WPR12LA048
WPR12LA048

On November 29, 2011, about 1900 mountain standard time, a Piper PA-32RT-300T, N36824, impacted the terrain during controlled flight about one mile east of Friedman Memorial Airport, Hailey, Idaho. The pilot received minor injuries, his passenger received serious injuries, and the airplane, which was owned and operated by the pilot, sustained substantial damage. The 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal transportation flight, which had just departed Hailey for Nampa, Idaho, was being operated in night visual meteorological conditions. No flight plan had been filed.

According to the pilot, he had planned to depart Hailey while it was still light, but a delay in his passenger’s activities resulted in a takeoff after dark. Prior to departing Hailey, he set up the entire route from Hailey through the instrument approach into Nampa, on his panel-mount GNS480 Global Positioning System (GPS), and then set up his yoke-mounted GPSMAP496 as a backup. His plan was to engage the autopilot soon after takeoff, and then to rely primarily on the coupled autopilot to maintain his heading in the narrow valley south of the airport, and to track the rest of the preset route. After listening to the Automatic Terminal Information Service recording, he continued with his plan to takeoff to the south in good visibility, with a tailwind of about 7 knots, on what he characterized as a dark night. After liftoff, because of the airplane’s light weight (two occupants), and the higher than standard performance capabilities resulting from the cold ambient air temperature, the airplane climbed rapidly with a nose high pitch attitude. As a result of the high pitch attitude, the pilot lost direct visual reference with the lights around the runway environment before the airplane reached the departure end of the runway. Once he lost sight of the runway environment, the pilot transferred his attention, and his reference for controlled flight, to the airplane’s instrument panel. During that process, the pilot attempted to engage the autopilot, so that he could rely on it to navigate the narrow valley running south from Hailey. Because the autopilot did not engage on the first attempt, the pilot went through the autopilot activation procedure a second time. Just as he was coming to the end of that process, the Hailey Tower controller asked him if he was turning downwind. About the same time, the GPSMAP496 terrain warning signal started sounding, and at that point in time that the pilot realized that while he was focused on getting the autopilot engaged, the airplane had turned from its original heading, and that it was heading east toward rapidly raising terrain. When the pilot saw the terrain, he quickly reached the conclusion that he would not be able to avoid it, so he slowed the airspeed to about 65 knots, and maneuvered the airplane toward an area of comparatively level ground, where he executed a controlled crash on the snow-covered hillside.

Because the pilot was not sure if there had been something wrong with the airplane’s Century 2000 autopilot system, or whether he simply had not placed the autopilot engagement switch fully in the engage position, during the postaccident investigation process the NTSB Investigator-In-Charge (IIC) had a number of the airplane’s components removed and tested at Century Flight Systems in Mineral Wells, Texas. The components that were taken to Century Flight Systems for testing under the direct oversight of another NTSB Accident Investigator were as follows: 1. 1D937-2050-311FF18 Flight Computer (s/n 2178G); 2. 52D67 Attitude Gyro (s/n T72374M); 3. 52D254 Directional gyro (s/n A6156G); 4.1C784-2-879 Roll Servo (s/n 1501; 5. 1C784-3-1052 Pitch Servo (s/n 1511). Although the test sequence found that impact damage kept the attitude gyro from erecting after spin-up, and that impact damage to two of the male electrical connector pins on the directional gyro resulted in no electrical output to the test screen, all other components showed normal, in specification, results, and no preimpact anomalies were found that would have kept the autopilot from engaging.

When the pilot completed the RECOMMENDATIONS section of the NTSB Form 6120.1 (Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident/Incident Report), he made the following two recommendations: 1. Do not depart an airport in mountainous areas when single pilot and mountainous terrain is within 5 nautical miles of the airport; 2. Do not troubleshoot discrepancies within 5 nautical miles of the terrain, instead treat any discrepancy as an inoperable item.

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