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N6126J accident description

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Tail numberN6126J
Accident dateAugust 26, 2003
Aircraft typePiper PA-32R-300
LocationWarm Lake, ID
Near 44.669167 N, -115.674445 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On August 26, 2003, at 1109 mountain daylight time a Piper PA-32R-300, N6126J, registered to River Rock Ranch Inc., and being operated and flown by a private pilot, was destroyed during a loss of control and subsequent in flight collision with terrain while turning base to land at the Knox Ranch fire camp landing site one nautical mile north of Warm Lake, Idaho. Both the pilot and his wife, and the pilot's dog sustained fatal injuries and there was no post-crash fire. Visual meteorological conditions existed and no flight plan had been filed. The flight, which was personal, was operated under 14 CFR 91, and originated from Hailey, Idaho, at 1019 on the morning of the accident. The reported destination of the flight was Priest River, Idaho.

According to personnel assigned to the air traffic control tower at Friedman memorial airport (Hailey, Idaho), the pilot of N6126J called the tower via radio at 1012 for clearance to taxi for departure from runway 31. At 1019, the pilot again called the tower and requested clearance for takeoff, which was granted (refer to Attachment AT-I). The controller, who watched the aircraft depart, was telephonically interviewed by the Investigator-in-Charge and reported that he saw no vapor, smoke or objects coming off or from the aircraft during its takeoff and initial climb north of the airport.

A witness located 4.5 nautical miles northwest of the Friedman Memorial airport reported observing an aircraft flying northbound about 1015 on the morning of the accident. He indicated the aircraft was less than one-half mile east of his position and about 2,000 to 3,000 feet above ground level (AGL), and he observed a symmetrical "moisture plume" trailing about one airplane length back behind the aircraft before it dissipated. The engine sounded "strong" and he observed/heard nothing else that he considered unusual about the aircraft (refer to Attachment W-I). Global Positioning System (GPS) data extracted from an onboard Garmin GPS295 from N6126J showed the aircraft departing Hailey about 1022 local time, tracking north while climbing and passing slightly east of this witness's location at 1025-1026 (refer to Table GPS-I and Chart I).

The next known witness was located at the Stolle Meadows area (refer to Chart II). He reported in a telephonic interview observing an aircraft flying north-northwest bound at 1104 on the morning of the accident. The aircraft remained wings level and in a shallow descent during his observations and he observed no vapor, smoke or objects trailing from the aircraft during his observations. He further reported hearing two distinct engine "revving" sounds and indicated that the engine continued to run smoothly but at less than expected power. He reported that as the aircraft disappeared from view to the north-northwest he heard the engine producing what he described as a "continuous backfiring and missing" sound (refer to Attachment RTC-I). GPS data extracted from the onboard Garmin GPS295 from N6126J showed the aircraft approximately two nautical miles south of the witness tracking north-northwest in level flight at 1104 (refer to Table GPS-I and Chart II). As the aircraft passed a location approximately one nautical mile southwest of the witness the GPS data show the beginning of a descent from the 11,000-10,900 foot level. Between the time the aircraft was due west of the witness (1105:03 target) and the 1105:59 target, the aircraft had descended 1,290 feet (in 56 seconds) and traversed approximately 9,700 feet laterally.

A number of firefighting personnel, including a pilot, observed the aircraft prior to and through the accident sequence. They were located at the Knox Ranch Incident Command Post helibase (ICP) approximately 2,000-3,000 feet southwest of the accident site (refer to AIRPORT INFORMATION for additional information on this site). The witnesses reported observing a single engine aircraft that first appeared west of the ICP flying roughly eastbound and passing slightly north of the ICP. The landing gear were observed to extend and the aircraft was observed making a right turn through the south and continuing toward a westbound heading when it disappeared behind trees. Descriptions including the engine sounding "normal," "running," "as though it was struggling," "like it was running too lean," "as if it was missing," and "to not be running quite right." One witness commented that the "...plane was making an er[r]atic banking turn to the right approx[imately] 300'-500' above the ground..." and that "...the plane continued its turn to the right getting steeper and steeper...." Another witness reported, " was moving extremely slow, at/near stall speed..." and he "...saw the landing gear come down, and the aircraft started to turn as if to line up to land at the helibase. As it turned it appeared to stall and went vertical as it disappeared from sight..." (refer to Attachment WS-I).


