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N5401K accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Garfield, CO
38.551664°N, 106.292246°W

Tail number N5401K
Accident date 11 Jul 1997
Aircraft type Ryan NAVION B
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On July 11, 1997, approximately 1240 mountain daylight time (mdt), a Ryan Navion B, N5401K, registered to BCW, Inc., was destroyed when it struck a power pole and collided with an abandoned mine building during an uncontrolled descent 2 miles west of Garfield, Colorado, near Monarch Pass. The private pilot and three passengers (two of whom were Italian nationals) were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and an IFR flight plan had been filed. The flight originated at Grand Island, Nebraska, at 0947 central daylight time.

According to family members, the airplane was en route from Manassas, Virginia, to a Navion fly-in at Grand Junction, Colorado, with an eventual destination of Salt Lake City, Utah. The airplane stopped at Grand Island, Nebraska, for fuel. According to a spokesperson at Grand Island Aviation, a fixed base operator, the pilot instructed the lineman to fill the main tanks using the right tank fuel filler, then to fill both tip tanks. The airplane was serviced with 50.7 gallons of 100-LL aviation grade gasoline (fuel invoice attached, see exhibits).

At 0841 central daylight time (cdt), the pilot telephoned the Columbus, Nebraska, Flight Service Station (FSS), obtained a weather briefing, then filed an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan to Colorado Springs, Colorado (attached to this report, see exhibits). On the flight plan, the pilot indicated the airplane was equipped with a transponder with altitude reporting capability; that it would be cruising at a true airspeed of 135 knots; the proposed departure time was 1500 UTC (1000 CDT), and the initial cruising altitude would be 6,000 feet. The route of flight was given as from Grand Island via V8 to the Hayes Center VORTAC, thence via V148 to Thurman VORTAC, thence via V169 to the Hugo VORTAC, thence via V108 to Colorado Springs, Colorado. The time en route was listed as 2 hours, 55 minutes, and the fuel on board was given as 5 hours.

The airplane departed Grand Island at 0947, and proceeded at 9,000 feet uneventfully until it arrived in the Colorado Springs area. At 1124 mdt, the pilot canceled his IFR flight plan with Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center, and requested VFR flight following service to Grand Junction. At 1135 the flight was handed off to Colorado Springs Approach Control. The pilot advised the controller that he would not be landing at Colorado Springs (as the flight plan had indicated), but would go around Restricted Area R-2601 and proceed through Monarch Pass. Asked if he intended to remain at 9,000 feet, the pilot replied, "While we have the altitude, we'll keep it."

At 1155, the flight was handed off to Pueblo Approach Control. The pilot was given the Pueblo altimeter setting of 29.89 inches of mercury and, when told that the Fort Carson restricted areas were active, he requested and was given radar vectors around R-2601 A & B. At 1203, radar services were terminated when the airplane was 24 miles west of Pueblo. At 1208, the pilot contacted Denver Flight Watch and reported he was over Fremont County Airport at Florence, Colorado. He was again given the Pueblo altimeter setting, and was also given the Gunnison altimeter setting of 30.22 inches of mercury. This was the last communication with the pilot. The last radar contact with the airplane was when it was just west of Canon City, tracking along U.S. Highway 50 towards Monarch Pass.

There were several witnesses to the accident. Witness no. 1, Leon Golden, was in the Monarch campground when he saw an airplane approaching and flying in a south-southwest direction. He said the airplane made a "hard right turn" as if to reverse direction. In his opinion, the airplane had "plenty of altitude to clear the ridge." He heard the engine operating and it sounded fine to him.

Witness no. 2, Robert Hickman, was eastbound in his automobile and going downhill towards Salida when he saw a blue and white airplane approaching from the east, left of and parallel to the highway. He said he was attracted to the airplane because of its low flight path, "about 200 feet above tree line." The airplane then turned left (south), came down heading east, crashed and exploded. Although his windows were rolled down, he did not hear engine sounds. He said it was "apparent that at the low level the plane was flying, if it had not turned south it would have crashed into the mountain on left side (north)." The witness added that he saw the right wing separate from the airplane when it exploded.

Witness no. 3, Duncan Pelham, a former Air Force ground support equipment specialist, was driving westbound en route to Gunnison. He said he heard the airplane before he saw it. It passed over his head, then began "a medium to steep bank" to the left and seemed to "follow the contour" of the ridge. The airplane then descended to the ground and exploded. The witness added that it appeared to him that the wings were level at impact.

Witness no. 4, Adele Mercer, a private instrument-rated pilot with 300 hours total flight time, was also driving westbound when the airplane passed low over her head "less than 500 feet, flying slowly with its nose up, struggling for altitude." The wings "wobbled" and the airplane made a steep left bank before descending into the ground and exploding. She said there were "low clouds and mild virga" over the mountains to the north and south, but good visibility to the east and west (toward the pass).


The pilot possessed Private Pilot Certificate No. 001551541, dated February 13, 1963, and valid for single engine airplanes, and an Instrument Rating, dated August 6, 1968. According to Federal Aviation Administration documents, the pilot took the private pilot check ride in a Piper PA-22, N4898Z, and the instrument check ride in the Navion, N5401K. He also held a Class 3 Airman Medical Certificate, dated April 14, 1997, with the restriction, "Must wear glasses." At the time of his application for medical certification, the pilot estimated he had accumulated 5,000 hours total flight time, 75 hours of which were accrued in the previous six months.

