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N53008 accident description

Colorado map... Colorado list
Crash location 39.149166°N, 108.415278°W
Nearest city Grand Junction, CO
39.063871°N, 108.550649°W
9.3 miles away
Tail number N53008
Accident date 26 Mar 2003
Aircraft type Cessna A185F
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On March 26, 2003, at 1817 mountain standard time, a Cessna A185F, N53008, was destroyed when it impacted terrain approximately 20 miles east of Grand Junction, Colorado. The commercial pilot and three passengers were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for the personal flight being conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated at Walker Field, Grand Junction, Colorado, at 1812, and was en route to Eagle, Colorado.

According to employees at Timberline Aviation, the pilot landed at the airport between 1600 and 1630. He and his passengers left by automobile and were gone for about an hour. When they returned, they loaded a fiberglass shower enclosure into the airplane. At 1810:10, the pilot contacted ground control for taxi clearance. He was given his choice of runways 29 or 22 because the wind was from 230 degrees to 280 degrees at 24 knots. The pilot said he would taxi "half way down two nine and we'll take a look." At 1811:29, the pilot requested and was cleared for takeoff on runway 29 from the taxiway A4 intersection. [According to the controller, 5100 feet of runway was available for takeoff from the A4 intersection.] He was given his choice of a left or right turn to the northeast. The pilot said, "Let's see what the wind does here." The tower controller said that during the takeoff roll, the airplane drifted off the right side of the runway and stirred up a cloud of dust. Witnesses at Timberline Aviation said they, too, saw the dust cloud, but thought it was due to propeller wash or a wind gust. They said it was "windy as hell," and the winds were "howling." The controller said that as soon as the airplane lifted off the runway, it immediately "took on a pronounced crab to the left into the wind." The pilot remarked, "Well, that was gustier than I thought, guys. I would like the left turn out." The controller replied, "...looks pretty rough up there. Left turn out approved." After approving the pilot's request to cross the airport midfield, the controller remarked, "Sure does not look like an attractive flight this evening." The pilot answered, "No, but it is time to go home, so we'll get on up to Eagle. We'll see you guys in a couple of days." This was the last transmission from the pilot, recorded at 1814:26.

On March 27, 2003, approximately 0630, a Vail Jet Center employee coming to work noticed the pilot's automobile parked in the parking lot. The pilot's dog was still inside. He became concerned because she knew the pilot had departed the previous evening. She telephoned the pilot's fiance and learned he did not come home the previous evening. She telephoned FAA's Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) in Denver and reported the airplane missing. At 0722, FAA issued an Alert Notification (ALNOT). On March 28, at 0840, a searching helicopter located the wreckage at a location of 39 degrees, 08.933' north latitude, and 108 degrees, 24.948' west longitude, about 8 miles northeast of the Grand Junction Airport. The ALNOT was then cancelled.


The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single/multiengine land, single engine sea, and instrument ratings. He also held a flight instructor certificate with airplane single/multiengine and instrument ratings, and a mechanic's certificate with airframe and powerplant ratings and an inspector authorization. When the pilot applied for his second class airman medical certificate on March 27, 2002, he estimated he had accumulated 4,400 hours total flying time, 75 hours of which were accrued in the previous 6 months. His medical certificate contained the limitation, "Must wear corrective lenses."

The pilot's logbook was not found. His family, however, gave an FAA inspector permission to examine the contents of the pilot's personal computer hard drive. The hard drive contained his flight log, with entries from June 8, 1987, to March 3, 2003. According to this data, the pilot had logged no less than 3,068.8 hours total flight time, and no less than 434 hours had been logged in N53008. His last flight review and FAA Wings VI proficiency was dated January 8, 2003, and was accomplished in a Cessna 340. His last tail wheel recurrency flight was in N53008 and was dated January 20, 2003. His last flight in the airplane was for 8.3 hours, and was dated February 2, 2003.

