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On March 26, 2005, approximately 1425 Pacific standard time, a Hoover Challenger II single-engine airplane, N4018G, was destroyed after colliding with terrain while maneuvering about 7 nautical miles south-southeast of La Grande, Oregon. The certificated private pilot and the pilot-rated passenger sustained fatal injuries. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal cross-country flight, which was being operated in accordance with 14 CFR Part 91 regulations. The flight departed the Caldwell Industrial Airport (EUL), Caldwell, Idaho, about 1320 mountain standard time, and its destination was Walla Walla, Washington.
In a written report provided to the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC) by a local law enforcement agency, a witness reported that he observed the accident airplane around milepost 274 on interstate highway I84 while traveling westbound, and at the time the wind was blowing hard and it was snowing. The witness stated that he saw the airplane come from the northeast when it was directly above the freeway, then it started following the freeway westbound. The witness further stated that he lost sight of the airplane in the snow and clouds, and then a couple of minutes later he observed the airplane coming from the west, headed east across the freeway, "...and it appeared the plane was trying to climb. The airplane was being bounced around and the wings were tipping at least 10 degrees. It looked like the plane was in trouble." The witness stated that he then lost sight of the airplane because of the poor visibility, and a couple of minutes later saw what he thought was a wing on a hillside just to the west of the freeway. The witness said it was still snowing and blowing hard. (Refer to attached map of accident site.)
In a report submitted to the IIC by the Union County Sheriffs Department, La Grande, Oregon, a relative of the rear-seated pilot reported that he met the pilots in Caldwell, Idaho, earlier in the day to assist with fueling the aircraft for their flight to Walla Walla. The relative stated, "During all of this [the front seat pilot] was acting like the pilot (pilot-in-command), and [the rear-seated pilot] like the passenger." The family member reported that the front seat pilot was checking weather for the en route portion of the flight and decided to go, stating that they would follow the freeway (I84), unless the weather was good enough for them to turn north from Baker, Oregon. The relative further reported that the pilot had a Garmin 296 Global Positioning System (GPS) with him, which had terrain clearance features. The family member concluded by relating, "...[I] helped strap both men in and they took off at 1320."
The first pilot, who occupied the front seat, held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. His most recent third-class medical certificate was dated June 24, 2003, and no limitations were noted. The pilot's logbook was not identified at the accident site, and follow on attempts to locate it were unsuccessful. According to information provided by the pilot on his most recent airman medical application, his total flying time was 76 hours. The second pilot, who occupied the rear seat, held a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land, airplane single-engine sea, airplane multiengine land, and instrument airplane ratings. In a statement provided to the IIC by local law enforcement personnel, a family relative of the second pilot reported the pilot was highly experienced, with between 7,000 and 10,000 total flight hours.
The first pilot and second pilot had just purchased the dual control airplane jointly and were in the process of returning it to their home base in Spokane, Washington, from Heber, Utah. In a telephone interview with the IIC, the previous owner reported that prior to the sale of the aircraft he had given both pilots ground and flight instruction to familiarize them with the airplane. The previous owner stated that the first pilot had some previous experience in the Challenger II aircraft, while the second pilot had no previous Challenger II experience.
The closest weather observing facility, an Automated Weather Observing System, was located approximately 7 nautical miles north of the accident site at the La Grande/Union County Airport, La Grande, Oregon. The following conditions were reported at the approximate time of the accident:
KLGD weather at 1335, reported wind from 170 degrees at 10 knots gusting to 23 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, a few clouds at 1,900 feet, broken clouds at 2,400 feet, overcast clouds at 4,700 feet, temperature 4 degrees C, dew point -01 degree C, and an altimeter setting of 30.09 inches of Mercury.
KLGD weather at 1455, reported wind 180 degrees at 16 knots, visibility 9 statute miles, sky conditions missing, temperature 4 degrees C, dew point 1 degree C, and an altimeter setting of 30.06 inches of Mercury.
At 0245, the National Weather Service at Pendleton, Oregon, issued an Area Forecast Discussion for the day of the accident, continuing through Monday, March 28th. The forecast indicated that a strong and moist Pacific system was moving into the Pacific Northwest, that precipitation had just begun along the Washington Cascade crest, and to expect precipitation to spread east through the day. The forecast also revealed that a wind advisory would be issued for the Ladd Canyon area that afternoon.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Examination of the wreckage revealed that all major components, including the flight control surfaces, were accounted for at the accident site. Flight control continuity could not be confirmed due to impact damage. The wreckage path and ground scarring extended approximately 100 feet along a northerly direction, with the aircraft coming to rest on a southerly heading.
The airplane was equipped with a Rotax model 503 engine with a wooden propeller. Both propeller blades had separated from the propeller hub. During the examination, no preimpact failures or malfunctions were identified.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot at the Oregon Health and Sciences University, Portland, Oregon, on March 29, 2005. The toxicological testing report from the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and drugs.
The airplane was released to the owner's representative on March 27, 2005.