Two pilot logbooks were located and examined. Logbook no. 2 was recovered from the wreckage. Logbook no. 1 was submitted by family members. Logbook no. 1 contained entries from March 25, 1986, to April 17, 1994. On the first page was the following entry: "Note - Logbook misplaced and presumed lost. No record of 1985-86 flying time. However, estimated time flown was 30 hours, estimated personal (flying) was 10 hours, estimated business was 10 hours." All but eight flights recorded in logbook no. 1 were in the Navion B. Those eight flights were made in a Piper PA-22, totaling 9:15 hours. Total time recorded in logbook no. 1 was 608:35 hours, to wit: 1986, 16:15; 1987, 47:45; 1988, 84:30; 1989, 89:00; 1990, 96:55; 1991, 94:55; 1992, 99:15; 1993, 71:45; 1994, 8:15 (incomplete).

Logbook no. 2 contained entries from April 17, 1994, to July 8, 1997. All but one flight recorded in logbook no. 2 were in the Navion B. That one exception was made in a Piper PA-22, and was for 3:00. Total time recorded in logbook no. 2 was 300:00 hours, to wit: 1994 (continued), 50:33; 1995, 120:45; 1996, 108:00; 1997, 20:45. Total documented flight between 1986 and 1997 was 908:35 hours.

The pilot's most recent biennial flight review (BFR) was accomplished on July 7, 1996, in the Navion. The flight lasted 2:15 hours, and one ILS and one VOR approach were conducted. In the previous six months, the pilot had logged 7:15 hours of actual instrument flight time and performed six ILS approaches. The pilot had not recorded any recent night flying.


N5401K (s/n NAV-4-2301-B) was manufactured in 1951 by the Ryan Aircraft Corporation. At the time of the accident, it was equipped with a Textron Lycoming GO-435-C2E engine (s/n L-3301-11), rated at 260 horsepower, and a Hartzell HC 12x20-8C/933C Hydro-Selective variable pitch, 2-blade, aluminum alloy propeller.

The aircraft maintenance records were recovered from the wreckage. According to these records, the airframe and engine received an annual inspection on July 3, 1997, at a tachometer reading of 4,212.74 hours. At that time, the no. 6 cylinder was replaced due to low compression. As of that date, the engine had accumulated 1,321.4 hours since major overhaul. The overhaul was accomplished on December 8, 1981. On August 27, 1982, the engine was again disassembled to inspect for damage due to a broken oil line and resultant loss of oil pressure. No damage was found.

The tachometer was recovered from the wreckage and the scorched and sooted hour drum was removed and examined. The individual drums could not be turned. Using a pencil eraser to remove the soot, it was determined that one line of numbers read 3,118:44. This reading was prior to the annual inspection. The next line of numbers read 4,229:55, or 16:81 hours since the annual inspection. Eight days had elapsed between the time of the annual inspection and the accident.


The nearest weather observation station was Gunnison, Colorado, located approximately 37 nm west of the accident site (attached, see exhibits). Its pertinent recorded observation is given on pages 3 and 4 of this report.

In addition, temperature is recorded on a thermograph at the summit of Monarch Pass (attached, see exhibits). At the time of the accident, the temperature at Monarch Pass was 59 degrees F.


The accident site was located at the abandoned CF&I Steel Company's Old Madonna Mine. Evidence taken at the accident site indicates the airplane struck a power pole with its left wing. The left wing inboard panel, with a semicircle crush mark in the leading edge, was found at the base of this power pole. About 90 feet away, on a magnetic heading of 050 degrees, were impact marks on the abandoned mine building. These impact marks were approximately the same dimensions as the bottom portion of the airplane empennage. About 42 feet away, on a magnetic heading of 010 degrees, was the main body of wreckage.

All major airplane components were located and recovered. The left wing outboard panel, with tip tank attached, was located on the opposite side of the building. The right wing, with tip tank attached, was pulled out from the center fuselage and in front of the fuselage. Still attached at the right wing step was the outboard portion of the right seat track and carpeting. Flight control continuity was established.

Examination of the propeller disclosed one blade was still attached to the hub and was bent slightly aft approximately one inch at a point 5 inches from the tip. The other blade was bent aft approximately 8 inches approximately mid span. Some faint chordwise scratching on the cambered surfaces of the blades was noted.


An autopsy (P-97-106) was performed on the pilot by Dr. Don A. Rouge at St. Mary's Hospital, Pueblo, Colorado, on July 12, 1997. Toxicological screening (#9700155001) was performed by FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. No cyanide, ethanol, or drugs were detected.


On July 14, 1997, the engine was disassembled and examined at the facilities of Beegles Aircraft Service, Greeley, Colorado. No evidence was found that would have precluded the engine from developing power at impact.


Family members said the pilot had made trips across Monarch Pass on previous occasions, and was an experienced mountain pilot. One of his sons said he had flown with his father across Monarch Pass, and he never flew less than 2,000 feet above the highest obstacle. These family members also said the female passenger aboard the airplane was the cousin of the pilot's wife. This was their first trip to the United States, and they speculated that it was possible the pilot was flying at low altitude to give them a better view of the landscape.

In addition to the Federal Aviation Administration, parties to the investigation included Textron-Lycoming Engines.

The wreckage was released to the adjuster for the pilot's insurance company on July 14, 1997.

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