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Canyon flying is difficult for even the most experienced of pilots. On November 30, 2000, a pilot and his passenger were killed during a personal sight seeing flight near Taos, New Mexico when the Cessna 182 they were flying impacted the side of a mountain at 11,300 msl.
The day of the flight, the pilot called a business associate to inform him he would be deviating from the originally planned direct route in order to do some sightseeing.
Skiers at the Taos ski area near the crash site saw the 182 turn up a narrow canyon across the valley from the ski area and disappear from their view while in a steep left turn towards the entrance of a canyon.
The weather recorded at the ski area around the time of the accident included winds from 250 degrees at 28 knots with gusts of 39 knots. A rescue helicopter that attempted to reach the accident site reported winds in the canyon in excess of 50 knots.
FAA medical records indicate that the pilot was commercially rated with over 1,300 hours of experience.
The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's failure to maintain terrain clearance while maneuvering in a narrow canyon. Factors in the accident were the down slope winds in excess of 50 knots and the pilot's improper decision to enter the canyon given the wind conditions.
Mountains add additional dynamics to what most would consider a normal flight. Weather, especially wind, is drastically different in mountainous areas. Pilots need to be familiar with these differences before attempting a flight in the mountains. Pilots also need to be aware that their airplane will not perform as well at higher altitudes. ASF recommends before flying in the mountain, attend a course dedicated specifically to mountain flying. If you don't have this specialized training, it's best to stay out of the canyons.
For more information about mountain flying, see ASF's Mountain Flying resource page online.
This accident report as well as others can be found in ASF's Online Database.
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