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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: CEN12FA571
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, August 24, 2012 in Milner, CO
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/04/2013
Aircraft: PIPER PA-24-250, registration: N7774P
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The student pilot departed on a cross-country flight and was not in contact with air traffic controllers; no flight plan had been filed. Log data recovered from the handheld global positioning system (GPS) unit depicted a flight track consistent with the accident flight and logged a maximum speed of 135 knots and a maximum GPS altitude of 18,379 feet. The airplane's wreckage was located in a remote valley the following afternoon. An examination of the engine and airframe revealed no anomalies. Damage to the airplane and ground scars were consistent with the airplane being in a stall and flat spin at the time of impact. During the examination of the wreckage, marijuana and an opened six-pack of beer were found; the beer bottles were located in the front of the airplane, within the pilot's reach. Toxicological testing found both alcohol and marijuana in the pilot's system. The amount of alcohol in the pilot's system would have significantly impaired the pilot's performance. In addition, the amount of marijuana and its metabolite found in the pilot's system indicated he was actively smoking in the hour before the accident; this would also have significantly impaired his ability to control the airplane. Both of these intoxicants may have impaired his judgment and contributed to the pilot's decision to fly above 18,000 feet in an aircraft not equipped with oxygen. The resulting hypoxia also impaired his ability to control the airplane.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The student pilot's impairment from alcohol, marijuana, and hypoxia, which adversely affected his ability to maintain control of the airplane.