Even experienced pilots can be trapped by common pitfalls while flying in mountainous terrain.
On June 1, 2004, two airline transport-rated pilots departed Wenatchee, Washington, bound for Seattle in a Piper PA28-151. Thirty-five minutes into the flight, the Piper hit terrain at nearly 5,000 feet msl in VFR conditions. Both pilots were seriously injured.
After departure the pilots tuned in the 255-degree bearing from Wenatchee to reference the direct course to Seattle and flew south of that course to avoid higher terrain. The left-seat pilot said that he proceeded westbound at altitudes between 4,000 feet msl and 5,000 feet msl toward rising terrain. As they approached the terrain, he began a slow, full-power climb and noticed a decline in aircraft performance. He realized that he would not have sufficient altitude to clear the terrain and began a turn to the left to reverse course. Midway through the turn, the Piper hit the terrain just below a ridgeline.
The pilot in the right seat recounted the events much the same as the pilot in command, except that he recalled telling the pilot in command that he had entered a box canyon just prior to impacting the terrain. Neither pilot mentioned any trouble with the aircraft or engine, nor did the NTSB uncover any mechanical defects with the airplane.
Minutes prior to the accident, visibility at the accident site was 10 statute miles with ceilings of 1,500 feet to 2,000 feet.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of this accident to be the pilot's failure to maintain terrain clearance while maneuvering in mountainous terrain.
Mountain flying, particularly in low-powered or heavy airplanes, demands superior skill and judgment from the pilot. To learn more about mountain flying techniques, take the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Mountain Flying online course.
Accident reports can be found in ASF's accident database.
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