On August 15, 2001, at approximately 0942 mountain daylight time, a Commander 114-B, N994JT, owned and operated by the pilot, was substantially damaged during initial climb when it impacted terrain and subsequently destroyed by post crash fire near Snowmass Village, Colorado. The private pilot and his passenger received serious injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for this personal cross-country flight being conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91. An instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for this flight to Dodge City, Kansas. The flight departed Aspen-Pitkin County/Sardy Field Airport (ASE), Aspen, Colorado, at approximately 0926.

According to witnesses who were driving nearby, the airplane appeared to fly directly over the Elk Camp ski runs and was flying "much lower" than other airplanes. A witness stated that he noticed the airplane flying up the "draw" near his home. The airplane was approximately 100 feet above the trees and was "climbing with what seemed to be a constant engine speed." Just before the airplane disappeared behind his home, he noticed the left wing "drop slightly." Moments later, the engine noise stopped and he noticed a large black cloud of smoke appear above the trees. A third witness stated that approximately 20 minutes after calling 911 to report the accident, he observed the pilot and passenger walking down the road. He immediately assisted them and transported them to an approaching ambulance.

An officer from the Town of Snowmass Village Police Department stated that he observed a column of white smoke rising from the trees in the nearby Snowmass ski area. The smoke was rising straight up and was "undisturbed by the wind for nearly 100 feet above the trees." When he arrived on the scene at approximately 1004, the wreckage was "engulfed in flames and moderately exploding," but the area surrounding the site was unaffected by the flames. The Snowmass Wildcat Fire Department arrived at the scene at 1010, and because of the location of the site, the fire department was only able to bring enough equipment to contain the fire and keep it from spreading. The post-crash fire consumed most of the wreckage.

On the Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report (NTSB Form 6120.1/2), the pilot reported that they departed Sardy Field on an IFR flight plan, with VFR routing to Dodge City, Kansas, for refueling. He flew over Snowmass Canyon to gain altitude to clear the mountain passes, and after approximately 10 minutes, had a gain of approximately 3,000 feet in altitude. There was no indication of an engine problem and the "engine appeared to be running smoothly, but the plane would not climb" and the airplane "mysteriously" began to lose airspeed to the point of descending 500 feet per minute in level flight. The airspeed was at 80 knots with "full power, and full pitch props, and leaned mixture." After recognizing the "flight condition," he only had a few minutes to "control the descent to a crash landing in the aspen trees." He stated that they did not receive any injuries upon impact, however they received "flash burns," which he thought, "originated from fuel vapors from broken fuel lines." During an interview, the pilot stated that, just a few days prior to the date of the accident, he had flown the accident aircraft with an instructor in the area around Aspen and Snowmass.

The pilot has a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land, and instrument ratings. The Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report (NTSB Form 6120.1/2) submitted by the pilot, indicated that he has a second-class medical, dated November 19, 2000. The report indicated that he had accumulated a total of approximately 720 flight hours of which, 630 hours were in the make and model of the accident airplane, 40 hours of night, 90 hours of actual instrument, and 15 hours of simulated instrument. The report indicated that the he had flown 70 hours in the previous 90 days, of which 27 were in the make and model of the accident airplane.

The accident aircraft was built in 1999, as serial number 14665, and was equipped with a Textron Lycoming IO-540 (fuel injected) reciprocating engine; serial number L-26787-48A, and a 3-bladed McCauley propeller; model number B3032C419C, serial number 984021. The pilot stated that the aircraft maintenance records were in the airplane and were destroyed by the post-crash fire.

At 0953, the reported weather at Aspen-Pitkin County/Sardy Field Airport (ASE), Aspen, Colorado (approximately 4 nautical miles east of the accident site, and at an elevation of 7,815 feel msl) was, wind, 360 degrees at 4 knots; visibility, 10 statute miles; sky condition, scattered at 5,000 feet; temperature, 14 degrees C. (57.2 degrees F.); dew point, 9 degrees C. (48.2 degrees F.); altimeter setting, 30.40. The calculated density altitude was 9,090 feet msl.

The wreckage was located approximately 4 nautical miles west of the departure airport, near Snowmass Village, Colorado, at a latitude and longitude of 39 degrees 11.800 minutes north and 106 degrees 56.150 minutes west and at an elevation of approximately 9,260 feet msl. The location and condition of the wreckage, in reference to the broken trees, indicate that it was on a heading of approximately 210 degrees, and that it descended straight through an aspen grove at a shallow angle and impacted the ground, leaving a ground scar of approximately 15 feet in length. The main wreckage included the fuselage, empennage, left wing, right wing, all vertical and horizontal flight control surfaces, engine, three propeller blades and spinner. The airplane was right side up and was covered with aspen limbs that it had knocked down during the impact. A post-crash fire ensued, consuming the aircraft. The ground surrounding the impact point consisted of heavily wooded sloping terrain covered with grass and other low vegetation.

A representative from Beegles Aircraft Service, Inc., who recovered the wreckage, stated that several aspen limbs located on and near the wreckage displayed propeller cuts.

A manufacturer's representative from Textron Lycoming, who examined the engine on August 29, 2001, stated that the engine had sustained "extensive fire damage, and heat soaking." The propeller had sustained a "slight" amount of rotational scoring. The number one lower spark plug was broken off. The right side alternator was impact destroyed. Both vacuum pumps were fire destroyed. Both magnetos were fire destroyed. The fuel pump was actuated and found to operate normally. The fuel and oil screens were removed and found to be clear of any contaminants. The spark plugs were removed and inspected and they revealed a low service life and a color consistent with normal combustion. The engine was rotated and thumb compression and suction was obtained. Valve train continuity was verified. The fuel servo was not tested.

A manufacturer's representative from Commander Aircraft, who examined the airplane on August 29, 2001, identified that the fuel selector valve "appeared to have been in the both position." The dimension of 0.75 inches, taken from the accident aircraft's flap jackscrew, was compared to another aircraft of the same make and model, identifying a flap position of "flaps-up," for the accident aircraft. Because of the extent of impact and post-crash fire damage, control continuity and cockpit instrument readings could not be documented.

There was a record of 29.6 gallons of 100 low-lead fuel purchased at the departure airport. The fuel request states, "top both tanks to 24 gallon mark," and identifies that 14.6 gallons were pumped into one tank and 15.0 into the other. The pilot's operating handbook for the accident aircraft, states a total fuel capacity of 70 gallons, with 68 gallons useable.

Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) located in Longmont, Colorado, provided radar data following departure from Aspen. The radar data provides six radar points. The initial radar contact, at 9:39:14, is at a latitude and longitude of 39 degrees 14 18.0 minutes north and 106 degrees 54 07.0 minutes west and an altitude of 8,300 feet msl, identifies the airplane approximately 1 nautical mile north west of the departure end of runway 33. The last radar contact, at 09:41:14, at a latitude and longitude of 39 degrees 11 56.0 minutes north and 106 degrees 56 02.0 minutes west and an altitude of 9,100 feet msl, indicates a heading of approximately 215 degrees and a vertical speed of approximately 350 feet per minute.

The airplane wreckage was released to the owners representative on March 13, 2002.

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