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N1159C accident description

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Tail numberN1159C
Accident dateDecember 04, 2004
Aircraft typeCirrus Design Corp. SR22
LocationBelgrade, MT
Near 45.888055 N, -110.977778 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On December 4, 2004, approximately 1530 mountain standard time, a Cirrus SR22 airplane, N1159C, impacted mountainous terrain while maneuvering about 10 nautical miles northeast of Belgrade, Montana. The commercial pilot and two of the three passengers were killed. The other passenger received serious injuries. The airplane, which was registered to Flightline Fractionals Inc. and operated by the pilot, was destroyed. The local personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The airplane departed from Gallatin Field Airport, Belgrade, Montana, at 1518.

At the time of the accident, a motor glider was flying near the area where the accident occurred. The pilot of the motor glider was interviewed by the NTSB investigator-in-charge and reported that he was giving a ride to a friend of the pilot of the accident airplane. Prior to departing from Gallatin Field, the motor glider pilot spoke with the pilot of the accident airplane, who told him that he would get the airplane out, takeoff, catch up with the glider and make some "flybys" of the glider. The motor glider pilot said that after takeoff, he remained on the tower frequency and heard the airplane depart. The pilots of both aircraft then tuned their radios to an air-to-air frequency and established communications.

The motor glider had shut down and stowed his engine and was soaring north along the western edge of the Bridger mountain range nearing Sacagawea Peak. The airplane made one pass above the glider, circled and made a second pass immediately to the left of the glider. When the airplane passed by the glider, it was "in coordinated flight," with the flaps up, and it was either flying level or descending slightly. The glider pilot watched the airplane continue heading north "straight out in front of him" for about 5 to 10 seconds. Since the glider was losing lift, he then made a turn to the south.

At the time the glider pilot last saw the airplane, it was heading towards a transverse "foothills ridge" that runs downward from the summit of Sacagawea Peak (elevation about 9,600 feet) towards the west and then hooks toward the south. There is a peak (elevation about 8,916 feet) on the transverse ridge at the point where it hooks south. According to the glider pilot, this ridge is unique compared to the rest of the transverse ridges coming off the crest of the Bridgers in that it "does not fall away like the rest of the foothills." The combination of the crest of the Bridger range and this transverse ridge form a cirque or bowl that is open to the south and has high terrain to the west, north and east.

After gaining altitude, the glider pilot turned back to the north. He then saw a column of black smoke, which was later identified as being from the crash site. The column of smoke was located just south of the 8,916-foot-peak on the transverse ridge. It was 5 minutes between the time the glider pilot last saw the airplane and the time he turned back north and spotted the smoke. The glider pilot reported that the weather was clear blue sky, no turbulence, "no sucking downdrafts," but some "down air" in the area where he last saw the airplane.

The glider pilot analyzed the data recorded in the glider's flight logger for his flight on the day of the accident. His analysis indicated that when the airplane passed the glider on its second pass, the glider was at an altitude of about 8,900 feet, had a ground speed of about 57 knots, and the time was about 1529:30. About 90 seconds later, he made his turn back to the south. When he made the turn, he was about 500 yards from the crash site, at altitudes between 9,100 and 9,200 feet, in the bowl formed by the crest of the Bridgers and the transverse ridge. During the turn, he encountered an air mass that was sinking about 100 to 200 feet per minute, and the glider lost about 50 feet of altitude.

The surviving passenger was interviewed on December 15, 2004, by the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC) and an FAA inspector. The passenger was not a rated pilot or aircraft mechanic, but had gotten involved in working on airplanes when he was in high school. He explained that he flew frequently with different pilots at the airport "when he got the chance." This was his first flight in a Cirrus and his first flight with the pilot. The passenger reported that he was seated in the left rear seat and that all four occupants had headsets on, and they could talk with each other and also hear the transmissions on the airplane's communication radio. He further reported that there were no problems with the airplane during the run up or takeoff. After departing the airport, they headed directly towards the mountains to meet the glider. When they spotted the glider, it was considerably to their left. They crossed behind the glider at its altitude, continued over the crest of the Bridgers and made a "big swooping left turn." They crossed back over the crest of the Bridgers and passed in front of and above the glider. They "had a smooth ride the whole flight. There was very little wind shear even when they crossed over the ridge crest."