The pilot had been issued a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land/instrument ratings on May 25, 1995. He received a Third class medical examination August 23, 2002, with the restriction that "holder shall wear corrective lenses. Not valid for night flight or by color signal control." It could not be determined whether the pilot was in compliance with the requirement to wear corrective lenses at the time of the accident.

The pilot reported a total of 1,800 hours of flight experience as of his last medical (August 23, 2002). Additionally, a review of the pilots logbooks showed the pilot opening his first logbook with an instructional flight on August 2, 1990. The first flight logged in the PA-32R-300 was noted on March 7, 1992, and all flight experience logged in this make/model was in N6126J. The pilot's first logbook terminated with an entry on December 31, 1999. The pilot's second logbook opened on January 2, 2000, and the last logged entry was noted on November 21, 2000. The pilot's logs showed that he was flying N6126J almost exclusively. Aircraft records showed a total time of 323 hours flown in N6126J between December 20, 2000, and the day of the accident. The logbook flight time coupled with the previously determined aircraft flight time yielded an approximate total flight time of 1,800 hours of which 1,556 hours were in the make/model (N6126J) and 1,550 were pilot-in-command in the aircraft.

The second (most recent) logbook contained a single flight review notation showing that the pilot had completed a biennial flight review on February 1, 2000. No more current flight review was noted within the logbook. The flight instructor who conducted the February 2000 review reported that he conducted another flight review with the pilot on August 3, 2003. However, he did not sign the flight review off.


N6126J, a Piper PA-32R-300, was manufactured in 1976 and acquired by the pilot in May of 1992. The aircraft's most recent airframe/engine annual inspection was noted in the aircraft's logbooks as being conducted on August 15, 2002. The airframe total time at that inspection was 3,269 hours and the total time since the last major engine overhaul was logged as 408.5 hours.

According to the Pilot's Operating Handbook, the aircraft was equipped with retractable tricycle landing gear that were electrically actuated and hydraulically operated and incorporated a pressure sensing device which automatically lowered the landing gear regardless of selector position as a function of airspeed and engine power. The most recent reference to this system was noted within the aircraft's airframe logbook in an entry dated 22 April 92 that stated in part "...adjusted auto-extend...." No further entries within the log referenced this system and there was no evidence that either Part I or Part II of Piper Service Bulletin 866A (refer to Attachment SB-I) had been complied with.

The aircraft was equipped with a Garmin model GPS295 global positioning system. The unit, which was recovered at the accident site, was capable of recording and storing latitude, longitude, time and altitude.

The aircraft was topped off with 100 low lead aviation octane fuel at Sun Valley Aviation following its arrival at Sun Valley on August 22nd. The aircraft had a capacity of 94 gallons of usable fuel.

According to documentation within the weight and balance section of the Pilot's Operating Handbook for N6126J, the aircraft's basic empty weight (as of 06/15/1999) was about 2,144 pounds. The pilot weighed 225 at his last medical and the weights of the passenger, dog and baggage were approximately 130, 90 and 200 pounds respectively. The weight of the fuel at takeoff would have been approximately 564 pounds and the estimated weight of the aircraft at takeoff would have been 3,353 pounds. The maximum gross takeoff weight is 3,600 pounds. The stall speed for the PA-32R-300 as a function of weight, flap position, and angle of bank is shown in Attachment SP-I.


The aviation surface weather observation taken at McCall, Idaho, 22 nautical miles west-northwest of the accident for 1050 on the morning of the accident reported in part:

Sky condition clear, wind calm, visibility 10 statute miles, temperature/dew point 17/07 degrees Celsius respectively and altimeter 30.09 inches of Mercury.

The fire crew at the Knox Ranch Helibase recorded the following weather conditions at 1030 on the morning of the accident:

Sky condition mostly cloudy, winds calm and "starting to pick up slightly" and temperature/dew point 63/53 degrees Fahrenheit respectively.


The Knox Ranch helibase was a temporary firefighting facility equipped with a windsock at its east end. A helicopter was parked at the facility at the time of the accident. The level portion of the facility was walked and measured, and an approximate landing area 1,700 feet in length was available oriented along an east/west bearing. The facility, which was 5,200 feet MSL, was bordered by rising terrain on the north, east and south sides and a steep hill lay 1,000 feet east-northeast peaking at 5,470 feet. The hill was heavily forested with conifer trees estimated at 50-75 feet in height and traversed by a set of high-tension power lines on wood poles on a south-southwest/north-northeast bearing line (refer to Chart III and graphic image 01).


