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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: WPR16LA114
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, May 20, 2016 in Fruitland, UT
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/01/2017
Aircraft: MICHAEL BURTON Calidus, registration: N50NE
Injuries: 2 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.

After fueling the gyroplane, the private pilot and passenger embarked on a cross-country flight over rugged and mountainous terrain. The pilot reported that, as the gyroplane approached a ridge, about 200 ft above its peak, it encountered strong downdrafts and then descended into a box canyon. Unable to climb the gyroplane to clear terrain, the pilot guided it over a river at the base of the canyon until he could see a landing spot on the shore. As he approached the site and initiated the landing flare, the right wheel struck a boulder, and the gyroplane rolled over and then came to rest in the river. The canyon in which the gyroplane came to rest was at an elevation of about 7,300 ft mean sea level (msl), and the canyon walls rose about 1,000 ft above the accident site to the north and south. The gyroplane’s demonstrated maximum operating altitude was 10,000 ft, and the pilot’s intended flight route would have required clearing mountain peaks that were at an elevation of 8,200 ft msl. The pilot reported that there were no mechanical malfunctions or failures with the gyroplane. Local wind conditions, along with the rugged terrain, likely resulted in mechanical turbulence and strong downdrafts along the flight route, and it is likely that the weather conditions affected the gyroplane’s ability to achieve a positive climb rate. Given the weather conditions and the gyroplane’s maximum operating altitude of 10,000 ft, the pilot demonstrated improper judgment by attempting such a flight. The pilot stated that he could have avoided the accident if he had approached the mountain ridge at a higher altitude. The accident site was inaccessible to first responders, which resulted in the pilot’s blood being drawn about 5 hours following the accident. Toxicological testing revealed strong evidence that he had used marijuana at some point before the accident. Although he had no significant active drug (tetrahydrocannabinol [THC]) in his blood at the time it was drawn, it could not be determined how much THC was in this blood at the time of the accident. Therefore, it could not be determined if impairment due to marijuana use contributed to the pilot’s poor decision-making.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The pilot's improper judgment in conducting a flight in a gyroplane over mountainous terrain near its demonstrated maximum operating altitude and his subsequent failure to maintain adequate clearance with terrain during cruise flight in turbulent weather conditions.