According to the pilot's February 1998 resume, he said he had been employed for 4 years (1994-1998) as a network engineer for an Eagle computer company. He also served as the company's pilot and flight instructor, and maintained its Cessna T210 and Cessna 340. From 1991 to1994, he was self-employed as an aircraft pilot and mechanic. From 1988 to 1991, an Avon, Colorado, company that had acquired a Cessna 414A employed him. He refurbished the airplane and placed it on an FAA 14 CFR Part 135 certificate (air taxi). He served as the company's pilot, charter pilot, and mechanic. From 1986 to 1988, he managed a maintenance shop and flight school for a private individual, and flew as a charter pilot. From 1970 to 1986, he maintained and delivered airplanes in the Caribbean, and crop-dusted for 3 years in Belize.


The Cessna Aircraft Company manufactured N53008, a model A185F (s/n 18502313), in 1974. It was equipped with a Continental IO-520-D engine (s/n 293424-R), rated at 300 horsepower, and a McCauley two blade, all-metal, constant speed propeller (m/n). According to the most recent FAA registration certificate, dated January 8, 2001, the airplane was certificated in the restricted category, and approved for "agriculture and pest control" operations only.

The airplane's maintenance records were not found. The pilot's personal computer hard drive contained a limited amount of maintenance information. According to the data, a factory-remanufactured engine and an overhauled propeller were installed, and an annual inspection was performed on September 27, 2000. Tachometer and total airframe time was 1,507.0 hours. On November 19, 2000, the oil was changed and the oil filter was replaced at a tachometer of 1,550.0 hours, or 43.0 hours since the last annual inspection. Another annual inspection was performed on October 4, 2001, at a tachometer time of 1,630.6 hours. The oil was changed on January 20, 2003, at a tachometer time of 1729.0 hours. An additional 25 hours were flown after the oil change. Total airframe time was 1,754.0 hours at the time of the accident.


According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, official sunset occurred in Grand Junction at 1832.

Nearby workmen said that on the evening of the accident, there was scattered rain showers of moderate intensity in the area.

Weather observed at Grand Junction (GJT), the point of departure; Rifle (RIL), the approximate midpoint, and Eagle (EGE), the destination, was as follows:

GJT (1753): Wind, 260 degrees at 22 knots, gusts to 28 knots; visibility, 10 statute miles (or greater); ceiling, 10,000 feet broken; temperature 18 degrees Celsius; dew point, -4 degrees Celsius; altimeter, 29.65 inches; remarks, precipitation discriminator, peak wind, 270 degrees at 29 knots, 40 minutes past the hour, sea level pressure 1007 millibars.

RIL (1753): Wind, 240 degrees at 6 knots; visibility, 10 statute miles (or greater); ceiling 10,000 feet overcast; temperature, 14 degrees Celsius; dew point, -3 degrees Celsius; altimeter, 29.63 inches; remarks, precipitation discriminator, sea level pressure 1011 millibars.

EGE (1755): Wind, 240 degrees at 13 knots, gusts to 29 knots; visibility, 10 statute miles (or greater); sky condition, few clouds at 2,900 feet, 3,800 feet scattered; ceiling, 4,700 feet broken; temperature, 12 degrees Celsius; dew point, -7 degrees Celsius; altimeter, 29.67 inches; remarks, precipitation discriminator.


The wreckage was located on a horse refuge in Debeque Canyon, part of the Coal Creek drainage on the Grand Mesa, about 8 miles northeast of Grand Junction. The accident site was between two 6,500-foot ridgelines, oriented northwest to southeast and approximately one mile apart. The accident site was at the 5,900-foot level. The airplane impacted 30-degree upslope rocky terrain on a magnetic heading of 250 degrees and came to rest inverted. The impact heading was opposite that from Grand Junction to Eagle, and pointed back towards Grand Junction.

The engine was pushed aft towards the top of the cockpit area. Bark from a nearby scrub tree was embedded in the engine. The separated propeller lay nearby. The fuselage of the aircraft was crushed inward and aft. Both cabin doors separated from the fuselage. The right cabin door had a clothesline tied around the door handle. The front two seats were identified. The left seat was partially attached to the seat track; the right seat was ejected. Both seatbelts were attached to the fuselage structure, but neither was fastened. The rear two seats were not present, but two sets of unfastened seatbelts were observed in the aft cabin area.

