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N3768N accident description

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Crash location 39.450000°N, 106.233330°W
Reported location is a long distance from the NTSB's reported nearest city. This often means that the location has a typo, or is incorrect.
Nearest city Red Cliff, CO
39.512208°N, 106.368084°W
8.4 miles away

Tail number N3768N
Accident date 23 Aug 1995
Aircraft type Mooney 20(AF) Mooney M20F(NTSB)
Additional details: Red/White

NTSB description


On August 23, 1995, approximately 1017 mountain daylight time (MDT), a Mooney M20F, N3768N, was destroyed when it impacted terrain while maneuvering 7 miles southeast of Red Cliff, Colorado. The two commercial pilots were fatally injured. The flight, conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91, originated at Watkins, Colorado, approximately 0800 MDT. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight.

According to the airplane operator, the pilots were employed by the operator as flight instructors. They had reserved the airplane the day before the accident, and indicated they were going to make a local flight. According to the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), however, the pilots told the airport receptionist they were planning to fly in the mountains, with possible landings at Eagle and Aspen, Colorado, and would return about 1300. CAP said this information was corroborated by the pilot's girl friend. When the pilots failed to return, an ALNOT (alert notice) was issued.

The fixed base operator at Leadville, Colorado, reported N3768N landed at the airport at 0930 MDT. She said as the airplane taxied towards the ramp, the engine quit and she suspected the pilot had not leaned the fuel mixture for the airport's high elevation (Leadville Airport is 9,927 feet above mean sea level).

She said the pilot restarted the engine and taxied the airplane up to the operations office. The right seat occupant got out and came into the office while the other pilot remained in the airplane with its engine running. He asked for and was given two certificates to indicate the pilots had landed at North America's highest airport. He returned to the airplane and it departed at 0945 MDT.

Three witnesses reported seeing an airplane matching the description of N3768N. One, a patrolling Eagle County sheriff's deputy (who is also a commercial pilot), said he saw a red and white Mooney pass over Avon, Colorado, approximately 0945, flying along I-70 in a southeast direction towards Minturn, Colorado. He estimated its altitude to be between 600 and 700 feet, "low enough that I was able to see that the cowl flaps were open," he reported. Two other witnesses, both U.S. Forest Service employees taking water samples 1 mile south of Red Cliff, Colorado, observed a "low wing, single engine airplane with a retractable landing gear, red and white in color," pass over them at an estimated altitude of 300 feet. They said the airplane banked left at Camp Hale and disappeared from view, flying in a direction towards Pearl Creek. The wreckage was located the following afternoon by a Civil Air Patrol search plane in the Pearl Creek drainage at about the 10,800-foot level.


The operator said that if he had known the pilots were planning to fly in the mountains, he would not have authorized the flight because their mountain flying experience was extremely limited. Examination of the pilots' logbooks disclosed no documentation that either had ever received a mountain flying checkout or had ever flown in mountainous terrain. A CAP spokesman said one of its pilot-instructors, experienced in mountain flying, knew the two pilots and had offered to give both of them a mountain flying checkout free of charge. They reportedly declined the offer, saying they already knew how to fly in the mountains.


The wreckage was located in a sloping meadow at approximately the 11,000-foot level, at timberline, surrounded by Sugarloaf Peak (12,365 feet), Elk Mountain (12,693 feet), and Pearl Peak (12,247 feet).

The separated propeller was located next to a ground crater. Using the crater as a reference point, a ground scar extended 22 feet on a magnetic heading of 184 degrees. At the end of the scar were red lens fragments. Another ground scar extended 15 feet on a magnetic heading of 344 degrees. At the end of this scar were green lens fragments. Forty-five feet from the crater and on a magnetic heading of 036 degrees was the airplane. It had come to rest on a magnetic heading of 256 degrees.

One propeller blade was bent forward and the other blade was curled aft about 8 inches from their respective tips. Both cambered surfaces bore 90 degree chordwise scratches and the leading edges were gouged. The spinner had spiralling scratch marks.

The right wing remained attached to the fuselage. The inverted left wing lay next to and parallel to the fuselage. There was a circumferential split in the fuselage, just aft of the baggage compartment, and the empennage was inverted. The cabin roof was peeled back, exposing the cockpit. There was a 30 degree crush line at the engine firewall. Control continuity was established to all flight controls.


Autopsies were performed by Dr. Ben Galloway at the Jefferson County Coroner's Office, Golden, Colorado. Toxicological protocols were conducted by FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute.


The wreckage was released to the owner-operator on August 30, 1995.

(c) 2009-2018 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.