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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: WPR15LA142
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, April 05, 2015 in Reno, NV
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/13/2017
Aircraft: SCHLEICHER ASW 27, registration: N27QV
Injuries: 1 Serious.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The airline transport pilot was conducting a local personal flight in a glider. The pilot reported that, while about 14,000 ft, he attempted to navigate through a gap in the clouds, but the clouds quickly filled in and engulfed the glider. The glider's airspeed increased, and the wings subsequently separated from the glider. The pilot bailed out of the glider and descended to the ground using a personal parachute; the glider fell to the ground in pieces.

Postaccident examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of any preexisting structural anomalies. A review of weather conditions reported in the area about the time of the accident revealed sustained wind from the south between about 25 and 30 knots with gusts between 30 and 35 knots. Geostationary weather satellite imagery showed standing clouds over the region in the hour or two leading up to the accident, and polar-orbiting satellite data depicted clouds along the final portion of the glider's flightpath about 40 minutes before the accident. Given the clouds and wind, the atmosphere was likely unstable, which is indicative of severe, transient, and short-lived turbulence. It is likely that the glider encountered severe turbulence while the pilot was maneuvering it in the clouds, which caused the glider's airspeed to increase beyond its structural limitations and led to its in-flight breakup.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The glider's encounter with severe turbulent atmospheric conditions after the pilot inadvertently entered clouds, which led to his inability to maintain a proper airspeed and the subsequent in-flight breakup of the glider.