The aircraft crashed in heavily wooded terrain near the summit of a hill approximately one nautical mile north of Warm Lake, Idaho. The accident site coordinates were determined using a hand held GPS unit and were found to be 44 degrees 40.145 minutes north latitude and 115 degrees 40.466 minutes west longitude. The elevation of the accident site was approximately 5,410 feet MSL (refer to CHART IV and Diagram I).

The aircraft was observed in an inverted attitude at the accident (refer to graphic image 02) site by local law enforcement personnel upon their arrival, and was subsequently returned to an upright attitude during the recovery of the occupants.

The investigative team observed the aircraft lying upright with its longitudinal axis oriented roughly along a 210/030-degree magnetic bearing line (nose south-southwest). All major components of the aircraft were found at or within about 50 feet from the initial ground impact site (refer to graphic images 03 through 06).

The propeller was observed separated from the engine at the propeller flange and was embedded in the soil with only a few inches of each outboard blade tip exposed (refer to graphic image 07), and the propeller axis line was determined to be approximately 7 degrees from the vertical (i.e., an 83 degree nose down pitch). All three blades remained attached to the propeller hub assembly and all three displayed bending deformation and leading edge abrasions and the spinner was formed around the prop dome assembly (refer to graphic image 08). One blade displayed a significant leading edge gouge near the tip (refer to graphic image 09).

A conifer tree measuring 7 inches in diameter and bearing 7 feet northeast of the propeller (initial ground impact) was observed cut/broken at a point about 5.5 feet above the elevation of the propeller (refer to graphic image 10). A broken section of conifer trunk was observed lying nearby with a cut/broken end matching the previously described severed tree stump (refer to graphic image 11). Several other trees located nearby showed breaks or scraping along their trunks at higher points.

The aircraft's right wing remained attached to the fuselage but the outboard section from the aileron out was separated. The entire left wing remained as one unit but was separated at the fuselage (refer to graphic images 12 and 13). Both left and right fuel tanks had been breached. Both fuel caps were found secured, properly oriented and with no evidence of any fuel staining in their vicinity (refer to graphic images 14 and 15). The horizontal and vertical stabilizers along with their associated control surfaces displayed minimal impact damage (refer to graphic images 16 and 17).

There was no evidence of a discontinuity to any of the three control surfaces at the accident site. The landing gear was found in the extended position. The position of the manually actuated/operated flaps could not be determined and there were no discernible witness marks where the flaps abut the fuselage. The fuel flow divider atop the engine was opened and fuel was observed inside the chamber.


Glen R. Groben, M.D., conducted post-mortem examination of the pilot at the facilities of the Valley County Coroner's Office, Valley County, Idaho, on August 27, 2003, (case number OC-0189).

The FAA's Toxicology Accident and Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma conducted toxicological evaluation of samples from the pilot. The findings were reported as negative with the exception of detection of Chlorpheniramine in both kidney and liver (refer to attached TOX report).


The GPS295 unit was shipped to the manufacturer and a successful data extraction was accomplished (refer to Table I). The GPS targets showed the aircraft departing northbound from Friedman Memorial airport at 1022 local and tracked continuously to the last target at 1108:47. This target was recorded at 44 degrees 40.174 minutes North latitude and 115 degrees 40.454 minutes West longitude at an altitude of 5,666 feet MSL (refer to Chart IV).

The wreckage was re-examined on September 16th, 2003, with the assistance of Lycoming and Piper representatives. No evidence of mechanical malfunction was found with the powerplant. The aircraft's low point fuel drain was examined and disassembled. A small amount of fuel was observed within the drain lines and the drain was found to function normally with no evidence that it had remained in the "open" position. There was no evidence of any significant fuel staining at or aft of the drain or on the underside of the aircraft (refer to graphic image 18).


On-site examination of the wreckage was conducted on August 27, 2003, after which the wreckage was verbally released to the insurance representative for the purposes of transport to the Boise area for further examination. The wreckage was examined in further detail on September 16, 2003. Written wreckage release was accomplished on September 16, 2003, and is documented on NTSB form 6120.15 (attached).

(c) 2009-2011 Lee C. Baker. For informational purposes only.