On October 1, 1999, at 2006 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA-24-250, N6406P, was substantially damaged when it collided with terrain while on final approach to landing at La Junta Municipal Airport, Junta, Colorado. The private pilot received minor injuries, and the private pilot certificated passenger was seriously injured. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the personal cross-country flight being conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated from Fredericktown Regional Airport, Fredericktown, Missouri, at 1530 central daylight time. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
According to the pilot, prior to departure from Fredericktown, he received an outlook weather briefing from Missouri's Columbia Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) the previous evening, and a standard weather briefing on the morning of the accident. The pilot stated that the weather "appeared normal with 20 knot headwinds, weather clear." While en route, he monitored several airport's ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) reports, and the weather appeared "normal."
In the pilot's accident report, he stated that while en route to La Junta, he noted the aircraft's groundspeed to be 113 knots with a 20 to 30 knot headwind, as indicated on his Global Position System (GPS) receiver. As he approached La Junta, the wind shifted from a headwind to a tailwind and the GPS indicated the groundspeed to be 165 to 170 knots. As he approached the airport for landing, the turbulence increased with "wind direction shifts." He stated that he maintained an altitude of 5,000 feet above mean sea level (msl) while on a downwind to runway 8 (the airport's elevation is 4,238 feet msl; the Federal Aviation Administration recommends traffic pattern altitudes to be conducted at 1,000 feet above ground level [agl] unless otherwise specified.) As he turned onto final approach, the aircraft encountered a downdraft and began to lose altitude, then impacted the ground. During the impact sequence, the aircraft sustained damage to both wings, nose gear, and propeller.
Following the accident, the pilot was interviewed by the Otero County Sheriff's Department. The pilot stated in the interview that he and his father were on a cross-country flight that originated from Washington, D.C., with a final destination of Lancaster, California. During a stop at La Junta, he initially attempted to land on runway 8, but the "wind was strong and [he] missed the runway." He aborted the landing and was planning to return for another landing attempt. He stated that he was "heading east and [was] unfamiliar with the terrain," then struck the ground at an elevation of 4,500 feet msl in dark night conditions. According to the Sheriff's report, when asked if he had experienced any mechanical problems with the aircraft, he stated, "no, that it was just pilot error." The passenger was also interviewed while in the hospital. He stated that "the wind was strong and they misjudged the land around the airport."