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Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

Threading the needle

Pilots new to high country should receive training in mountain flying operations before attempting such flights. The pilot of a Cessna 182J learned this lesson when attempting to land at a private airport outside Gold Beach, Oregon, on September 9, 2001.

The night before the accident, the pilot and his pilot passenger reviewed a magazine article that discussed the Half Moon Bar Lodge and the visual approach to its private airstrip. According to the accident report, "The normal approach circles a 1,614-foot conical peak just south of the airstrip. The approach is started by flying through a 980-foot saddle northwest of the peak. Once clear of the saddle, the turn is southbound to follow a canyon, descending to and following the Rogue River, circling the conical peak counter-clockwise. The canyon narrows to about 250 feet wide at 100 feet agl and narrows to 100 feet wide at river level. The first sight of the threshold to the airstrip is about 1,500 feet away and clearly seen about 900 feet away."

During the right turn to the final approach the left wing was at the tree line, and the pilot believed that he was "really tight" as he descended. As he descended below the treeline on short final, the pilot overbanked to the right to avoid trees on the left. This turn put the aircraft on a collision course with the trees on the right. The pilot applied full power to attempt a climb, but the aircraft stalled and descended into the trees. The pilot suffered minor injuries; the passenger was ejected from the airplane and killed. Rescuers noted that the passenger was not wearing his seat belt.

The magazine article clearly stated that this was a difficult mountain approach and recommended that only experienced mountain pilots attempt it. At the time of the accident, the private pilot had 327 total flight hours, with eight in the accident make and model. He had limited mountain-flying experience.

According to the NTSB, the causes of this accident were the pilot's failure to attain the proper alignment while on final approach and maintain clearance from the trees. A factor in the accident was the pilot's lack of flight experience in this type of mountain-flying operation.

For more information on mountain flying, take the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's newest online course, Mountain Flying.

Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kristen Hummel

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