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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 182541
Last updated: 22 September 2021
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Type:Silhouette image of generic P32T model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Piper PA-32RT-300T Turbo Lance II
Registration: N36402
MSN: 32R-7887041
Fatalities:Fatalities: 5 / Occupants: 5
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Kern County, SW Bakersfield, CA -   United States of America
Phase: En route
Departure airport:San Jose, CA (RHV)
Destination airport:Henderson, NV (HND)
The private pilot downloaded official weather briefings onto his tablet computer the night before and again on the morning of the planned cross-country personal flight. The forecast conditions were not conducive to visual flight and included a series of storms passing through the intended flight route, which resulted in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), high cloud tops, and the potential for icing and mountain obscuration. Despite these forecasts, the low-time, noninstrument-rated private pilot departed with his wife and their three children for the intended vacation, which included a surprise party later that night.

According to Federal Aviation Administration radar tracking data, shortly after departure, the flight began to encounter the forecast weather conditions, and the flightpath and altitude began to change as the pilot repeatedly deviated to avoid clouds. Air traffic control (ATC) personnel provided the pilot with regular reports of bands of precipitation and the potential for airframe icing along the intended direction of flight. However, the pilot chose to continue the flight, and the cloud tops ahead continued to rise. The pilot kept climbing the airplane to remain clear of the cloud tops and eventually reached an altitude close to Class A airspace, where an instrument flight rules (IFR) clearance would be required, and close to the airplane's approved operating ceiling of 20,000 ft. The flight continued, but the airplane then began descending, and shortly after, the airplane likely entered the clouds.

An air traffic controller then offered the pilot the option to obtain an IFR clearance and continue the flight. Despite his lack of both an instrument rating and his limited experience flying in IMC, the pilot accepted. Radar data indicated that, during this period, the airplane turned abruptly left, directly toward a region of heavy precipitation. Then, shortly after accepting the IFR clearance, and likely while the pilot was distracted from controlling the airplane as he configured the airplane's avionics, the flightpath became erratic. The airplane performed a rapid descending left turn, after which the pilot transmitted a distress call. The flight continued to progress erratically, and the pilot made another distress call, after which the controller provided the pilot vectors to a nearby airport; however, no response was received. Subsequently, an alert notice was issued for the airplane, and the wreckage was located a few hours later.

Analysis of the debris field, airplane component damage patterns, and fracture surfaces indicated that both wings and stabilator halves separated from the fuselage in flight due to overstress resulting from excessive air loads. These air loads were likely induced by the pilot during his attempt to regain airplane control, which he lost shortly after the airplane entered the clouds. All persons on board were ejected from the airplane during the breakup sequence and sustained fatal injuries.

The reasons for the loss of control were likely the pilot's inability to maintain airplane control in IMC; his spatial disorientation, as evidenced by the erratic flightpath; airframe icing; pitot-static system icing; or some combination thereof. Icing could not be ruled out because the airplane was in visible moisture and flew directly into and toward precipitation just before the diversion.

Although the airplane was equipped with an autopilot, variations in heading and altitude throughout major portions of the flight suggested that the pilot was likely hand-flying the airplane. According to one of the airplane's owners, the autopilot was operational. However, the primary autopilot components were destroyed during the accident; thus, its operational status could not be determined.

The pilot had planned for the flight to last just over 2 hours and, based on his departure time, would have landed just before sunset. However, because of the weather deviations, the airplane had only reached the half-way point when the accident occurred, with about 30 minutes remain
Probable Cause: The noninstrument-rated pilot's decision to conduct and continue the flight despite forecast and en route instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), which were not conducive to safe operation under visual flight rules. Also causal to the accident was the pilot's decision to accept an instrument flight rules clearance and fly into IMC during cruise flight, which led to his spatial disorientation and a resultant loss of control and an in-flight breakup. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's self-induced pressure to arrive at the destination for a party that night.



Accident investigation:
Investigating agency: 
Status: Investigation completed
Download report: Final report



Taken at RHV earlier that summer.

Revision history:

20-Dec-2015 10:42 gerard57 Added
20-Dec-2015 10:45 harro Updated [Aircraft type, Registration, Cn, Source]
20-Dec-2015 15:12 harro Updated [Source, Narrative]
20-Dec-2015 17:44 Anon. Updated [Source, Photo, ]
20-Dec-2015 19:28 Geno Updated [Time, Total fatalities, Total occupants, Location, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
20-Dec-2015 22:41 Geno Updated [Operator]
21-Dec-2015 08:35 cleipelt Updated [Narrative]
21-Dec-2016 19:30 ASN Update Bot Updated [Time, Damage, Category, Investigating agency]
18-May-2017 06:26 PiperOnslaught Updated [Source, Narrative]
19-Aug-2017 14:59 ASN Update Bot Updated [Other fatalities, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
24-Dec-2018 17:05 liamdaniel98 Updated [Source, Embed code]
27-Mar-2019 19:50 Aerossurance Updated [Other fatalities, Location, Embed code]

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