According to the surviving passenger, the pilot leveled out the airplane, and they turned back to the right to get behind the glider. They were climbing "to bleed off speed." The passenger could not see the glider as they were still in a right bank, and to see the glider, he would have had to be able to see through the roof of the airplane. The airplane was positioned behind and left of the glider, and it was "in a light climb." The stall warning indicator came on in the airplane. When this happened, there was no discussion about it between the pilot and the right front seat passenger, who was also a pilot. The surviving passenger heard the engine pick up speed. The stall warning continued to buzz. The third passenger, who was seated in the right rear seat and who was also a pilot, said, "isn't that your stall buzzer?" and the pilot replied, "yeah." The pilot dropped the nose to level out, and the stall warning indicator stopped sounding. The passenger heard a noise that sounded like the flaps were going down. He looked out and saw that the flaps were not moving. He could not see the pilot moving the flap control; he just heard the noise, there was no conversation about it. The sound he heard was a high-pitched whine, and it sounded like what he had heard during the preflight check.

The passenger stated that the left wing dropped and they "started going down hill. It felt like what had happened before during the flight as they turned to stay with the glider. It felt like the airplane was under control." The pilot turned and said, "hang on, we might get a couple of trees on this one." The pilot's tone of voice was "totally normal." At this point, the nose was "somewhat up," the passenger was looking forward, and he could not see trees. It was about 10 to 15 seconds from the time the stall warning horn stopped sounding until they hit the trees. He heard a few bumps like the landing gear was hitting something. Then they hit something hard and he was "slung way forward." His next recollection was waking up laying on bare ground.


The pilot, who was seated in the left front seat, held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single and multi-engine land and instrument ratings. Additionally, he held a flight instructor certificate with airplane single engine land and instrument ratings. He held a first class medical certificate dated May 18, 2004, with the limitation, must wear corrective lenses. On the application for his most recent medical certificate, the pilot reported that he had accumulated 1,250 hours total flight time with 400 hours flown in the past six months. On August 29, 2004, the pilot completed a Cirrus factory authorized transition course. On November 15, 2004, the pilot completed a Cirrus standardized instructor course. On the application form for the standardized instructor course, the pilot reported that he had accumulated 1,561 hours total flight time of which 105 hours were as pilot in command of a Cirrus SR22.

The passenger, who was seated in the right front seat, held an airline transport pilot certificate with an airplane multiengine land rating, type ratings in B-727, B-737, B-757, B-767, DA-20 and DA-2000 airplanes, and commercial privileges in single engine land and sea airplanes and gliders. Additionally, he held a flight instructor certificate with airplane single and multi-engine land and instrument ratings. He held a second class medical certificate dated September 29, 2004, with the limitation, may wear contact lenses while flying. On the application for his most recent medical certificate, the passenger reported that he had accumulated 20,000 hours total flight time with 50 hours flown in the past six months.


Examination of the airplane's maintenance records indicated that the airplane was manufactured in 2003 and received its most recent annual inspection on November 24, 2004, at a total airframe time of 388.3 hours. As of that date, the engine, a Continental IO-550N7B, S/N 686803, had accumulated 388.3 hours since new. Review of the maintenance records revealed no evidence of any uncorrected maintenance discrepancies.

According to the pilot who flew the airplane just prior to the accident flight, she experienced no problems with the airplane during her 1.2 to 1.3 hour flight. She stated that the flaps worked normally during the four takeoffs and landings she made during her flight. She estimated that the airplane had 28 to 30 gallons of fuel remaining at the conclusion of her flight.

The weight and balance of the airplane at takeoff was estimated using the following information: basic empty weight 2,353 pounds, front seat occupants 375 pounds, rear seat occupants 296 pounds, baggage 10 pounds, fuel 180 pounds (30 gallons). The estimated takeoff weight was 3,205 pounds, which was below the maximum takeoff weight of 3,400 pounds. The estimated takeoff moment was 464.276/1000 (pound-inches/1000), which was within the allowable moment range for the calculated takeoff weight. (At 3,200 pounds, the allowable moment range is 452/1000 to 474/1000.)

According to the Pilot's Operating Handbook and FAA Approved Airplane Flight Manual for the Cirrus Design SR22, takeoffs are approved with flaps up or at 50% and normal landings can be made with any flap setting desired.


