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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: ERA15FA215
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, May 18, 2015 in Saltville, VA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/26/2016
Aircraft: BEECH 95 B55 (T42A), registration: N5816S
Injuries: 2 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 airplane departed on an instrument flight rules flight; it was equipped with a weather receiver and was capable of displaying XM Weather information through a subscription service. It was not equipped with weather radar in the nose cone of the airplane. The airplane was in cruise flight about 9,000 ft mean sea level (msl) when the pilot contacted an air traffic approach controller who issued the altimeter setting. The controller then asked the pilot his on-course heading, and the pilot responded 356 degrees. The controller advised the pilot of “areas of weather, ah 12 o’clock and ah about four zero miles, just scattered areas, type and intensity unknown.” The pilot stated he would “like to deviate east if we could,” and the controller approved deviations left and right as necessary; he also told the pilot to maintain 9,000 ft. The controller switched the pilot to an Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) and the pilot acknowledged. The pilot never contacted the ARTCC, and there were no further communications between the accident airplane and air traffic control. Radar data depicted an easterly deviation off course and a gradual descent before the radar target disappeared. A search was initiated, and the airplane wreckage was discovered in heavily wooded, mountainous terrain on the following day. The pilot obtained preflight weather briefings, but only reviewed the information for the southern half of his route, and not for the northern half, which included the accident site. The briefings included forecasts for thunderstorm activity. A significant meteorological information (SIGMET) for thunderstorms was issued for the area surrounding the accident site 10 minutes after the accident. An NTSB Weather Study also depicted the weather images that were likely available before the accident time. The XM Weather radar images just before the accident displayed light echoes to the west and north of the accident site with only very light echoes approaching the southwest corner of the accident site region at the time of the accident; the majority of the moderate-to-heavy rain showers and thunderstorms were depicted north and west of the accident flight track. It is likely that the accident airplane flew into a developing rain shower and updraft around the accident time. Given that the rain shower development right near the accident site occurred right at the accident time, it would be very difficult for either XM Weather or FIS-B regional NEXRAD data to pick up the newest rain shower development because of the inherent delay in the image depiction.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The pilot’s flight into developing rain showers and updrafts, which resulted in a loss of airplane control and collision with terrain. Contributing to the accident were the pilot’s continued flight into forecast adverse weather conditions, and his reliance on weather technologies with known limitations and processing delays.