DEN08LA145
DEN08LA145

On August 31, 2008, approximately 2045 mountain daylight time (MDT), a Cessna 340A, N397RA, was destroyed when it impacted terrain one mile northeast of Angel Fire Airport (AXX), Angel Fire, New Mexico. A post impact fire ensued. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was being conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 on an instrument flight rules flight plan. The private pilot sustained minor injuries. The cross-country flight departed Hooks Memorial Airport (DWH), Houston, Texas, approximately 1730 and was en route to AXX.

According to a telephone conversation with the pilot, he broke out of the clouds and was "high." He initiated a circling approach and recalls turning back towards the airport. The next event he remembers is waking up in his airplane; the airplane was on fire. The pilot did not suspect mechanical anomalies with the airplane.

In a written statement from the pilot, he reported that upon descending into AXX he obtained weather information, re-set his altimeter, and was cleared for the GPS 17 approach. After performing the approach maneuver, he "broke out" of the clouds at about 1,800 feet with the runway in sight, and too near the airport for landing. Approximately midway down the runway when he executed a left turn and entered a "close" downwind. Upon passing the end of the runway, the pilot initiated a left turn for a base leg. He has no further recollection of his approach to the airport and woke up in the crashed, burning aircraft.

According to local law enforcement, the airplane impacted terrain northeast of runway 17. The airplane was consumed by a post-impact fire.

A witness to the accident, located south of the runway threshold, stated that he first observed the accident airplane approximately half way down the runway and flying 200 to 300 feet above the ground. The airplane was powering up to go around and the pilot initiated a left turn to enter a three quarter mile wide downwind leg of the traffic pattern. Once established on the downwind leg, the airplane entered a gradual descent, then turned left base, and disappeared from view behind a hill. Less than a minute later, he observed the glow of fire from the area he last observed the plane and notified emergency services. It began to rain shortly thereafter. This witness advised that he did not observe any visual or aural indications that the airplane was experiencing any problems.

A second witness to the accident, located north of the runway threshold, stated she observed the accident airplane fly an initial approach and turn around. The airplane made another turn, to the left, and she observed that the airplane was "on fire", but that there was no indication of the airplane being "in trouble." This witness lost sight of the airplane behind a rise, and heard an explosion shortly thereafter. A third witness at the same location as the second, provided a similar account of her observations. She advised that it was raining at the time of the accident.

The closest official weather observation station was Taos Municipal Airport automated weather observation (KSKX), Taos, New Mexico, located 7 nautical miles (nm) west of the accident site. The elevation of the weather observation station was 7,095 feet mean sea level (MSL). The routine aviation weather report (METAR) for KSKX, issued at 2055 mdt, reported, winds, 140 degrees at 5 knots, visibility, 10 miles; sky condition, scattered 2,000, broken 2,900, overcast 8,500; temperature 15 degrees Celsius (C); dew point 13 degrees C; altimeter, 30.08 inches. METAR data for AXX, issued at 2050 mdt, reported, winds 200 degrees at 9 knots, visibility, 10 miles; sky conditions scattered 3,600, broken 4,800, overcast, 6,500; temperature 12 degrees C; dew point 11 degrees C; altimeter 30.17 inches.

The Angel Fire Airport is located in a mountain valley at an elevation of 8380 feet msl,with rising terrain in all directions. The highest terrain to the east of the airport in the immediate vicinity is 12,441 feet msl, 12,700 feet msl to the north, 13,161 feet msl to the west, and 9,440 feet msl to the south. The crash site elevation was approximately 8,305 feet msl

An examination of the airplane by National Transportation Safety Board investigators and a representative from the Cessna Aircraft on September 17th, 2008, revealed no anomalies and no evidence to support an in-flight fire. Control continuity was established, the propellers on both engines exhibited chord wise scratching, and the turbo chargers from both engines rotated freely when activated by hand.

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