Pilot learns painful lesson about mountain flying
A private pilot and his three passengers walked away from the wreckage of their Cessna 182 on September 15, 2005, when it crashed after takeoff from a mountain strip in central Idaho.
The accident occurred in the late afternoon hours at the Johnson Creek Airport near Yellow Pine, Idaho. The airport is 4,933 feet above sea level, and the north-south turf runway is 3,400 feet long. The winds at the time of the accident favored the south runway at 10 knots gusting to 30 kt.
The Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD) listing for the Johnson Creek Airport contains a recommendation to land on Runway 17 and depart on Runway 35 when wind conditions allow. Further warnings mention 60-foot trees within 100 feet of the runway centerline and provide the following caution: "Special considerations should be given to density altitude, turbulence, and mountain flying proficiency."
The pilot reported that after he'd taxied to the end of Runway 17 and completed his engine runup, he contacted the pilot of an airplane that had just departed Runway 17. The departing pilot radioed that he "...should be able to make it. It wasn't too bad." After departing Runway 17, the accident pilot encountered wind shear, with a headwind changing to a tailwind at treetop level. At 60 to 80 feet agl, with rising terrain approaching, he decided to abort the takeoff. The aircraft hit the ground in a nearly level attitude and was substantially damaged.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident to be the pilot's improper preflight planning/preparation during takeoff.
Although the rather strong and gusty winds favored Runway 17, the note in the A/FD warned against using that runway for takeoff. Perhaps the encouragement from the pilot who had just successfully departed the same runway influenced the accident pilot's decision to disregard that note.
When operating lower performance airplanes near maximum gross weight, close attention must be paid to all operating parameters and to notes in the A/FD. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Accident Database contains reports of similar accidents at Johnson Creek Airport during the past two decades, one of them under nearly identical conditions.
It is important to remember that warnings in the A/FD are usually the legacy of pilots who've learned painful lessons the hard way. The accident pilot later admitted that he should have waited for cooler temperatures and calmer winds.
Many commercial operators flying out of challenging airports in mountainous terrain have hard-and-fast rules that include limits on time of day, temperature, and wind. If a departure or arrival will occur outside established parameters, it is not attempted. Pilots not bound by such rigid operating limitations would do well to adopt their own personal limitations. At the very least, notes in the A/FD or recommendations from experienced pilots familiar with local procedures should figure heavily in preflight planning.
Take the Mountain Flying course in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation Online Safety Center for a thorough review of good operating practices when flying in the high country.
Accident reports can be found in ASF's accident database.
Return to the ePilot accident report main page.
Posted Thursday, September 06, 2007 10:49:56 AM
November 11, 2009