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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 171230
Last updated: 24 October 2020
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Type:Silhouette image of generic M20T model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Mooney M20K 231
Registration: N231JF
C/n / msn: 25-0075
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:North of Clines Corners, east of Albuquerque, NM -   United States of America
Phase: En route
Departure airport:Amarillo, TX (AMA)
Destination airport:Phoenix, AZ (PHX)
Investigating agency: NTSB
Before departing on the westbound cross-country flight, the noninstrument-rated pilot checked the weather and voiced concern to another pilot about the conditions along the route. The area forecast called for instrument flight rule (IFR) and marginal visual flight rule conditions. An Airmen Meteorological Information (AIRMET) was active for IFR conditions. mountain obscuration due to clouds. and precipitation and mist along the route of flight. Another AIRMET for moderate ice below 16,000 ft was active for an area just north of the route of flight.
Despite these conditions, the pilot decided to depart; he obtained flight following from air traffic control. While in contact with the Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZAB), the pilot stated that he was picking up ice; he asked about the cloud tops and then stated that he was going to have to turn around and return to his departure airport, which was to the east. The controller offered the pilot several closer airports. The pilot continued westbound toward higher terrain and, when asked, stated that he was familiar with the terrain. However, the weather continued to deteriorate, and the pilot asked the controller for the closest airports; the pilot ultimately decided to fly to an airport that was located 28 miles west of his location at that time. The pilot reported that he was below the clouds and asked where the cloud tops were, but the controller had no cloud top reports. The pilot’s last communication was that he would just keep going and “hopefully it’ll break up here for me open up.” Although the pilot did not declare an emergency, the controller had numerous indications that the pilot was having difficulty and needed to land. Such indicators were the pilot’s statement that he was picking up ice; his indecisiveness about where to go; and his questions about the cloud tops, which likely indicated he was flying in the clouds and wanted to get above them because the clouds were too low to fly below. The controller should have queried the pilot to better determine the nature of the issues affecting the flight and to determine if the pilot was capable of instrument flight.
The airplane impacted terrain in a 60-degree nose-down attitude in an area of open rolling hills. Examination of the wreckage did not reveal any anomalies that would have precluded normal operation of the airplane. The angle of impact indicated that the pilot was not in control of the airplane when it impacted the terrain. The pilot most likely lost control of the airplane as he flew into the deteriorating weather, which included blowing snow and gusting wind. While the airplane may have been accumulating ice at the time of the accident, the investigation was unable to determine how much ice it had accumulated and what effect it had on the airplane’s performance.
The controller stated that he did not have the current weather conditions at two of the airports that he offered because the airports’ automated weather observing system (AWOS) information was not available to him because neither was “adapted” into (included in) the ZAB en route automation modernization system. In addition, the controller did not direct the pilot to the AWOS frequencies for those airports, nor did he ask his supervisor to assist in obtaining airport weather. He also did not ask the supervisor to solicit airport-specific weather, which was available from the center weather service unit (CWSU), because he was not aware of the services that the CWSU could provide.

Probable Cause: The noninstrument-rated pilot's decision to initiate the flight into known deteriorating weather conditions and his continued visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which ultimately resulted in a loss of airplane control. Contributing to the accident was the air traffic controller's failure to provide additional assistance to the pilot when it was apparent the pilot was having difficulties.


FAA register:

Safety recommendations:

Safety recommendation A-16-47 issued 2 November 2016 by NTSB to FAA
Safety recommendation A-16-48 issued 2 November 2016 by NTSB to FAA
Safety recommendation A-16-49 issued 2 November 2016 by NTSB to FAA
Safety recommendation A-16-50 issued 2 November 2016 by NTSB to FAA

Revision history:

13-Nov-2014 08:44 gerard57 Added
13-Nov-2014 17:33 Anon. Updated [Aircraft type, Registration]
13-Nov-2014 17:36 harro Updated [Cn]
13-Nov-2014 19:25 Geno Updated [Operator, Location, Source, Narrative]
21-Nov-2014 20:00 Geno Updated [Time, Aircraft type, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source]
21-Dec-2016 19:28 ASN Update Bot Updated [Time, Damage, Category, Investigating agency]
30-Nov-2017 19:35 ASN Update Bot Updated [Operator, Other fatalities, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]

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