On August 30, 1974, about 2230 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172M, N5142R, was destroyed when it collided with Beartown Mountain, near Saltville, Virginia. The certificated private pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight that originated at Athens/Ben Epps Airport (AHN), Athens, Georgia, destined for the Yeager Airport (CRW), Charleston, West Virginia. No flight plan was filed for the flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
The airplane was reported missing on or about September 2, 1974, and the Civil Air Patrol conducted a search, along with various law enforcement agencies. After several weeks, the search was suspended. In December 1975, hunters discovered the airplane and its occupants, and a memorial service was held for the victims; however, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Safety Board were not advised of the discovery. On October 10, 2006, a hiker advised the Safety Board of the location of the wreckage.
Telephone interviews were conducted with surviving family members, and the fixed base operator/flight instructor who conducted a "check-out" flight with the pilot prior to renting him the airplane. Several, including the flight instructor, agreed that the purpose of the flight was for the pilot to attend and compete in a running competition in Charleston, West Virginia.
The pilot arrived at the Valdosta Regional Airport (VLD) with his wife and son, and asked to rent an airplane for the flight to Charleston. The flight instructor administered a check-out flight to the pilot that included steep turns, stalls, and landings. All maneuvers were "expertly performed."
The flight instructor then reviewed the pilot's preflight planning, and accompanied him to the FAA flight service station located at the airport for a weather briefing, NOTAM check, and to file a flight plan to Athens, Georgia.
Because of the late hour and possibility of adverse weather, the flight instructor insisted that he would only rent the airplane if the pilot agreed to stop, refuel, spend the night in Athens, and then continue in daylight to Charleston the following day. The instructor continued, there were forecast thunderstorms over the mountains during the evening hours, and even if the conditions had been forecast for visual flight rules, "…there is far too great a possibility for unexpected, poor visibility, and even actual [instrument meteorological] conditions to occur over mountainous terrain at night."
The pilot agreed, and departed for Athens. When the airplane did not return several days later as agreed, a search was initiated. It was learned that the airplane arrived in Athens on the evening of August 30, was refueled, and then departed the same evening without filing a flight plan.
According to the flight instructor, "[The pilot] was well aware of the hazardous mountain terrain along his route of flight, as I made a point of reviewing it with him, including the actual heights of the mountain peaks, etc."
The wreckage was located in the vicinity of a course line drawn between the Athens/Ben Epps Airport and the Yeager International Airport.
The accident occurred during the hours of darkness approximately 36 degrees, 55 minutes north latitude, and 81 degrees, 52 minutes west longitude.
The airplane was delivered new, on or about June 10, 1974. According to the flight instructor, the airplane had accrued approximately 70 total airplane hours prior to the accident flight. The airplane performed "perfectly" during the check-out flight, and had no known mechanical deficiencies at the time the pilot departed.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land. His certificate was issued 1 week prior to the accident on August 23, 1974. He did not possess an instrument rating. The pilot's most recent FAA third class medical certificate was issued April 20, 1973.
According to the pilot's application for an airman's certificate, he had accrued approximately 63 hours of total flight experience prior to the accident.
At 2158, the weather observation at Mercer County Airport (BLF), Bluefield, West Virginia, 39 miles northeast of the crash site, included a measured ceiling of 1,200 feet overcast, with 4 miles of visibility in fog. The winds were from 250 degrees at 5 knots. The field elevation at Mercer County Airport was 2,857 feet.
At 2219, a special weather observation at Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Bristol, Tennessee, 39 miles southwest of the crash site, included a measured ceiling of 1,200 feet broken, 7,000 feet overcast, with 5 miles of visibility in rain showers and fog. The winds were from 250 degrees at 11 knots. The field elevation at Tri-Cities airport was 1,519 feet.
Beartown Mountain reached an elevation of 4,689 feet. The crash site was at an elevation of 4,500 feet.