The altimeter indicated 7,100 feet, and the Kollsman window was set to 29.74. The attitude indicator showed a descent, and the heading indicator indicated 150 degrees. These three instruments were the only intact instruments found at the accident site.

The right and left wing separated from the fuselage. The left wing was crushed aft along the leading edge in an accordion fashion. The left aileron and left flap separated from the wing. The strut was bent down and aft mid-span. The right wing was crushed aft along the leading edge in an accordion manner. The aileron and flap remained attached. The empennage was partially separated from the fuselage. The horizontal stabilizer remained attached to the tail cone. The leading edge of the right horizontal stabilizer was crushed aft along the leading edge in an accordion fashion. The left horizontal stabilizer was crushed aft on the inboard side of the leading edge. Both elevators remained attached. The left elevator torque tube was broken. The vertical stabilizer was crushed inward and aft, and was deflected to the left. The top of the rudder was bent aft. The rudder cables remained attached to the rudder. All flight controls were identified, and partial flight control continuity was established.


On March 29, 2003, an autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Mesa County Coroner's office in Grand Junction Colorado.

FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological tests on the pilot. According to CAMI's report (#200300105001), there was no evidence of drugs and ethanol in muscle tissue. Carbon monoxide and cyanide tests could not be performed.


Recorded NTAP (National Track Analysis Program) radar data retrieved from Denver's Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) was provided to search and rescue personnel, and this data was instrumental in locating the airplane. According to the data, N53008 began a left turn away from runway 29 at 1813:23. At 1814:26, it crossed the airport midfield. Ground speed was 138 knots and the track was 091degrees. There were no altitude returns throughout the flight. The last radar contact was at 1816:45, when the airplane was at a location of 39 degrees, 08'18" north latitude, and 108 degrees, 24'54" west longitude. Its ground speed was 160 knots, and its heading had changed from a previous 063 degrees to 048 degrees.

An engine inspection was conducted on April 6, 2003. There was no evidence of pre-impact abnormalities.


The two front seats were located near to the wreckage. The two rear seats were later located in the pilot's aircraft hangar in Eagle, Colorado. According to Title 14 CFR Part 91.107, (a)(3), "Each person on board a U.S.-registered civil aircraft must occupy an approved seat or berth with a safety belt and, if installed, a shoulder harness, properly secured about him or her during movement on the surface, takeoff and landing."

N53008 was certificated in the restricted category and approved for "agriculture and pest control" operations only. According to Title 14 CFR Part 91.313(a)(1)(2), "No person may operate a restricted category aircraft (1) for other than the special purpose for which it is certificated, or (2) in an operation other than one necessary to accomplish the work activity directly associated with that special purpose." 91.313(d)(1) through (4) states, "No person may be carried on a restricted category civil aircraft unless that person (1) is a flight crew member. (2) is a flight crewmember trainee; (3) performs an essential function in connection with a special purpose operation for which the aircraft is certificated, or (4) is necessary to accomplish the work activity directly associated with that special purpose."

According to the Mesa County Sheriff's Office and Civil Air patrol, the pilot had a reputation as being a "cowboy," "thrill seeker," and "hot dog."

The pilot was involved in a non-fatal midair collision on May 13, 1999, at Greeley, Colorado (see DEN 99-F-A077A/B). At the time, he was giving flight instruction in a Cessna T210N.

The wreckage was released to the insurance company March 28, 2003.

In addition to the Federal Aviation Administration, parties to the investigation included the Cessna Aircraft Company and Teledyne Continental Motors.

NTSB Probable Cause

the pilot's poor judgment and his failure to maintain aircraft control. Contributing factors were the high winds and downdrafts, and the pilot's self-induced pressure to go home.

© 2009-2020 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.