipped with a wind indicator and utilizes a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) of 122.9 megahertz.
The runway, located in a valley, has an approximately 325-foot-high ridge (the "Hogback") adjacent to its east edge. The normal approach to runway 19 is flown around the Hogback to the east and north, such that visual contact with the runway is lost during much of the latter portion of the downwind leg and the majority of the turn to final approach for runway 19. Visual contact with the runway is regained as the aircraft approaches rollout on final. The Idaho State Airport Facilities Directory entry for Big Creek states that "pilots should be experienced in high density altitude and turbulent air."
Investigators from the NTSB, FAA, Cessna Aircraft Company, and Teledyne Continental Motors performed an on-site examination of the aircraft wreckage on July 14, 1999. The majority of the aircraft wreckage was found inverted in, and on the east bank of, a generally north-south oriented stream. The overall wreckage pattern was generally of a size and shape similar to that of the original aircraft. The aircraft's wings were generally aligned with the stream, with the left wing tip to the north and the right wing tip to the south; both leading edges faced approximately west. The aircraft's nose was pointed approximately north. The aircraft's empennage was found in a "nose-down" orientation on the east bank of the stream, adjacent to the rest of the aircraft wreckage and attached to it by control cables. The cabin section of the aircraft was largely destroyed by fire; surviving remnants of the cabin area such as seat frame and portions of instrument panel were found in the center of the overall wreckage area. A burn area extended up the east bank of the stream in the area where the wreckage had come to rest. Freshly broken trees were noted to the north of the wreckage; vertical angle measurements were taken from the wreckage up to these broken treetops. The vertical angles from the wreckage up to the broken treetops were measured at 28 to 34 degrees above horizontal. During the on-site examination, which included a field disassembly examination of the engine, investigators found no evidence of any pre-impact mechanical problems with the aircraft.
A post-crash fire consumed much of the aircraft's cabin structure. A burn area also extended up the east bank of the stream in the area where the wreckage came to rest. Investigators did not note any evidence of inflight fire in the wreckage.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy on the pilot was not conducted. The pilot's death certificate, issued in Valley County, Idaho, lists the cause of the pilot's death as "traumatic injuries."
Toxicology testing on the pilot was performed by the FAA Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The CAMI toxicology tests screened for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and legal and illegal drugs. The tests detected no carbon monoxide, cyanide, or ethanol, but did detect the following drugs in unspecified concentrations: Naproxen in the pilot's liver fluid and urine, Ephedrine in the pilot's urine, Pseudophedrine in the pilot's urine, and Phenylpropanolamine in the pilot's urine.
Naproxen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), available over-the-counter as the brand name Aleve. It is marketed to relieve minor aches and pains and for the reduction of fever. Pseudoephedrine is a common decongestant with a trade name Sudafed that is found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy preparations. Ephedrine is sold as an asthma medication (trade name Primatene) available over-the-counter in tablet form. Ephedrine and pseudoephdrine are often found together in the herbal supplement "Ma Huang" (also known as "ephedra".) Ma Huang is used as an "energy booster", stimulant, weight loss product, or decongestant in many nutritional supplements. Phenylpropanolamine is an over-the-counter decongestant, also marketed as a weight loss product. It is also a metabolite of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. It has recently been the subject of FDA action to withdraw it from the market due to a very small but measurable increased risk for stroke (primarily in women using it for weight loss) associated with its use.
The pilot proceeded on a planned flight into the Idaho backcountry without filing a flight plan. The aircraft occupants were not reported as missing until one of the occupants failed to report for a scheduled work shift 3 days after the flight departed Boise. Upon receipt of a report from a concerned individual that the aircraft was missing, authorities initiated search action. Several hours after the FAA issued an ALNOT, guests at the Big Creek Lodge spotted the aircraft wreckage by chance and reported the find. The aircraft wreckage was subsequently confirmed to be that of N8761X. All four aircraft occupants were found dead at the accident scene.
There was no report of an activation of the aircraft's ELT. It was not determined whether or not the aircraft's ELT actually activated, nor was it determined why no signal was received from the unit following the crash.
The aircraft wreckage was released to Mr. Bob Cole of Universal Loss Management, Inc., Renton, Washington, on January 26, 2001. Mr. Cole is an insurance adjuster representing the Solar Flying Company.