At 1456, the reported weather conditions at Gallatin Field Airport were wind calm, visibility 10 statute miles, sky clear, temperature 3 degrees C, dew point -6 degrees C, and altimeter setting 29.69 inches. At 1556, the reported weather conditions at Gallatin Field Airport were wind calm, visibility 10 statute miles, scattered clouds at 12,000 feet, temperature 2 degrees C, dew point -6 degrees C, and altimeter setting 29.68 inches.


The accident site was located in rugged mountainous terrain at 45 degrees 54.055 minutes North latitude and 110 degrees 58.802 minutes West longitude. According to measurements taken by personnel with the Gallatin County Sheriff's Department (GCSD), the airplane impacted trees at an elevation of 8,553 feet on a heading of 236 degrees true and came to rest about 360 feet past the initial impact point. Examination of photographs taken by GCSD personnel and recovery personnel indicated that the outboard section of the left wing, the right wingtip, the engine, the empennage, the right main landing gear, a portion of the floor with the aft passenger seats attached and other miscellaneous pieces separated from the fuselage during the impact sequence. These separated pieces were not damaged by fire. The forward section of the fuselage and the majority of the wings were consumed by fire.

The wreckage was recovered from the accident site on December 6, 2004, and examined on December 15, 2004, by the NTSB investigator-in-charge and representatives of Cirrus Design Corporation, Teledyne Continental Motors, and the FAA. All cockpit instruments and avionics were destroyed by fire. The flight controls and stabilizers were accounted for to include left and right ailerons, left and right flaps, left and right horizontal stabilizers and elevators, the vertical stabilizer and the rudder. Flight control continuity could not be confirmed due to the extent of damage. The flap actuator motor was recovered, and measurements showed the actuator to be in the flaps up / zero degrees position when compared with a flap actuator measured at the factory. Functional testing of the flaps was precluded by impact and fire damage.

The engine was intact with the starter separated and the alternator partially separated. The propeller remained attached to the crankshaft. One blade was loose in the hub, twisted toward the direction of rotation and displayed leading edge impact marks. The second blade was wrinkled and twisted toward the direction of rotation. The third blade was loose in the hub, had "S" type bending, and the tip was folded back over the non-cambered side of the blade. The throttle, mixture and propeller controls remained attached. The throttle shaft was bent, and the throttle valve was frozen in place. The intake sides of the number three and five cylinder heads were separated. The top spark plugs and valve covers were removed, the crankshaft was rotated, and continuity was confirmed to cylinders one, two, four and six and to the rear of the engine. The pistons in cylinders three and five were observed to move. Good hand compression was obtained on cylinders one, two, four and six.

The magneto timing was checked, and the right and left magnetos were found to be timed at 22 and 24 degrees before top dead center, respectively. Both magnetos sparked at all terminals when rotated. The spark plugs showed normal wear when compared to the Champion Check A Plug card. The fuel pump had impact damage on the rear side, and the mixture control was damaged. The drive coupling was not damaged. The pump was rotated with a drill motor and fuel was pumped through the unit. The fuel manifold was disassembled and fuel was found in the interior; the diaphragm and spring were intact and undamaged, and the fuel screen was clean. The number five fuel injector nozzle was missing. The other nozzles were undamaged, clean and clear. The oil filter was cut open, and the element was clean with no metal deposits.


Autopsies of the pilot and the pilot rated front seat passenger were conducted by a pathologist associated with Yellowstone Pathology Institute, Inc., of Billings, Montana. The cause of death for both individuals was traumatic injury. Toxicology tests on both individuals were conducted by the FAA's Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory. The pilot's test results were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol and drugs. The pilot rated passenger's test results were negative for ethanol and drugs; tests for carbon monoxide and cyanide were not performed.


The surviving passenger (left rear seat) reported that after the crash, he woke up laying on bare ground about 25 feet from his seat. The passenger in the right rear seat was still strapped into the seat and was clearly deceased. Part of the fuselage in front of him was burning, and he heard burning behind him, but he did not look behind him. He was wearing a t-shirt, no coat, and deck shoes. He was missing his right shoe, his glasses and his hat. It was freezing cold. He knew that he could find a road if he went downhill, so he started down, plowing through snow. Near dark, he stopped and went into a grove of trees and started to make a shelter. He heard a helicopter and started out of the trees into an open field. By the time he got into the open, the helicopter was gone. He waited in the middle of the field and in about 5 minutes, the helicopter came back, saw him, landed and picked him up. His injuries included frostbite, cuts and bruises to his right foot, burns on

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